March 24, 2005

Swamp Side

"I'm Gonna Try" (Johnny Williams)
Carol Fran, Port, 1965

No use trying

Once again, for those who might be newcomers or just have forgotten, my monthly Swamp Side posts generally feature artists and tunes that are related to Louisiana, but are from outside the New Orleans environs.

Although “I’m Gonna Try” was recorded in New York City and originally released on the Port label based there, its gutsy singer, Carol Fran, came from right here in my current abode, Lafayette, Louisiana. There is something familiar about the horn line in this tune, reminiscent of a Toussaint chart maybe; but I can’t quite place it. Anyway, this song was the b-side of Fran’s cover of “Crying In The Chapel”, which got such a good response that Port/Jubilee owner Jerry Blaine moved it over to his Josie label for wider distribution. Unfortunately, another version soon appeared by some guy named Elvis that took all the steam out of Fran’s hit machine. She says that when she later ran into Mr. Presley in California and told him he had done her wrong, he blamed RCA, but wrote her a check for $10,000 on the spot! That’s probably way more than she would have gotten from the standard recording contract for that song, even if it had been a big hit.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, there is a definite Dinah Washington influence in Carol Fran’s vocals; but, by 1965, she had her own impressive style with years of experience from Bourbon Street to the road. I don’t know much about the session for this side other than it was arranged by big band man Sammy Lowe. She did a handful more singles for Port that saw no action, then cut a bunch of sides for Roulette, recording them at Hi Studios in Memphis in 1967. Some of those and a couple from Port were comped on WESTSIDE’s CD, Bluesoul Belles: Betty Lavette and Carol Fran. Although those Roulette tracks were very good, most were never issued. She had a similar experience a decade earlier recording for Excello producer and talent scout Jay Miller in Louisiana. As is often the sad case, she never had much commercial good fortune with her releases, and no warm and fuzzy relationships with the record business, either. But she always has been a strong live performer.

Ms Fran, with her late husband, noted guitarist Clarence Hollimon, had several fine CDs released on the now defunct Black Top label out of New Orleans in the 1990’s, and she’s since released a CD of standards. Lately, she’s been performing weekly at a hotel up the road in Bunkie, Louisiana. For more information, try these links:

Carol Fran biography
American Routes interview
Some Carol Fran on CD
Hear a few more of her Port sides on the Soul Club Jukebox

Definitely not NYC


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