Let's Play It A Little Dissonant
"Let's Play, Pt. 1" (Huey Smith)
Danny White, unreleased Ace session, 195?
One of the other unissued tracks associated with Huey Smith that I re-discovered the other day is this one, “Let’s Play, Pt. 1”, featuring the vastly underrated vocalist, Danny White, on a very relaxed, swinging session, probably from the late 1950’s. Beside White’s fine singing, the most noticeable thing about this cut is the ridiculously out of tune piano – I mean, so out it’s in - sounds like a steel drum! Whoever’s playing it is not the most adept session ace, either; so it’s surely not Huey Smith. None of this fazes the cool, calm and collected Mr. Danny though. He sounds so good, the unison horns are so supportive, and the groove is such easygoing fun that the whole thing won me over the first time I heard it; and I used to spin it on my WEVL show in Memphis. Finding out about little lost gems such as this keeps me picking up CD compilations.
Danny White was never a member of the Clowns. I don’t know how he came to record this Huey Smith song during of some of the band’s Ace Records sessions. For whatever reasons, White’s performances on this and several other songs from related recording dates never saw the light of day until around the turn of the century, when Westside (UK) bravely compiled practically everything Smith and his band (plus many other artists) ever recorded for Ace. Neil Slaven, one of the compilers, found “Let’s Play, Pt. 1 & Pt. 2” among the archival masters and states in his brief notes to the Havin’ Fun – More Of The Best CD that the song appeared to have been ready for issue. I think the reason why a 45 was not birthed probably has to do with the piano “problem”; but there could have been other reasons, as well. Besides “Let’s Play”, Slaven and his partner also found a rockin’ 1956 outing by White, “Too Late” (author unknown) and another undated recording of the singer doing Smith’s song, “Educated Fool”. White is in fine form on all of these tunes left moldering in the can.
As popular as Danny White was as a live performer, starting in 1955 with his band the Cavaliers, consistently packing venues such as the Golden Cadillac, the Safari, the Dream Room, and the Sho Bar on Bourbon Street, it is remarkable that he did not have a record out until 1961*, when he did a one-off for Dot. In 1962, he signed with a local start-up, Frisco Records. His label debut (#104), produced by Wardell Quezergue (who used the alias, Larry Martin), was “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” b/w “The Little Bitty Things”. The former was written by Al Reed and the latter by Allen Toussaint. “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” became a significant seller in the region and was picked up by Arlen for national distribution. While it never made the charts, it was still a commercial winner. Two subsequent Frisco singles did not fare as well; but, in 1964, his rendition of Earl King’s ballad, “Loan Me A Handkerchief”, on Frisco 110, surpassed his first area hit and was leased by ABC-Paramount. The single sold very well, but still did not dent the national charts.
At the suggestion of DJ Harold Atkins, production of White’s next few sessions was moved to Memphis, under the direction of two fledgling songwriters, David Porter and Isaac Hayes, using fine young sidemen such as Teenie Hodges, Howard Grimes, and the horns of Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, and recording at Royal Studios; but the resulting two 1964 Frisco singles, #110 (mis-numbered) and #114, died quietly.
Following up were White’s final Frisco sessions, issued though another leasing arrangment by ABC-Paramount on two singles. By that time, England’s growing domination of the American airwaves kept White's records off radio playlists. The change in listening tastes also caused his live gigs to dry up by the mid-1960's. After a handful of later singles tanked, the singer got into the other side of the business in 1969 and started managing the Meters, who had all played behind him previously at various points. That year, he also made his last record, a killer, for SSS International. Produced by Allen Toussaint and with White's funky clients likely backing him, “Natural Soul Brother” b/w “One Way Love Affair”, failed to connect with the public, until it was rediscovered many years later by funk fans and collectors. By the early 1970’s, Danny White had retired from the music business and relocated to the Washington, DC area, where he passed away in 1996. Even with the high price of some of his old singles and his appearance on a number of CD compilations, he's yet another HOTG artist deserving wider attention and appreciation.
*Soulful Kinda Music has a Danny White discography; and you can find several of his sides for streaming at the Soul Club Jukebox.