April 28, 2006

A Side Man Steps Up Front Again

"Mudd" (R. Montrell)
Roy Montrell, Minit 619, 1960

I’ve had this instrumental on a CD compilation (Charly’s The Minit/Instant Story) for years, and never really connected with it. Then I came across the 45 recently, gave it a spin, and got a whole new feeling about it. Despite the rather beat up condition of the vinyl, the groove on this tune pulled me in – something that had never happened on the digital version. It’s not the first time something like this has happened, listening to records. They can just have more of a mojo than CDs. Of course, I regularly reduce ‘em to 1’s and 0’s for the sake of our discussions; but I still think some of that essence comes through.

As discussed in
my earlier post on Roy Montrell, this go-to guitarist on the New Orleans recording scene in the later 1950’s and early 1960’s had only one other single in his name, Specialty 583, “(Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone” b/w “Ooh-Wow”. But both of those 1956 scorchers feature him as vocalist, showing little to none of his instrumental abilities.

Recorded four years later and released as Minit 619, “Mudd” b/w “The Montrell” made up for that, featuring Montrell’s guitar, sans vocals, on two of his own compositions. The B-side is a more straightforward, and less interesting, tune and performance; but “Mudd” is a different pressed wad of wax, as it brings out various aspects of his playing style: bluesy, string-bending lead work, rock ‘n roll double string riffs, and rhythmic chord comping. To me, the guitar figure that starts out the song and later repeats sounds like part of the main riff on the 1957 Bill Justis song, “Raunchy”. But he doesn’t stick with it long enough to matter.

“Mudd” was made at a time when Allen Toussaint was running the sessions for Joe Banashak’s Minit label, so I assume he oversaw and possibly arranged this one for his house guitarist. I love the way the horns come in a various points and lazily insinuate themselves into the song. I am equally knocked out by the drumming, probably by session regular John Boudreaux, that just didn’t hit me before. His groove is so laid back and unassuming that you, too, might not notice at first how he is messing with the beat. You’ve got to give Boudreaux props for playing with that proto-funk feel. It’s like something you’d find Smokey Johnson doing later in the decade. I’d like to know if Toussaint gave Boudreaux instructions for this (as he often did), or if the drummer came up with it on his own.

The other regular session men probably on this track are Chuck Badie on bass, Nat Perrilliat and/or David Lastie on tenor sax, Red Tyler or Clarence Ford on baritone sax, and Toussaint on piano. Together they worked on records for Chris Kenner, Ernie K-Doe, and Irma Thomas, to name but a few. Then a number of the players (Montell, Boudreaux, Tyler, Badie, and Lastie) helped Harold Battiste found AFO Records and contributed to those sessions during the label’s brief run. From there, Montrell became a regular in Fats Dominos road band, serving for well over a decade before dying of a drug overdose.

April 26, 2006

The James Cotton Band Gets The Treatment

"Hard Time Blues" (Allen Toussaint)
James Cotton Band, from High Energy, Buddah, 1975

Here’s another artist who came to Sea-Saint Studios for the Sansu Productions Treatment in the 1970’s. Master blues harp blower and singer James Cotton, with his fine band*, cut their 1975 Buddah LP, High Energy, there along with a krewe of contributors** who should be familiar to regular HOTG readers by now. Overseeing the general production duties was Allen Toussaint, with Wardell Quezergue doing the arrangements

Cotton’s band were no strangers to funkin’ it up. Drummer Kenny Johnson could deliver killer grooves, as I still readily recall from hearing other of their records, especially the live stuff back in the day. Toussaint’s “Hard Time Blues” is one of his patented, well put together, multi-part tunes with an easy-going feel. I chose it because I’m hooked on James Booker’s piano work which leads off and runs through the piece, repeating variations on a nice descending riff (designed by the composer, I am sure). While it might be a stretch to call this one a blues, as stylized as it is, Cotton and band handle it well, even though his rough voice is more suited to a simpler, more hard-driving expression. Also, note the lack of a harmonica on this number. It’s not the only track lacking one, either – strange for an album by a man whose nickname is Superharp. I guess the label wanted Toussaint and Cotton to try for some kind of cross-over appeal, which, of course, didn’t happen anyway. I can just hear them now: “James, baby. Love ya; but, if you want airplay, you’ve gotta lose that harmonica! We’re going to send you to New Orleans and let Toussaint add something more hip to your sound. It'll sell, baby.”

Neither Toussaint nor Wardell Quezergue used a heavy hand in their approach to presenting this blues band in a different light. It’s no radical reconstruction. Like this song, the entire record is a comfortable, somewhat laid back, yet funky, affair; but, while Cotton and group did a respectable job, they just weren't entirely in their element. Their power was somewhat damped down  by the production process. Thus, the album’s title has always mystified me. In no way would I describe this production as high energy. Call it wishful thinking on somebody’s part.

Both Toussaint and Quezergue approached record making in a controlled manner - much more musically well thought out than spontaneous. The trade off there is that you can give up some of the juice - a band’s performing dynamic - when you have them play set arrangements. Still, there is an acceptable funk quotient on this album. I like “Hard Time Blues” and most of the other tunes and performances . I just don’t think it very accurately represents what the James Cotton Band was really all about. So, in that respect, it is a flawed production. And that’s probably why the record has become merely a footnote, a curiosity, showing what happened, and what didn’t, when a full-tilt blues band in their prime ran up against the more urbane approach of these cool New Orleans style popsters.

Such is showbiz. Live and learn. Listen and judge the effectiveness of the Treatment for yourself.

* The James Cotton Band on High Energy
James Cotton, lead vocal and harmonica
Mat Murphy, lead guitar
Kenny Johnson, drums
Charles Calmese, bass
Shavis Sheriff, Sax

** with, on “Hard Time Blues”,
James Booker, piano
Wardell Quezergue, keyboards
Steve Hughes or Teddy Royal, guitar
Lon Price, tenor sax solo

April 21, 2006

Understanding Lee Bates

"Bad, Bad Understanding" (Leroy Bates)
Lee Bates, Instant 3304, 1970

Too bad

I am posting another Lee Bates track in conjunction with the work going on right now at Soul Detective on this relatively obscure New Orleans vocalist and songwriter. Haven’t checked that yet? Go right on over and see us geeks in action and join in on the tag-team research, if you want.

Since I just featured Bates and his song, “Mean Mistreater”, in January, I’ll dispense with the background, which you can catch up on through my
Archives and/or at Soul Detective, which re-prints my post and one by Larry Grogan and expands on them with contributions from other Bates fans and collectors.

“Bad, Bad Understanding” b/w “Simon Says” on Instant 3304 was Bates’ initial single for the label. The top side is a re-make of a self-penned song that first appeared on White Cliffs 45 #270, Bates’ recording debut, in the mid-1960’s. I’ve never heard that 45; but I’m hoping that someone will offer a link or post it on Soul Detective soon so that we can compare the two. From the opening drum beats, you know you’re in for a funky ride on his Instant version, produced by the legendary
Huey Smith. It is a fine, upbeat dance number with full-tilt New Orleans syncopation in the drums, plenty of punch in the arrangement, and a distinct early ‘70’s feel in the bridge. The main horn section riff and verse and chorus sections reveal their roots in the prior decade; while the Huey Smith piano tremolo style, under the horns before the final bridge, goes back to the 50’s. But it all hangs together nicely as a thoroughly New Orleans product.

As I’ve mentioned before, Bates’ unschooled, raw vocal style owes a lot to his former mentor and employer, Chris Kenner. But, you can hear a considerable Otis Redding quality and influence in what he does, too. He heard that from so many people over the years that finally, in the late 1990’s, Bates released a CD Stop Leanin’ On The Wall!, mostly comprised of Redding covers.

Enjoy the track. Enjoy the weekend. And join us as we come to understand more about Lee Bates (Joe Haywood, too, for that matter, and more to come, I'm sure) over at Soul Detective.

April 18, 2006

Jean Knight Says. . .

"Do Me" (Albert Savoy- Wardell Quezergue)
Jean Knight, Stax 0150, 1972

Wow. Was it really July, 2005 (Before Katrina) when I posted last on Jean Knight? Guess so. In that piece, I featured one of the records she made after her short stint with Stax. Today, we’re taking a look and listen to one side of her final Stax single, “Do Me”, produced and arranged by Wardell Quezergue and recorded at Malaco Studios in Jackson, Ms, as were all the sides she did for the label. Regular stoppers-by here will recall our many references to Mr. Quezergue, especially in reference to his work with King Floyd.

Written by Quezergue and Albert Savoy, one of the regular writers for Big Q Productions, “Do Me” has some salacious lyrics that don’t beat around the bush (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and a killer groove courtesy of the Malaco house band. Like Allen Toussaint, Quezergue developed precise arrangements for the songs his artists recorded. With the producer on keyboards, the rhythm section (Shreveport-area drummer James Stroud, bassist Vernie Robbins, and guitarist Jerry Puckett) could summon up a clockwork syncopation both hip and instantly engaging. The drum and cowbell breakdowns on this tune are sick; and the use of fuzz bass and acoustic guitar adds nice, not often heard, contrasting textures to the funk. It’s all done with a simplicity and pelvic focus that makes a very effective bed for Knight’s yearning vocal.

Although Knight’s first Stax single, the immortal “Mr. Big Stuff”, had gone platinum, selling more than three million copies, she never got much respect from the top at Stax in Memphis. They had initially passed on the song and King Floyd’s “Groove Me”, cut at the same Malaco session in 1970. So, Malaco released Floyd’s record on their own Chimneyville label. After it got good airplay in New Orleans, Atlantic picked up distribution; and it got national attention, making the top ten and going gold. Once Stax saw that those Malaco sessions could sell, they belatedly optioned Knight’s single in 1971 with excellent results. And yet, after her follow-up sessions with Quezergue in Jackson resulted in the Mr. Big Stuff album, a second lesser hit with the imitative "You Think You're Hot Stuff" and three subsequent singles, the label dropped her, following “Do Me”. Knight blames it on Quezergue’s unwillingness to use material from Stax’s in-house writers that he either thought was inferior or would cut him out of publishing royalties (or both). A now d
eleted CD compilation of those sessions for Stax shows that most of the Big Q material, of which “Do Me" is one of the best examples, was of decent, but not exceptional quality, and did not exactly blend with the Stax sound issuing forth from its East McLemore Avenue home.

Jean Knight, born Jean Caliste, has been a strong New Orleans soul singer since her early 20’s, when Texas shyster promoter/producer Huey Meaux discovered her singing at Cosimo’s French Quarter studio and signed her to his group of labels. Recording mostly in Texas then, she had singles on Jet Stream and Tribe during the mid-1960’s. None of those were successful; but she did get some recognition at home and along the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, a little street cred pays no bills. So, later in the decade, she was earning a living as a baker in New Orleans and singing only occasionally, until a chance meeting with a songwriter named Ralph Williams, who introduced her to Quezergue. One of the songs that they gave her to listen to was, “Mr. Big Stuff”, which Williams had co-written. At the time, Knight claims in Jeff Hannusch’s The Soul of New Orleans, the song was a ballad! She says she suggested that it be “sassed up” prior to recording. However it got that way, it served her well, giving her a big enough hit to build a long career on.

Ms Big Hair

April 17, 2006

Attention, James Booker fans

James Booker aficionado, Andre Rosso, has alerted me to his petition to have Booker's filmed 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival performance released on DVD for the world to see - at least those who can afford to buy it. Currently, there is no video of the New Orleans piano genius available commercially. If you would like to participate in this noble cause, so we can have at least some access to seeing Booker do his stuff, please sign the petition.

Note: The Montreux people released a CD of at least part of the performance, if not all of it, some years back; but it is out of print. Maybe Andre should ask them to re-issue that, too.
[See Comments, if you are interested in the concert audio. And thank the Mail Clerk.]

April 14, 2006

One of Larry Williams' Last Ventures

"Shake Your Body Girl" (C. Paul/T. Bowden/L. Pauling)
Larry Williams, Venture 622, c. 1968

This concludes our adventure

Continuing on the subject of vast interconnectedness in the musical universe, and what finding and examining some forgotten single can reveal about it, I was reminded when doing the prior piece on Lloyd Price of another 45 from the same era by Larry Williams, “Shake Your Body Girl” b/w “Love I Can’t Seem To Find It”. So, I pulled it out, too, mainly because of the island-flavored groove of “Shake Your Body Girl” – admittedly a “fake” calypso feel; but, I am a fool for lots of percussion; and this one presses the right buttons (hits the right skins?). Besides, I’ve always kinda dug ersatz genre dance music done well, like this. The flip has a funky feel to it; so I’ll have to roll that out for tasting at some later date.

From the R&B Indies and a nice discography piece by Davie G that appeared on the Soulful Detroit forum in 2002, I’ve learned that Venture Records was a short-lived (1967-1969), Los Angeles-based offshoot of MGM that seems to have been set up exclusively for soul acts. It had numerous former Motown staffers involved behind the scenes, including the great
Clarence Paul, who co-wrote and co-produced our featured tune (Clarence also co-wrote “Mojo Hannah”, covered by several HOTG artists). Williams recorded this Venture single and another (#627) probably in 1968; but I don’t know anything else about the sessions.

Born in New Orleans, Larry Williams relocated with his family to the Bay Area when he was ten years old; and, by age 17, he had joined a local group, the Lemon Drops, as a singer and pianist, around 1952. He often made trips back to his birthplace, and there, in 1954, met Lloyd Price, who was riding high on his records for Specialty. Williams toured in Price’s band as a pianist for a short time until Price was drafted. At that point, Williams auditioned the Lemon Drops for Specialty; but they didn’t get signed. After completing his service, Price jumped labels and signed with ABC, seeking a more pop sound and larger audience, starting with the 1957 ballad, “Just Because”. Specialty then brought Williams to L.A. to do a quick cover of the song and steal a little thunder from Price’s hit. While that ploy didn’t really do much commercially, it did allow Williams some follow-up sessions; and his next release, “Short Fat Fannie”, went gold (I still have the copy I bought back then – wore it out). It rocked and rolled in the mode of Little Richard (the label’s biggest artist at the time), with some of the same session players backing Williams. In short order, his next record, “Bony Maronie”, was another million seller.

By 1958, Little Richard had gotten religion and was out of play; and Williams was touring strongly and doing more great records, such as “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, “Slow Down”, “Bad Boy’ (all covered by the Beatles in the next decade) and “She Said Yeah” (to be similarly covered by the Rolling Stones). When none of those records were big hits, his rocket ride started getting the gravitational tug. Then, to really bring him back down fast, Williams' arrest on a narcotics charge in 1959 caused Specialty to drop him, although they issued a few more singles on him from what they had left in the can.

Williams went on to make some legless records for Chess, L & W, and Okeh, with which he had a production deal into the mid-1960’s. Always a big spender, high roller, and wild side walker, he increasingly supported his larger-than-lifestyle with burglary, drug dealing, and pimping. A collaboration with the also outrageous Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson resulted in a few singles and a pretty good album for Okeh, Two For The Price of One; and they toured together in 1966-67. After the two subsequent Venture releases, Williams put out a single ("Call On Me" b/w "Boss Lovin'") on his own El Bam imprint, and produced several more by other artists between 1969 and 1971, then was seemingly not heard from again on record until a 1979 Fantasy funk album, That Larry Williams. The next year, he was found dead at his California home of a gunshot wound to the temple, which was ruled suicide.

Though a true gangsta bad boy in his parallel career path, Larry Williams is an important New Orleans-related music figure. Most of his
seminal Specialty recordings were made in Los Angeles, but employed such great expatriate hometown area players as drummer Earl Palmer, saxophonist Plas Johnson, and guitarist/arranger Rene Hall. He wrote most of his own material, as well. On the road, one of the first bands he hired to back him was the Hawketts out of New Orleans, whose pianist and leader was a young Art Neville. Williams got Neville his first solo recording deal, also with Specialty. Through Art, he met the other Neville brothers, befriending them and helping them over the years (in Aaron’s case, also helping get him arrested!). So, even as a relative outsider, he had plenty of connections to the musical culture of his hometown. Ultimately, his groove ventures contributed to that legacy and overshadowed those misadventures outside the law.

His bad self

April 11, 2006

Lloyd Price's Jamaican Connection

"The Truth" (Jimmy Norman & Al Pyfrom)
Lloyd Price, JAD 212-A, 1968

No lie

"Don't Stop Now" (Tony Bryce)
Lloyd Price, JAD 212-B-1, 1968

Soon come. . .

Continuing the ongoing detective work right here, I am always amazed at how an obscure single I’ve bought on a whim or a hunch can open a window on unknown (to me) aspects of a song, an artist’s career, a record label, a significant time in the history of recording, etc. Such is the case with today’s single, “The Truth” b/w “Don’t Stop Now”, by New Orleans native Lloyd Price on New York-based JAD Records. I like the record so much that I thought I’d let you hear both sides; and the back story maybe makes more sense, if you hear them together.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Lloyd Price should be well known at least to fans of New Orleans music from the 1950’s, from his classic R&B debut with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” in 1952, backed by Dave Bartholomew’s band with Fats Domino on piano, to his more slick, uptown pop records later that decade and into the next for ABC, after he had left his hometown. By the late 1960’s, his recording career had cooled off, at least as far as hits were concerned; and, in 1968, he released two singles on JAD.

Taken from the initials of the first names of its principals, singer
Johnny Nash, producer Arthur Jenkins, and Nash’s business partner, Danny Sims, JAD Records was a venture that initially sought to develop Jamaican artists for the American and international market, specifically Bob Marley and his group the Wailers, whom Nash encountered on a trip to the island in 1967. This was a transitional period in Jamaican music when the rock steady style was just beginning to move toward reggae, with Marley and band to become the greatest exponents of the latter style. But, at the time, Marley wanted to be a soul singer in the Otis Redding mold and hoped his association with JAD would help him get there. Nash and the label brought in a New York engineer, songwriters, and such A-list session players as Bernard Purdie, Chuck Raney, Richard Tee and Eric Gale (the frequent studio band for Atlantic Records) for the basic tracking sessions in Jamaica. Tunes cut there then went back to New York for any needed overdubs of horns, strings, etc. Although some of these sessions were released in Jamaica on local labels, it appears that JAD only issued one single of Marley and the group, “Bend Down Low” b/w “Mellow Mood” in the name of Bob, Rita & Peter in 1968. When it didn’t sell, JAD lost interest in the project, leaving Marley to wander in the recording wilderness for a few more formative years.

Besides, attempting to develop and break the budding genius, JAD released about a dozen other singles, mainly by Johnny Nash, who benefitted the most from the Caribbean association. I don’t know how Lloyd Price got involved with the label for his two singles; but the songs presented here are certainly unworthy of obscurity. “The Truth”, composed by American R&B writers Jimmy Norman and Al Pyfrom, has a convincing Jamaican flavor for a track done by, I assume, the same NYC cats who played the Marley sessions. Meanwhile, the upbeat B-side dancer, “Don’t Stop Now”, is USA all the way with a great groove, hot horns, and Price's inspired vocal.

About a year after his JAD singles were released into relative oblivion, Price started a club in New York, The Turntable, and the short-lived Turntable label. He released one single of his own on it, the great “Bad Conditions” b/w “The Truth”, the same side as on JAD 212. The A-side was also taken from those same Jamaican sessions; but the single went nowhere, as well. I’ll try to feature it a little later on. Turntable, by the way, is probably best known for releasing some Howard Tate tracks that same year [see the thread in the comments for more on this].

Since Jamaican popular music was heavily influenced by American R&B/soul, including many New Orleans records, it’s interesting to learn of artists from this country, such as Lloyd Price and Johnny Nash, trying to capture some of that island sound at the source well before reggae caught fire through that young man who stood up to sing Rasta soul.

See there. All that connection from a record I pulled from a pile one day because it looked promising. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

If you like solving a good musical mystery. . . .

. . .,helping to shed some light on one, or just learning about the backgrounds of some cool tunes and forgotten artists, as I do (all three), there's a new mp3 blog for us that looks like it will be both fun and useful. It's Red Kelly's latest start-up, Soul Detective. The man is becomming a blog franchise, already presenting the "B" Side and its "A" Side offshoot. I don't know how these multi-bloggers do it. I am only partially employed; and I have a hard time getting together two posts a week, let alone two (or three!) blogs - and I tried.

Anyway, if you are a Soul Detective (another subset of music geek entirely - you know who you are), want to become one or just catch the spine-tingling action, try Red's new site and marvel as your workday productivity, quality family time, and/or sleep time seem to melt away.

April 07, 2006

Funky Golden Rule

The older I get (having just passed another birthday, my wife assures me I won’t be over the hill for three more years – say what?), I am increasingly unable to abide straight beats. The more syncopated and polyrhythmic the better for this freak of geezerhood. Maybe you’ve noticed. If not, hear this.

"Do Unto Others" (Barard, Castenell, Dabon, Hughes, Richard, Richards, Smith, Tio, Willams)
Chocolate Milk, from Comin', RCA, 1976

Just did

That’s my friend (and, since Katrina, infrequent HOTG contributor), Dwight Richards, tearing up the beat, along with percussionist Ken ‘Afro’ Williams, on “Do Unto Others”, a little monster from Chocolate Milk’s third LP, Comin’. I just recently found this copy, the only album of theirs I lacked from the period (1975-1979) when Allen Toussaint produced their records for Sansu Productions, co-owned with Marshall Sehorn. Having played the LP repeatedly lately, I think Comin’ is their most thoroughly funk-infused effort of the lot, if you judge da funk in degrees of syncopation (as I usually do), rather than in the more elusive qualities of attitude or feel. While none of the other material on it is quite like this one, the album has made me re-evaluate Chocolate Milk yet again.

In essence, “Do Unto Others” is Dwight, ’Afro’, and bassist David Barard having at it with not a straight beat sequence to be found. I think the track probably originated in the band’s live improvisations, where Dwight has said they developed much of their material. The broken-field percussion and off-kilter feeling bass and guitar ostinato do not let up here. Adding counterpoint are the hot horn insertions and - what is that? - a synth break. At least it’s old school analog (a mini-moog perhaps?). Playing more subtle supportive roles back in the mix are a percolating clavinet and tasty rhythm guitar. But, if the Golden Rule of funk is really “give the drummer some”, then I’ve got to say that Dwight’s chops invoke my awe here. You can hear why he was also one of the regular session crew at Sea-Saint in the Seventies.

It has been my often spoken opinion over the years that I’d be perfectly blissful listening to just a great New Orleans rhythm section lay down grooves all night. There’s that much going on. Forget the vocals, the soloing, however strong. Those of you who require a bit more of the melodic with their grooving may not go for this unusual
Chocolate Milk piece. But, I don’t think you can deny that it is a strong statement of their musicianship, revealing the band’s intense, homegrown rhythmic sensibilities in no uncertain terms. To me, it rules.

Chocolate Milk on Comin':
Dwight Richards - drums
Kenneth 'Afro' Williams - percussion
David Barard - bass
Robert Dabon - keyboards
Steve Hughes - guitar
Mario Tio - guitar
Amadee Castenell - saxes
Joseph Smith - trumpet
Frank Richard - vocals

Dwight Richards writes:
Dwight here.......All I can say is WOW! Dan, I bow down to you brother. You are the MASTER of obscure tracks!!! I couldn't even remember this title and I played on it....WOW!!!! I haven't heard this song since I recorded it in the mid seventies. It was like listening to it for the first time...THANK YOU. I honestly don't know how you find these things..this is your talent, keeping this music alive!! Considering all of the unwanted funk I've been in since Katrina this was a treat that brought a big simle to my face. Thank you for finding this. And yes, this was a recorded jam session that was released on an album. I don't think we intended it to be a record. We would usually jam for a few minutes when we first got into the studio for a session just to get warmed up. This track was just us stretching out and having some fun and I guess we decided to keep it. Glad you liked the drumming. Sorry I haven't been by to comment more, but of course I've been busy trying to put my life back together. . . . By the way, if you want to hear something mindblowing just for your own listening pleasure,check out "Confusion" on the first Chocolate Milk alblum. On that cut the band just absolutely shows off it's musical chops. It is a lot like the Herbie Hancock Headhunter band. Of course we were friends of them during the time, so the influences went back and forth.I'm playing two different time signatures at once on the drums. One on the hi-hats and another on the snare and kick. . . .

It's so good to have your comments here again, Dwight. I know Katrina messed with you big time. If I can put a smile on your face for a few minutes, then that makes my day. And, any props I can give, you deserve. I was pretty sure that tune was jam-based from what you had told me about how y'all worked; so, thanks for the insight about it being a recorded in-studio warm-up. Awesome. You guys sure knew how to have fun! And, yes, I just listened to "Confusion" again on Action Speaks Louder Than Words. Appreciate you reminding me (us) about that track, too. As I recall, CM started out playing jazz. It shows on that one. And that whole album is a mo-fo, too.

April 04, 2006

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.

'Miss' Bobby

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.