Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Allen Toussaint, Diamond Club, Toronto, Feb. 1993

ALLEN TOUSSAINT DIED LAST WEEK of a heart attack after a concert in Madrid. I won't try to add to the chorus of elegies that rose up with the news - everyone knows what an important figure he was in the history not only of New Orleans but of American music. Suffice to say that I'd have been grateful to him for his work with the Meters alone, never mind everything else the man accomplished in an effortlessly musical life.

My favorite anecdote about Toussaint came from my friend Barry, who lives in his hometown. You could often spot Toussaint driving around town in one of his fine cars, but occasionally you'd get a real treat, like the time last year when he sat in on a street musician's piano just outside of Barry's work. Helpfully, someone caught it on video:

Selfishly, my first thought when I heard the news was that there went another legend I'd never get a chance to photograph. And then I remembered - I had shot Toussaint, many years ago, when he passed through Toronto as part of a songwriters tour with Texans Guy Clark and Joe Ely and singer Michelle Shocked. They were just live photos, I recalled - not the portrait I would have loved to have gotten - but now was, sadly, as good a time as any to dig them out.

Allen Toussaint, Guy Clark & Joe Ely, Toronto, Feb. 1993

When I finally found the negatives I discovered that I'd done a dozen frames at the end of a roll with Toussaint, Clark and Ely in the lobby of the club. I was on assignment to shoot the show live for NOW so I don't know why I bothered - perhaps it was because the lighting was particularly dark and I wanted some kind of backup in case the live shots were too dim. (Shooting film forced you to make contingencies, as knowledge of the outcome was always delayed.)

Perhaps I wanted to get a portrait of the musicians together. If this is the case, why didn't I get a photo with Shocked as well? Had she already left the club? I'll never know. I'll also never know why I didn't try to get individual portraits of each musician, except that I might have already been pushing my luck with this little grip and grin.

Today I'd probably try harder; age and time have taught me that there usually isn't a next time, and while we're always short of time, we're never short of regrets.


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