“Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over”, the new single from Alynda Segarra & The Special Men, is available via digital download and limited edition 45 rpm vinyl on 20 July. Released by Special Man Industries, it was written by Special Man mastermind King James who recruited Alynda Segarra (ATO recording artist and leader of the almighty Hurray for the Riff Raff).
Taking cues from forefathers such as Cosimo Matassa, the Meters, Allen Toussaint and others, King James (Jimmy Horn) has created an in-house band for the label. He writes and produces the material while relying on Goat (Steel Pulse, the Neville Brothers) for engineering assistance. Special Man Industries’ intention is to “develop, produce, and distribute New Orleans’ finest sound recordings for the world’s most discerning listeners”. With 2017’s Act Like You Know from King James & The Special Men serving as the inaugural release, a new 7″ from Louis Michot of Lost Bayou Ramblers will arrive later this year as will one from Leyla McCalla.
Horn recently spoke with PopMatters about the collaboration with Segarra and his aspirations for Special Man Industries.
Did you have Alynda in mind for this single all along?
I wrote the song first and realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t sing it and that I wanted a woman to sing it. Alynda became my first choice.
How did you first become aware of her?
Through Hurray for the Riff Raff. Our piano player brought a song of hers to my attention. I heard “Crash on the Highway”. The lyrics mentioned wanting to be home in New Orleans on a Monday night. It was a reference to our shows at BJ’s Lounge. I thought, “Who’s this?” As soon as I met her we made fast friends. I really enjoy her music.
When you bring someone into the studio that you haven’t worked with before is there a process you go through to get acquainted?
There is. For me, it’s just being really cocky.
I’m not even lying, though, man! I just let them know right up front what I’m thinking, what I have in mind. I try to have reasonably attainable goals. I’ve learned through hardship not to set goals that are unattainable because that just leads to constant aggravation. But I’ve also learned that silly, attainable goals don’t trigger the reward centers in the brain. So, I’m always chasing an “attaboy” from my own brain.
Alynda was already within reach. She was already singing about my gig. I took a chance that she would be receptive. It’s not really her normal fare, but I knew she could do it.
Were you surprised when she got in there and started singing?
Oh yeah. And I think she surprised herself too. It happened very organically, very quickly, very naturally. The song itself is pretty simple, so we just took it and ran with it. It was a really easy session.
Tell me about this decision to have a singles series.
That’s where the recording industry started. Back then it was a matter of necessity and what they were able to press, how much information they could fit on a record.
With all the talk about people downloading whole albums, I figured, “Why not just give them a song a time?” It’s more cost effective for everyone. It’s less commitment for everyone. It also gives me that ability to record different versions of songs. Like my heroes. Dave Bartholomew would record a song; it’d hit regionally but not break nationally, so he’d find another singer to try it.
So, in a way it becomes a producer’s medium?
I’ve gotten to the point where I like to produce. I don’t like to be in charge of just one thing in an ensemble. I like to run the whole ensemble and the studio and whatever else. It’s a personality thing, I guess. I feel like I’m rambling.
I asked the question.
Some people think I play old-fashioned music. I think of it as new New Orleans music. My crowd is a lot of young, pretty people that like to dance. Older folks whose concierge told them to come and see us. We also get bona fide music heads. A real mixed crowd. We’ve got a blue-collar faction; people who work hard all day and come to cut a rug. So here’s one song that bridges those gaps. It allows me to stretch out as a writer and a producer. I don’t have the cost or the time commitment of doing an album now though.
There is an older aesthetic to that.
We’re trying to thrive and survive as a record label at a time when you don’t need record labels. Does that make sense?
Back in the day if you made a song that was a hit they’d keep pressing it. If, after a while, you had a few hit songs, they might compile it into an album. That’s where we’re headed.
I’ve love albums, but last night I went to see Dave Mason and Steve Cropper’s “Rock & Soul Revue”. I’m watching Cropper play “In the Midnight Hour” and “Soul Man” and not for a second thinking, “What album is that on?” It’s the hit. The single. The song.
Exactly. And it’s a revue. One band, a bunch of singers. That’s what I have in New Orleans. I’m blessed that way. I have a great band. We’re trying to do everything the old-fashioned way and keep it in-house right down to the artwork like you’d see when those guys were starting out.
The records are being manufactured less than a mile from my house. That’s pretty cool.
It’s a souvenir in a way.
New Orleans has never really been an industry town. It’s a taste-making town like Kingston, Jamaica. You go there on vacation and find out what’s really happening. And then you go home and make money. [Laughs.]
I remember singles and labels when they meant something. I’d go to flea markets and buy things I’d never heard because they were on ATCO because I already had a Cream record at home and figured that Vanilla Fudge was probably just as good by association.
That’s the thing that’s still valid as far as labels are concerned! We’re a label. There’s a consistent look and sound. Same thing you’re talking about.
You like producing and I’m curious: As a younger person were you fascinated with how the sound was captured or did that come later?
That’s a great question because it allows me to say yes and no.
I know you’ve heard the story about how Hasil Adkins heard a Hank Williams record on the radio and figured it was all performed by one person. He thought Hank Williams was making all that noise so he started the whole one-man-band thing trying to make as much noise as he could get.
Early on, I loved those Hendrix and Pink Floyd records. Being a musician and a recording artist was the same. I didn’t understand the difference as a kid and couldn’t imagine that there was one at all.
I just figured, “If you’re a musician you make records, wear awesome face pain and spit fire!” But it’s more than that, and that’s what I really want to explore.