Bassist, guitarist, drummer, singer and songwriter Tony Hall’s myriad accomplishments include co-founding Dumpstaphunk. The deep-grooving funk-jazz-soul quintet came together in 2003 for an Ivan Neville appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Dumpstaphunk, which returned to Jazz Fest May 5 and Tipitina’s May 6, features original members Hall, Neville, guitarist Ian Neville, bassist Nick Daniels III and its newest member, drummer Alvin Ford Jr.
Hall also leads the New Orleans Soul Stars. Following James Brown’s death on Christmas Day, 2006, the Soul Stars have performed tributes to the Godfather of Soul every year on or near Brown’s birthday, May 3. This year’s tribute is May 4 at the Maple Leaf Bar, followed by the Soul Stars’ May 19 performance at the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo.
Hall’s funk, soul and rhythm-and-blues chops are a given. The New Orleans artists on his résumé include Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, Aaron Neville, Jean Knight, June Yamagishi, Shannon McNally and the Meters (subbing for bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste).
Hall’s versatility also brought him recording sessions and/or tours with Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Trey Anastasio, Dave Matthews, Willie Nelson, Joan Baez, Brian Eno, Jewel, Edie Brickell, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Pretty Lights and Herbie Hancock.
A New Orleans native who’s lived in Thibodaux since his teens, Hall grew up in Uptown near the historic Dew Drop Inn. His musical family includes his grandmother, Alberta Hall, a singer who wrote and recorded “Oh! How I Need Your Love,” released in 1955 by Specialty Records. Hall’s grandfather, Gus Fontenette, played sax with Guitar Slim, Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner and others.
At 10, Hall made his stage debut with his uncle, singer Curley Moore (“Soul Train,” “Sophisticated Sissy”). Playing drums, he joined Moore on stage at the Elks Lodge for James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” and “I Got the Feelin’.” In his early teens, Hall gigged with gospel and soul singer Candi Staton. Work with the Meters and Clarence Carter followed.
In the mid-1980s, Hall signed a recording deal with songwriter, pianist and producer Allen Toussaint. Although the Tony Hall and the Heroes recordings weren’t released, session-player work soon saw Hall recording Bob Dylan’s made-in-New Orleans Oh Mercy album, Emmylou Harris’ Grammy-winning Wrecking Ball, Daniel Lanois’ Acadie, the Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon and Willie Nelson’s Teatro (all produced by Lanois). His recent sessions include Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews’ 2017 album, Parking Lot Symphony, and the Dumpstaphunk single “Justice,” featuring guest star Andrews.
Dumpstaphunk’s 2003 show at Jazz Fest, which Ivan Neville expected to be a one-off gig, led to a few more gigs in succeeding years. After Hurricane Katrina, the displaced members of Dumpstaphunk made the group a priority. The band has recorded new music that may become the fourth Dumpstaphunk album later this year. Hall also hopes to release his solo debut.
In the mid-’80s, you signed a recording deal with Allen Toussaint and his business partner, Marshall Sehorn. What happened to the Tony Hall and the Heroes recordings?
I recorded a bunch of tracks but they weren’t released. That was part of my doing. I was young at the time. I had bigger ideas and I passed on the deal. Which I shouldn’t have done, because that would have set me up as an artist. Now I’m known as a musician for hire who works with a lot of different people. But Allen and I were always cool. Every time I’d see him he’d always tell me, ‘Don’t forget to finish that project. You should go with it.’
How did those Tony and the Heroes sessions turn out?
The songs are good. I’m still planning to put all that stuff out. I just get sidetracked with all these other projects, chasing the money and putting myself on the back burner.
You’ve been a gigging musician for about five decades. How did it begin?
When I was 9 or 10, I was playing drums in our living room. My uncle, Curley Moore, heard me play at the house. He was like, ‘All right. I’m going to have you come play on my show.’ Mom dressed me up. I went to the gig at the Elks Lodge and played my little two songs. That was the first time I played for an audience.
Was the late Curley Moore one of the great characters in the classic New Orleans R&B scene? He also sang with Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns for many years.
Aaron Neville always tells me stories about Curley. He was a character.
Did your performance with your uncle inspire you to do more performing?
Yep. I’ve been playing gigs all my life. When I was 13, I did some dates with Candi Staton and some guys I knew, who’d played with Otis Redding and Johnnie Taylor. They talked to my mom and she let me go out with them on the weekend. And about 1975, I subbed for George Porter Jr. and I’d do gigs with Dr. John.
Why did you switch from drums to bass when you were 16?
A fluke. I was playing in a band with a school teacher. One day the bass player didn’t show up. One of my friends, a drummer, was there. So, he played drums and I played bass. And I really got into bass. I started practicing more and learning more songs.
This month, Tony Hall and the New Orleans Soul Stars are playing the Maple Leaf Bar and Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo. From your perspective, what were Brown’s innovations and contributions to music?
James Brown changed music. Before him, everything was like Motown. The bass and the tambourine were involved, but the drums were in the background. But when James came on the scene, he brought a fat drum sound. Snare and bass kicking. And then everyone wanted to play that. It changed the whole format. James paved the way for Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. He did it first. And his bands were always tight and grooving. He set the groundwork for funk and the strong rhythm section thing.
Membership in the Soul Stars stays quite stable. The current membership is drummer Raymond Weber, guitarist Renard Poché, saxophonists Jeff Watkins and Roderick Paulin, trumpeter Tracy Griffin and bassist Vitas Paukstaitis.
I don’t like changing guys all the time. With the same people, they know the music and we just have to go through it and tighten it up and add some stuff.
Are you doing Brown’s moves and dancing in your New Orleans Soul Stars shows now?
I do a couple of little moves on a couple of songs, but not to the extent James did. That dude, he was unbelievable.
One of the Soul Stars, Jeff Watkins, worked with Brown from 1994 to 2006. Does Jeff bring special insight into Brown’s music to the Soul Stars? I’ve heard Brown, a.k.a. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, was quite a taskmaster.
Jeff told me that James had two drummers. The guys could never just sit there, because James might point to one of them, wanting that one to take over. They had to watch everything he did.
You have a bunch of gigs lined up for Jazz Fest season this year. They include Dumpstaphunk at Jazz Fest and Tipitina’s. Dumpstaphunk is a long-running project at this point. How’s the band doing these days?
We’re doing okay, but I think we can do better. Maybe the name, Dumpstaphunk, might spook people. But we can play anything. It’s a versatile band, and we’ve all played different styles of music with other artists. We’re hanging in there. We’ve recorded new material that we should release. We should have had a record out. But it’s a little challenging when a band is a democracy, where there’s no leader and everybody’s got a strong personality.
Of course, one of the unique things about Dumpstaphunk is the two bass players, you and Nick Daniels. Did that combination just develop naturally?
Yeah. Ivan moved back to New Orleans and did a Jazz Fest show with all of us. Later, one night at Tipitina’s, I couldn’t make it. So Nick played bass. Then I came back another night. I played guitar, some bass and, Nick and I, we played bass together. That was it. We were like, ‘Damn! This is killing. Oh, yeah. Let’s do it.’
Having two bass players in one band is unusual. How do you guys do it?
Nick is a great bass player and we have two totally different sounds. He has more of the bright, popping sound. My stuff is darker. Old school. We work good together because it’s not a competition thing with us. We know when to play. Sometimes we answer each other. Sometimes we double a line. He’ll play the high octave and I’ll play the low octave.
But I’ve seen other guys try to do it and it doesn’t work. Because their music isn’t designed for that. And it’s more of a competition thing. It’s always, ‘Look at me. Look at what I can do.’ That’s not what’s happening with Nick and I. We play in the spaces.
Was Hurricane Katrina and the flood actually good for Dumpstaphunk?
We were all playing with other artists and also playing together as Dumpstaphunk when we had time or gigs popped up. When Katrina hit, we got stuck in Brazil. And then we had a gig in Hawaii. So, we hung out in Hawaii until we were able to get back home. And that’s when we continued as an actual band.
With Dumpstaphunk, Ivan Neville gets a lot of attention, but isn’t it really a band, not Ivan as leader and the other members as his support?
It’s our band. We make decisions together. We respect each other.
How did you come to collaborate with Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews for his latest album, Parking Lot Symphony?
Cyril Neville used to bring Troy around a lot when he was young. Troy called me to come play on a demo. And then he was like, ‘We’ll go back and recut it for the record.’ Which was cool. A fun record to play on. Troy is a very nice personality and a great musician. Troy and Allen Toussaint have the same kindness and generosity for people, which is cool. No ego.
You’ve done so much music, in so many different contexts, for many years. Even so, are there things you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
I’m still blessed that I have the opportunity to this stuff. There’s more to come. The main thing I have to do, I’ve got to do a Tony Hall record.
MAPLE LEAF BAR
Fri. May 4, 11 p.m.
Sat. May 19, 2:45 p.m.