"Who Shot The LaLa" (E. Bocage, D. Burmak, T. Terry)
Oliver Morgan, GNP Crescendo, 1964
(On rotation at HOTG Web Radio)
Every now and then, I like to throw in a New Orleans classic R&B recording; and I’ve been intending to post “Who Shot The LaLa” since the beginning of this blog. A popular record for years around town and known to some extent in the world at large, it’s simply arranged, loose, rhythmic mid-tempo “popeye” feel and quirky lyrics peg it as an HOTG product, even if you don’t get the local names it drops.
As sung by raspy-voiced Oliver Morgan, who claims that he actually wrote the song but allowed producer/arranger Eddie Bo to take the credit, “Who Shot The LaLa” tells a tale based on the real-life death and possible murder of singer Lawrence “Prince La La” Nelson in 1963. Morgan grew up in the same Ninth Ward neighborhood in New Orleans and started out on the same record label, AFO, as “La La”, whose big brother was Walter “Papoose” Nelson, the legendary guitarist. The lyrics say that “La La” was shot. The singer is not sure who shot him; but, he says, “I know it was a .44”, referring to the weapon’s caliber. Actually, the younger Nelson died of an alleged drug overdose, which some say was injected in him by another. So, he was shot, but in a different way. Morgan makes sure you don’t think he did it, then names the possible suspects and advises what should be done to the guilty party, if caught. The strange thing is, despite the grim subject, the song has the tone of a party record. It’s kind of like those Mardi Gras Indian song/chant narratives you can dance to that deal with their sometimes deadly turf fights. Had Morgan grown up in these times, he could have easily been rapping this story.
The flip side, "Hold Your Dog", moves into Memphis soul territroy with a tune that mines the musical formula laid down by Rufus Thomas in his various dog songs of the early 1960s. Morgan seems to have had a certain affinity for the mid-southern soul sounds; and the singing of Otis Redding, whom he met and got to see perform on the road, would greatly influence his style.
To me, his vocal style on this cut resembles Prince La La's. I’ve got to post a Prince La La single soon for reference. Close followers of Crescent City music will also hear similarities to Jessie Hill, who was related to the Nelsons and from the same part of town, Chris Kenner, and Alvin Robinson in Morgan’s singing. As for the players on this track, I’ve seen references to Eddie Bo (surely piano), Roy Montrell and/or Mac Rebennack. Since there seems to be only one guitar, I think it is probably Montrell, as Rebennack had a serious finger injury in this period and didn’t play guitar for quite a while. I’ve no clue who’s on bass and drums.
Oliver Morgan began recording for the AFO label in the early 1960’s as “Nookie Boy” (a memorable moniker). Both sides of his only single for the label can be found on the Ace UK Gumbo Stew CD series. After this 1964 single on GNP Crescendo, Morgan worked with Bo, another boyhood friend, again on sides for Seven B that you can find discussed at Funky 16 Corners. He has always been a good performer, known for bringing the festive elements of second line parading into his stage shows. In 1997, his first and only album was released on Allen Toussaint’s NYNO label. But, “Who Shot The LaLa” remains his best remembered work
PS - This track has been comped on Rhino's New Orleans Party Classics for those who want a CD version. It's a good, basic collection of "standards". And, by the way, I think I have cleared up all the typos in this post. You know, I really ought to try to put these up when I can see straight. . . .