News » Blake Pontchartrain:

New Orleans Trivia

Blakeview: "Carnival Time"

The Mardi Gras classic was recorded in 1959



For the next six weeks, as we roll into Carnival season, we'll take a look at the history of some classic songs that make up our Mardi Gras playlist. First is the tune by Al Johnson which tells us it's "Carnival Time." The song is so associated with Johnson that it's become part of his name. Born in New Orleans in 1939, he cut his first record at age 16. He recorded "Carnival Time" in December 1959 at Cosimo Matassa's studio. It was produced by Joe Ruffino for his Ric record label and released in time for Mardi Gras 1960. Johnson wrote the song, which features references to real clubs of the day, including the Green Room "smokin'" and "the Plaza burnin' down." Johnson was backed by an all-star studio band with Mac Rebennack (the future Dr. John) on piano, Placide Adams on bass, Edgar Blanchard on guitar and Walter Lastie on drums. The opening saxophone blasts came from a trio of well-known musicians: James Rivers, Lee Allen and Robert Parker. Still, the song didn't take off at the time and Johnson said it was only after he was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas in the Army a few years later that he began to hear stories from family and friends back home that the song had gained popularity. For decades, Johnson didn't see a penny from the song's financial success and drove a cab to make ends meet. In 1999, after a lengthy court battle, he finally secured sole rights to his song. He still performs the tune, especially around Carnival time, when "everybody's having fun!"

Add a comment