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by Nate Cavalieri

September 9, 2011

Rip | Jazz

RIP Wardell Quezergue: The Creole Beethoven

by Nate Cavalieri  |  September 9, 2011

What does it take to raise the dead? Maybe it's just Tami Lynn's care package to the biggest bad-ass of all New Orleans femme protagonists, Mojo Hannah: "a few strands of your hair and a five dollar bill." But the real magic in this track, and a million other essential slices of gritty, strutting New Orleans R&B from the '60s and '70s, came from the hand of the composer, producer and arranger with the nearly unpronounceable name, Wardell Quezergue, who died Tuesday of complications from congestive heart failure. He was 81.

If Dr. John is New Orleans' ambassador, Ignatius Reilly its clown and Professor Longhairforever its king, Quezergue was the genius council behind closed doors, earning the nickname "Creole Beethoven." His omnipresent jukebox-soul hits speak for themselves: Professor Longhair's "Big Chief," King Floyd's "Groove Me" and Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff" among them. His early tracks as a producer include iconic oldies like the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love" and Phil Phillips' "Sea of Love"; his mid-'70s peak period boasted one sweltering R&B hornarrangement after the next (for the real shit, go straight for Dorothy Moore's '76 groover Misty Blue). When you listen to all of them together, it's certainly notthe tossed-off one-liners that stick to your psyche, but rather Quezergue's forceful grooves, the kind of heavy voodoo that makes New Orleans sound like New Orleans. Tami endows Mojo Hanna with the power to "make a dead man jump and shout" -- we wish it was that easy. With great respect and fondness, try a taste of some ofQuezerque's steller moments in our playlist, RIP Wardell Quezergue: The Creole Beethoven.

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