A Funky Hurricane
To hear Ernie Vincent and the Top Notes’ 1970s single “Dap Walk” for the first time is like standing in a hurricane of funk. It’s three minutes of the most perfect funk you’ve ever heard. If you can keep from dancing to it, we expect you’re probably dead.
Music Maker co-founder Tim Duffy did not meet Ernie until a quarter-century after he started making hits.
“I was in New Orleans,” Tim says. “I just walked into a club and there was this guy playing such great funk. His band was so tight, and he was just killing it on the guitar. I would later learn that Ernie was a master arranger, writer, and musicologist of the highest order.”
Ernie started his first band, Li’l Ernie and the Alpines, in his teen years.
“Every time we played, everybody jumped up and danced, you know?” Ernie says.”So I learned how to write little arrangements of all the stuff I had. Had to go through all the changes to make sure I was able to do them right — and the bars and the melodies and all that stuff, so I had to learn all that.”
The talents he developed in those years led him to build a hand-picked band called the Top Notes, players who could execute the unique brand of funk that lived inside Ernie’s head. The Top Notes made plenty of records along the way that are now standards of the New Orleans canon, and it was the precision of Ernie’s arrangements that made him a go-to producer and arranger in New Orleans.
Over the years, Ernie has arranged and written songs for the likes of Ernie K-Doe, Alex Spearman, King Floyd, Eddie Bo, and Jessie Hill. He’s backed stars like Joe Tex, Solomon Burke, and Mardi Gras Indian bands, including the Wild Magnolias and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux’s Golden Eagles. He’s been a staple at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Ernie has always been a staple of New Orleans’ musical life and culture, and being a part of that big, beautiful spirit is still the thing that drives him.
“The people don’t really realize that throughout my lifetime playing, it wasn’t about making the money,” he says. “It was about creating the atmosphere and creating the history.”
Ernie Vincent was born on July 12, 1940.
Top photo by Tim Duffy.