Bobby Marchan Shakes It
"Shake Your Tambourine" (Bobby Marchan)
Bobby Marchan, Cameo 429, 1966
[Sorry. Bobby's stepped out to powder his nose.]
For a performer who spent much of his career working as a female impersonator, Bobby Marchan has a pretty impressive discography. Entering the world as Oscar James Gibson in Youngstown, Ohio, he developed his drag comedy act while still in his teens, and by 1953, at age 23, he had blown into New Orleans with his Powder Box Revue of faux femmes and immediately found work around town. He began recording soon thereafter, doing blues sides for Aladdin and Dot, and then signing on with the new Ace label as an R&B solo artist in 1955.
He initial sides for Ace were done as Bobby Fields; but, by the next year, he was back using Marchan. While in New Orleans, he met pianist, bandleader, songwriter Huey Smith, also an Ace artist; and Smith, who was not a strong vocalist, decided to have Marchan sing lead in his band, Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Clowns, who were just taking off on the strength of their first hit, “Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu”. For the Clowns, Marchan laid aside the dresses and wig and turned the band into a music and comedy revue with a wild stage act. Experienced on the road, he took them out on tour (with a young James Booker on piano), leaving Smith, a family man, behind to write songs tailored to the singer’s style. That formula worked perfectly; and Marchan fronted the Clowns during the height of their popularity (1957-1959), recording such classic Smith tunes as “High Blood Pressure”, “Don’t You Just Know It” and “Don’t You Know Yockomo”.
Marchan left the Clowns and Ace Records when a soul ballad he had recorded, “There Is Something On Your Mind”, was released by Bobby Robinson’s Fire label (after Ace had passed on it) and began climbing the charts in 1960. On the basis of that hit, he began touring as a solo artist and went on to release six more singles on Fire over the next few years. Once that fire went cold, he made a couple of records with the Stax subsidiary, Volt, (on the recommendation of Otis Redding), that didn’t light anything up. Then, through a long-time friendship with Joe Tex, who was recording for Dial Records in Nashville, Marchan signed with the label in the mid-1960’s. Working with label-owner/producer Buddy Killen, he recorded over a dozen singles that were either released on Dial or leased to other labels, such as Cameo, in an association that lasted into the mid-1970’s.
That brings us to “Shake Your Tambourine”, a great little 1966 vintage dance number on Cameo produced by Killen in Nashville. It got into the upper reaches of the charts and was Marchan’s last single to do so. No, it’s not a New Orleans record; but, I think the party spirit that Bobby brought to the Clowns is still evident in his tune. Besides, it’s just damn fun to hear. I really love the mid-song breakdown. If you are not already familiar with Marchan, I hope this song will inspire you to seek out some of his other work (see also below).
Bobby Marchan continued making records into the 1980’s and worked his act in the New Orleans area again, later in his life. He passed away in 1999. Over the years, he also wrote some hit songs recorded by other artists: ”Body English” by King Floyd, “Get Down With It” by Slade, and “Separate Ways” by Z. Z. Hill. Coming to New Orleans (where, to say the least, the unusual is a way life) probably allowed Bobby to shine more than anywhere else he could have landed. So, I look at his story as an example of what the HOTG influence could do for a unique, gifted entertainer who knew how to flaunt it.
Bobby Marchan on CD compilations:
Having A Good Time (with Huey Smith and the Clowns)
The Best Of Bobby Marchan (Fire recordings)
The Dial Records Southern Soul Story (a fantastic label retrospective – also has King Floyd sides)
**Several of these are also available at the Louisiana Music Factory.