Occapella! FHQ Records
"Having fun with the songs of Allen Toussaint," Jon
Cleary has chosen a mix of popular and less familiar
pieces penned by legendary songwriter Allen Toussaint
to re-imagine, like the lesser-known title track as well as
better known tunes like "Southern Nights," "Everything I
Do Gonh Be Funky," and "Fortune Teller," most recently
made popular by Robert Plant/Alison Krauss.
2012 OffBeat Magazine Best of the Beat Award
Nominee for Best Piano/Keyboardist - an impressive
fourth year in a row. Band members James Singleton
and Matt Perrine were also nominated for Best Bass
Player and Best Tuba / Sousaphonist respectively.
2012 Blues Music Award Nominee - Pinetop
Perkins Piano Player of the Year (3rd nomination in this
2011 OffBeat Best of the Beat Award Nominee for
2011 - named among the Best Keyboardists in Blues
Matters (UK) International Writer's Poll
Featured in Season 2, Episode 20 of HBO's Treme,
performing "Frenchman Street Blues" and Season 1,
Episode 9, performing "When You Get Back"
Touring member of Bonnie Raitt's band since 1999
and appeared on the albums Silver Lining and Souls
Alike. On these recordings, Raitt covered the Cleary
originals, "Fool's Game," "Monkey Business,"
"Unnecessarily Mercenary," and "Love on One
Toured with John Scofield and featured on vocals
and keyboards on the recently released, Piety Street by
John Scofield & The Piety Street Band.
Recorded with artists such as Taj Mahal, Keb Mo,
Eric Clapton, D'Angelo, India Arie and Ryan Adams,
among many others
"Jon Cleary is the ninth wonder
in the world." - Bonnie Raitt
In the hallowed ranks of New Orleans "piano
professors," Jon Cleary is on the tenure track. Born in
England and bred in New Orleans, Jon Cleary is a triple
threat combining soulful vocals, masterful piano skills,
and a knack for composing infectious grooves with
melodic hooks and sharp lyrics. He balances performing
on solo piano, with noted funk band The Absolute
Monster Gentlemen, and his trio The Philthy Phew.
"Cleary plays piano as if he's revving up an engine and sings
as if a line drawing of his behatted self were next to "soul" in
- The Washington Post
"Cleary can be an absolute monster on his own, but Cleary's
full combo R&B is as broad, deep and roiling as the
Mississippi river, the combined swinging product of local
keyboard tradition, Cleary's vocal-songwriting flair for moody
Seventies soul and the spunky-Meters roll of his Gentlemen."
- Rolling Stone
Occapella! APRIL 17, 2012
The seeds for Jon Cleary's sixth solo CD were sown when the
acclaimed songwriter, pianist and singer was asked the hypothetical
question, "Would you ever do a record of somebody else's tunes?"
The English-born Cleary, who has made New Orleans his home for
more than three decades, provides his emphatic answer with the
utterly captivating Occapella.
An exploration deep into the bountiful songbook of Cleary's musical
touchstone, Allen Toussaint, the new album is as inspired as it is surefooted.
On this labor of love, Cleary inventively reimagines the classics
"Southern Nights" and "What Do You Want the Girl To Do," while he
presents less familiar pieces like "Poor Boy Got To Move," "I'm Gone"
and "When the Party's Over" as newly unearthed treasures.
"I wouldn't say it's a tribute," Cleary says of Occapella. "The term
'tribute' sounds rather corny, really. On the back of the album, I just
put, 'Having fun with the songs of Allen Toussaint,' which sums up the
vibe a bit better. Toussaint's music was the soundtrack of my
adolescence, I've played a lot of his songs with the guys who had the
original hits with them, and we've crossed paths on numerous
occasions. So this record was a logical thing for me to do.
"I'd actually been messing around with a song of his called 'Occapella,'
which he wrote for Lee Dorsey in the '70s," Cleary says of the project's
genesis. "It's always been one of my favorites, so I started to do an a
cappella version of 'Occapella,' and then one thing led to another. The
idea of flexing my various musical muscles using Allen Toussaint's
songs as the raw material seemed really appealing. The challenge
was to take each song and do a flip on it in some respect."
Cleary plays every instrument on the album - keyboards, guitar (his
first instrument), bass and drums - with one notable exception. On the
ecstatically soulful opening track "Let's Get Low Down," Bonnie Raitt
and Dr. John, both longtime musical associates, join him on vocals.
Dr. John also plays guitar on the track, while bassist James Singleton
and drummer Terence Higgins, both part of the flexible lineup of the
Philthy Phew, lay down the deep gut groove.
Additionally, Jeffrey "Jellybean" Alexander, Derwin "Big D" Perkins
and Cornell Williams of Cleary's Absolute Monster Gentlemen
contribute backing vocals on "Popcorn Pop Pop," "Wrong Number"
and the title song, while Walter "Wolfman" Washington sings
background vocals on "Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky." Cleary selfproduced
Occapella in the well-appointed studio he's installed in his
home in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. His neighbor,
fellow expat John Porter - a veteran producer whose CV ranges from
The Smiths and Ryan Adams to B.B. King, Buddy Guy and R.L.
Burnside - received a co-producer credit for his expert assistance.
"My inclination at first was to pick the most obscure tunes I could find,
because I've always been a bit of a funk detective," Cleary explains.
"Then one of my managers said, 'It's a great idea, but if you're gonna
do this, make sure there are some songs that people recognize.' So I
picked a couple of his better-known tunes, but I tried to take them in a
different direction - to take an aspect of the melody or the chord
progression, or perhaps his original arrangement, and present it in a
different box, as it were."
Cleary became aware of Toussaint as a youngster in the village of
Cranbrook in Kent, England, when he noticed that three of his favorite
songs - Frankie Miller's rendition of "Brickyard Blues," Robert Palmer's
"Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley" and LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" -
were all credited to the New Orleans legend. When his uncle gave him
a copy of Toussaint's classic 1972 LP, Life, Love and Faith, Cleary
was hooked for life. Soon after finishing school, he made a pilgrimage
to the Crescent City and knew he'd found his spiritual home. He "got
thrown in the deep end, landing a job digging up banana trees and
pretty much moving into the Maple Leaf Bar," where he sat transfixed
night after night listening to the likes of James Booker and Roosevelt
Sykes tickle the ivories on the house piano. Before long, he was
mixing it up with Dr. John, Snooks Eaglin, Earl King and other staples
of the scene on club stages and in local studios.
As his reputation spread, Cleary became a hired gun for NOLA-based
musicians and visiting artists alike, from Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' to
India Arie and Ryan Adams. He recorded and toured with renowned
guitarist/bandleader John Scofield, and spent 10 years playing with
Raitt, who recorded several of his songs, before regretfully taking his
leave from that altogether gratifying situation in order to concentrate
on his own music.
Though the new album is a departure from his previous recordings,
which have focused all but exclusively on his own material, it has
enabled him to come full circle in terms of his lifelong musical passion,
exemplified by his sublime take on "Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky."
"That song will forever be associated with Lee Dorsey, who was
Toussaint's protégé," Cleary points out. "Lots of other people have
covered it as well, but I didn't care - I just wanted to play it because it's
such a great song. The first time I heard it, I said to myself, 'Yeah -
everything I do is gonh be funky too.'"
To say that Jon Cleary has made good on that vow would amount to
a gross understatement.
New Orleans has always been piano man's heaven. But the most
creative keyboardist in town, for my money, is Jon Cleary.
- Mojo Magazine
Having lived in New Orleans for two decades, Cleary is steeped
in that city's second-line tradition, but he is equally influenced
by the moody groves of '70s Miami soul.
Cleary's playing style -- the settings on his digital keyboard
switched from ivory-hued piano to gritty clavinet and back --
mixes Professor Longhair, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder
into one rolling gumbo. Like any Crescent City pianist, he's
always ready to rumba.
- The Star Ledger, New Jersey
Jon Cleary's got a specialty: funk-drenched New Orleans piano.
- Boston Herald
Cleary doesn't skimp on soulfulness, either. The ghost of Lee
Dorsey hovers over the stripped-down title tune.
- The Times / London
Combining doo-wop, gospel, the Cuban Son tradition, blues
and - above all - a heavy dollop of P-Funk bass-quake, Cleary
and his band…considerably spice up the already-rich N'awlins
- Paste Magazine
Quite possibly the tightest funkiest band in a city swarming
with such superlatives.
- OffBeat Magazine