Bad Water Anniversary
"Bad Water" (J. Holiday- J. DeShannon- R. Meyers)
Chuck Carbo, from Life's Ups And Downs, 504 Records, 1989
Well, it’s here. One year to the day since Katrina’s landfall near Slidell, LA, close enough to New Orleans to push storm surge up against and, at various points, over its levees and floodwalls, causing numerous failures, mainly from poor design, shoddy installation and years of inadequate maintenance. The breaches allowed massive flooding across the low-lying, vulnerable city, engulfing and destroying countless homes, businesses, and lives.
It’s hard to pick a song suitable for a day like this; but “Bad Water” kind of picked itself. It started running through my head last year, soon after I learned that the flooding had started. The LP it’s on, Chuck Carbo’s Life’s Ups And Downs, was still in storage at that time. I bought it in New Orleans when it first came out back in 1989 and used to play cuts from it on my radio show, including today’s selection. But, I hadn’t thought much about it until “Bad Water” popped up from my subconscious, where my psyche is always pod-casting. The lyrics to this song had never meant that much to me; but music can gain new meaning as time and tides go by. Now I hear this song as a statement about survivors wading out from the literal and figurative bad water that’s rolled over the soul of their city and having the spirit to endure and overcome, returning home, rebuilding their lives to an upbeat, second line strut.
Born in Houma, LA and reared in New Orleans, Hayward ‘Chuck’ Carbo is a great singer with a big, warm, mellow baritone, who started out performing in a gospel group, the Delta Southernaires, with his brother, ‘Chick’ (Leonard), in the early 1950’s. Producer Dave Bartholomew convinced them to record rhythm and blues for Imperial Records as the Spiders. When their first record, “You’re The One” b/w “I Didn’t Want To Do It”, scored double hits for the group in early 1954, they left gospel behind for good. The next year, they got into the top ten again with “Witchcraft”; but Chuck and the Spiders parted ways in 1956. Imperial kept him on the roster for another couple of years, though his two solo singles for them didn’t do much.. After that, during a ten year span starting in the early 1960’s, he made records for Teem (produced by Earl King), Cosimo Matassa’s Rex label (arranged by Mac Rebennack), Ace (ditto), Fireball/Canyon (with Eddie Bo), and Superdome (for Senator Jones).
Life’s Ups And Downs was a nice come-back album for him that generated a local hit with a single version of “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On”. The album was recorded with the cookin’ Ed Frank’s New Orleans Rhythm and Blues Band, featuring old pros such as pianist Frank, bassist Walter Payton, Jr., and guitarist Alvin ‘Shine’ Robinson, along with future stars Shannon Powell on drums and Nicholas Payton on trumpet. Tenor sax men Ralph Johnson and Charlie Burbank rounded out the backing band. Unfortunately, this album also has the distinction of being Shine Robinson’s final recording, as he passed away soon after the sessions. On the strength of this LP, Carbo signed with Rounder Records, releasing two fine CDs, Drawers Trouble and Barber’s Blues, in the 1990’s, both with Ed Frank leading the bands.
Count me in that number who think music can not only entertain, but uplift and help heal us, and make a positive difference in the world. I don’t know what Jackie DeShannon and her co-writers had in mind exactly when they originally wrote “Bad Water” back in 1970; but this solid New Orleans version certainly makes perfect sense today. So, play it loud for everyone down there trying their best to keep the bad water out and free themselves from the troubles it left them.
[As DJ Lu notes in the comments, the Raelettes did a version of this tune in the mid-1960s on Ray Charles' Tangerine label. Chuck Carbo and band leader Ed Frank covered that arrangement almost exactly.]
. . . and this was just some of it.