The singers sing and the musicians play but the music we hear would be nothing without the writers, arrangers and producers. One of the greatest from New Orleans, Wardell Quezergue, passed away earlier today (Tuesday) from congestive heart failure. He was 81.
Known as the Creole Beethoven, Quezergue was a multi-threat as a bandleader, arranger, composer, producer and teacher on records from the Dixie Cups' Iko Iko to Dorothy Moore's Misty Blue.
Quezergue grew up in New Orleans surrounded by the music of the city and his family. By the age of 12, he was playing trumpet professionally and went on to play with Dave Bartholomew's band in the late-40. While in the service, he conducted bands during the Korean War and, upon completing his Army sting, resettled in New Orleans where he started the Royal Dukes of Rhythm.
On the side, Wardell started working with other artists in the studio, producing and arranging their records and specializing in horn charts. By the early-60's, he had a new group, Wardell & the Sultans, who recorded for Imperial Records with Bartholomew producing, but his greatest success came in the studio where he produced and arranged the Dixie Cups hits Iko Iko and Chapel of Love and Robert Parker's Barefootin'.
In 1964, he started Nola Records and, in the early-70's, began working with the then struggling Malaco Records. At Malaco, Quezergue brought in artists that had been rejected by other labels and turned them into hitmakers. At one point, he brought in five such artists and, in a single session, turned out big sellers for Jean Knight (Mr. Big Stuff) and King Floyd (Groove Me).
Quezergue and Malco became a "go to" studio for artists during the mid-70's, with singers as diverse as Paul Simon (There Goes Rhymin' Simon), the Pointer Sisters and Rufus Thomas using their services. When Malco finally went under, Wardell struck out on his own, working with the likes of Willie Nelson, B.B. King and the Staple Singers.
His last major hits came with Dr. John's Grammy Winning album Goin' Back to New Orleans (1992) and the classical composition A Creole Mass (2000). In 2005, he lost all of his life's work in Hurricane Katrina and was helped by a number of benefit concerts put on by the likes of Mike Mills from R.E.M. Two years ago, he was honored with an honorary degree from Loyola University and was the subject of a tribute concert at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, New York.
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