August 10, 2006

Mudbug Love Songs

(Resistance is futile)

Well, I’m kind of off-season on this one, as the next crop of genuine Louisiana crawfish (a/k/a mudbugs) won’t be in until the fall; but I found one song about these crustaceans; and it led me to think of another. You know how it goes. And suddenly I had a theme for a weekend post.

"Crawfish" (Wise-Weisman)
Elvis Presley, RCA, 1958

I’ve recently been going through that box of 45’s from my childhood and found today’s first selection on a old RCA EP (by EP), which is actually the second of two extended plays the label released of songs from the movie, King Creole. Naturally (?), growing up in Memphis in the Fifties, I had a bunch of Elvis records; but I was no longer listening to Big E much by the time he went into the service. I saw several of his early movies back then, too, but not this one. I caught it on TV late one night when I was older. Of course, it became my top Elvis movie, as it is set in New Orleans and was at least partially filmed there. Elvis actually does a passable acting job, although imagining him as a singing Creole tough guy (with a heart of gold, of course) is a stretch.

. . .Elvis Presley was inducted into the army after he had filmed scenes for King Creole in New Orleans. Though the movie featured the singer's finest acting, it also echoed Hollywood's whitewashed "birth of jazz" travesties. Blacks were only seen in tiny, uncredited parts, including [Dave] Bartholomew's Imperial artist, Blanche Thomas, who appeared with Presley in the opening French Quarter scene as a seafood peddler lip-syncing the song "Crawfish". The film's producers also inserted ersatz New Orleans jazz into songs that ripped off rock 'n' roll recorded a few blocks away [at Cosimo's studio] - "Hard Headed Woman" was a blatant re-working of "Long Tall Sally" with a lame Dixieland break. --Rick Coleman, from Blue Monday: Fats Domino And The Lost Dawn Of Rock 'N' Roll. (Thanks to George LaTour for bringing this quote to my attention.)

Elvis does some campy, contrived songs and over-sings other trifles in King Creole - no news there, if you've ever seen one of his movies. Still, there are a few fairly good ones, such as the title track and “Trouble”. But, the strange “Crawfish” dished up for this film is unique. Though it attempts and fails to have a swampy and "authentic" sound, I still like the spare arrangement, the melody, and Elvis’ understated, sultry delivery. It’s got atmosphere, alright, but from the Louisiana of some alternate universe. And what to say about that background singer? I think she got her some crawfish boil juice down her shorts, cher.

During the annual Elvis Week festivities (which actually commemorate his death) in Memphis, that occur around this time of year, the dog days of summer, I would play a few cuts from the King Creole soundtrack CD on my radio show, as sort of a backhanded acknowledgement of the event. People come from all over the world to reverently pass through Graceland, see Elvis impersonator contests, buy corporate memorabilia, and attend the Candlelight Vigil, standing in line for hours for the privilege of passing by his tomb at night with a lit taper. The locals pretty much just hunker down and try to avoid the traffic down in that part of town; but, hey, nobody messes with the Elvis franchise and the bucks it rakes in for the city. My personal idolatry preferences lie elsewhere, as I think you can see; but, if you are into the King of TCB, no problem.

Anyway, moving on. When I played “Crawfish” the other day, I immediately thought of the Radiator’s classic about the best way to eat one. When I put it on, I realized how bizarrely well they go together. So, here ya go.

(Bua, Sears, Malone, Scanlan, Volker, and Baudoin)

"Suck the Head" (Ed Volker-Camile Baudoin)
The Radiators, from Law Of The Fish, Epic, 1987

It’s “Suck the head. Squeeze the tip”. Some get the wrong idea about the words. It’s about eating the boiled crawfish. You pull the head off, suck out the spicy juice from the boil ingredients, then squeeze the mudbug meat out of the tip (tail) to savor. It’s not about doing the nasty. No siree, Bubba. . . .

Well, whatever it’s about – the sparse lyrics are open to interpretation – and whoever Lord Cortegro and Queen Alphonso are, this is a pretty swampy, funked out rock song by a New Orleans band,
the Radiators (a/k/a da Rads). While "Suck The Head" has been in their repertoire for 28 years, as I recall, it actually pre-dates the 1978 founding of the band, being originally done by the Rhapsodizers. That earlier group contained, among others, songwriter, keyboardist and vocalist Ed Volker, lead guitarist Camile Baudoin, and drummer Frank Bua. Those three later joined in with guitarist Dave Malone and bassist Reggie Scanlan to form the Radiators, after an impressive first night of jamming together, which they've been doing ever since.

I was lucky enough to see the Rads early on –1978 or 1979- at Tipitina’s and was mightily impressed. At the time, I though they were a lot like Little Feat; but, looking back, I can say that they were the kind of New Orleans bar band that Little Feat always wanted to be. And I say that as a Little Feat fan. The Rads are just more down and dirty, I guess you could say. Not everything they did or do now is as funky as “Suck The Head”; but the spirit and hot, thick atmosphere of New Orleans infuses their playing. A truly road tested club band for almost three decades now, not counting all their prior experience, they are best encountered live; and their best recordings capture them in the act. Of those, I suggest, their first, 1980’s Work Done On Premises, if you can find it, and Earth Vs The Radiators from 2004 with the Bonerama Horns sitting in. The band also tolerates, if not encourages, amateur taping of their shows. So, I suppose there are many to be had for trade, if you are so inclined.

Of all the records they’ve put out, I think “Suck The Head” may only appear on Law Of The Fish, which was their second studio album and first on a major label, Epic. Issued in 1987, it has long been out of print* on CD, and was originally available on vinyl, too, I think. While rather slickly produced, it’s was a strong effort that even got them some brief commercial radio airplay for “Like Dreamers Do” and “Confidential”. Percussionist Glenn Sears, who is heard on this album, is no longer with the band. Guess it’s no wonder that “Suck The Head” didn’t go top 40; but it’s a great, greasy tidbit that just oozes that homegrown flava. They ain’t talkin’ no stinkin' Chinese crawfish up in here.

[*Update: Jon over at the Nevilletracks discography tells me that the entire album is available for download at iTunes. Thanks for the heads up, Jon. ]

Hmmm, Elvis, da Rads, Dixie Beer, and the scent of boiling mudbugs. Sounds like a pawty to me, dawlin’.


Coco Dris, Laughing Eye, 1972

After my wife saw my topic, she reminded me of the single she got long ago from her friends from Baton Rouge who were in Cocodris (that’s what you call an alligator in French-speaking South Louisiana). On one side of that record is a version of “Crawfish” that is very faithful in arrangement to the one from King Creole, but definitely having a more local flavor

The lead singer in the band was Ms Boco LaTour, whose smoky, sultry voice, I am reliably told by my lovely wife (a music geek par excellence, in her own right), could also really deliver on soul material, especially Irma Thomas covers. And, she is still delivering, singing these days with the Avenue Cruisers out of Donaldsonville, LA. I’ve got to get out to hear her live.

Boco, an HOTG reader and occasional commenter, tells me that Cocodris recorded “Crawfish” in the closet of their practice house in the spring of 1972. They released it on their own Laughing Eye label with distribution probably limited to gig sales. So, it’s a rare crawfish, for sure. Other members of the band were Mike ‘Shotgun’ DeBozier, conga and vocals, Scott ‘Coyote’ Baker, drums and vocals, Bill ‘Hollywood’ Bennett, guitar and vocals, David Tourville, bass and vocals, George LaTour, guitar and vocals, Sheila Tourville, vocals. Sheila does a far better job on that background vocal, too, than what’s on the original.

Kudos to Cocodris for taking on “Crawfish”. It never was in the standard bar band repertoire, even in the Deep South, that’s for sure! Their version lends a more actual Louisiana connection to the tune; so, I hope it gives you a bit more perspective on the song. And, remember, folks, only buy Louisiana crawfish! It’s important

Note: I don’t discuss much New Orleans rock on HOTG, for obvious reasons. But, for those who might be interested in some more background on bands from the Sixties onward, I suggest this article, which I found while researching today’s post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unlike most rock bands, the Rads have a legitimate place on HOTG. Band members cut their teeth backing up legends like Fess, Booker and Earl King. George Porter Jr. and Cyril Neville sit it with them regularly. And their wide repertiore draws heavily on many HOTG artists.

For a live introduction, I'd recommend Live at the Great American Music Hall.

7:21 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

How true, anon. You never know when, while jammin', they'll segue into some NO classic like "Pass The Hatchet" or a Meters tune. Your live CD recommendation is a fine one, too. Especially on live stuff, the tracks are often just too long for me to post here, due to bandwidth costs. But I will try to get some more up by these guys, as I am a long-time fan. I interviewed Ed and Frank on my show in Memphis and got to introduce then at another show in Memphis years back.

9:33 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger WZJN said...

I want to say how eager I am to see this blog when I sign on. Great research and always an interesting read.

Can't count how much music you've turned me on to - thanks for it all, and keep it coming!


7:27 AM, August 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I just gotta say for the record, when a lot of us were in high school we thought that Boco could not only sing (and rock and roll) but was beyond gorgeous -- pilgramages were made all over BR & the greater lower wetlands region surrounding ...also, later in college, when I would come home for summer and breaks, I worked at the Kingfish and I once saw her tear that place down ... damn, unless it was in that joint over on Nicholson ...... White Horse? Or someplace else (Southdiwns?) ... anyway, 30 years later what I remember is her tearing it up and down with ease while looking great and smiling at (seriously) geeky boys...

sure glad I found this blog...thanks

8:03 PM, August 16, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks for putting Boco more into perspective for us, Anon. My wife knew her and heard her numerous time back then; but she didn't quite give me that "beyond gorgeous" angle, when she told me about those shows. Sounds like Ms Boco tore it down often. Hope she reads this!

Glad you dig the blog.

8:57 PM, August 16, 2006  

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