July 11, 2007

The Haplessly Hatted Count & The Reluctant Frontman

Being here in Southwest Louisiana, I occasionally like to feature some sides that didn't originate in New Orleans. There has been quite a bit of independent, small label recording activity in these parts with its own unique musical flavor from the mid-20th century onward. J. D. 'Jay' Miller had several labels and is best remembered for his classic studio work in Crowley with blues and r&b artists (much of which came out on Excello Records, based in Nashville). Floyd Soileau had the Jin and Maison de Soul labels in Ville Platte. Lee Lavergne ran Lanor Records in Church Point. Carol Rachou's La Louisianne was based in Lafayette. Not least by any means was Eddie Shuler's Goldband Records in Lake Charles. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Goldband side on this site; so let’s make up for that with some funk and r&b from 1968, when Shuler was trying to stay somewhat current with national music trends.

"Do Your Stuff" (S. J. Simien)
Count Sidney & His Dukes, Goldband 1194, 1968

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

Eddie Shuler signed Sidney Simien, a/ka Rockin’ Sidney, Count Rockin’ Sidney. or just plain Count Sidney, to Goldband in 1965; and the singer had a total of about a dozen singles for the label. While that’s quite a few, it’s nothing like the 50 that online bios attribute to him for that time. Nothing that Simien did for Goldband was commercially successful; and, as far as I can tell, he had just one more single for the label after "Do Your Stuff", although he did play on some Katie Webster sessions, too, during the period. Surely that publicity photo of him in the hilarious headgear resembling a giant adult diaper did not help to advance his career.

Rockin' Sidney wrote most of his own material over the years; and it was of varying quality, with much being more miss than hit. He could and would just as readily put out drivel, if not outright dreck, as decent material, which makes collecting his good stuff challenging, if you have not previously heard the tunes. Fortunately, “Do Your Stuff”, which I ran across recently, is one of his better sides (Larry Grogan has written about another of the Count's Goldband outings).
This is no newly discovered classic, mind you; but it has sufficient groove for some fun and get down, with a pumping bass line, effective horns, some nice organ licks (maybe by Katie Webster?), and a bit of broken drumming to boot. It’s lyrics, based around a typical call to the dance floor to do all the popular moves of the day, might have been a bit more convincing had Sidney put more into his vocal. He sounds kind of hoarse and too pooped to pogo on this one, despite the compelling beat.

Simien soon dropped the Count moniker (and thankfully the faux turban), and, as simply Rockin' Sidney again, took up the accordion in the 1970s, trying to claim a slice of the creole zydeco music market. Not "cajun" music (beware wikis),
zydeco is a strong, dance-oriented rhythm & blues based music featuring the accordion as lead instrument. It was developed by the French speaking creoles of African and mixed ancestry in the Southwest Louisiana area, with Clifton Chenier being the best know progenitor. By some miraculous fluke of fate and piece of luck, one of Simien's zydeco-lite songs, “My Toot Toot”, became a multi-million seller in the 1980s and was covered by legions of artists (including Jean Knight and Fats Domino), making him quite well-off in his later years. In the great music business lotto, that was Rockin Sidney's Powerball payday. Though he was never considered a premier zydeco artist, the success of that song made it an obligatory (if tiresome) part of of the repertoire of virtually every zydeco band for years; and it remains a standard.

Back to
Goldband, Eddie Shuler never did have much soul music on the label. When he seriously tried to tap the emerging soul/funk market in the later 1960s, he launched the short-lived Anla label; and some of those singles have become, years later, a hot commodity for soul and funk collectors. Of those I've heard, many are interesting; and some are even pretty good. You can find a few of the funkier Goldband and Anla tracks on various CD compilation, including Southern Funkin'. But, as far as I know, "Do Your Stuff" has yet to make an appearance.

Does anybody know what a palanquin guitar is?

"Switch It" (E. Shuler)
Danny James, Goldband 1200, 1968

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

I first learned of Danny James (Sonnier) from a few mentions in John Broven's book on the music of the Acadiana region, South To Louisiana. Then, around the mid 1990s, I found the Ace (UK) CD, Boogie In the Mud (now out of print), which compiled most of James' Goldband appearances both as a session guitarist and frontman, playing instrumentals and doing some vocals, too. The earlier instrumentals suited James best; and when he had a good tune, arrangement and groove to work with, he made some great records. Three of those sides I think are outstanding. And, today's feature is one of them.

"Switch It" came out very soon after the Count Sidney track in 1968. No funk here, but a there's a little wah-wah work mixed in with his more clean twang tone, plus a nice bouncin' South Louisiana soul groove with a strong horn section. A few years before this record, James began playing behind blue-eyed soul singer Clint West, who had just left the legendary Boogie Kings to form a touring band with co-vocalist Tommy McLain. They called their new outfit the Fabulous Kings. So, the big band soul sound on "Switch It" (credited to Shuler but likely written by James) was something he was accustomed to. With a spacey instrumental, "Blue Clouds", on the flip, James' third of four instrumental singles for Goldband was not the charm. When none of James guitar records did anything in the sales department, Shuler tried him on vocals for three more releases. The producer thought James had a commercial singing voice, as it was an earthy baritone, reminiscent of Tony Joe White; but, in reality, it had no range. James more talked the lyrics than sang them on those equally non-selling sides, which were similar in approach, if not quite in execution, to White's swampy early work like "Polk Salad Annie". Another problem seemed to be that the guitarist felt far more comfortable in the background and never sought to promote his recordings with live appearances.

Between 1962 and 1970, Danny James played on numerous sessions at Goldband and for other local area studios, as well, including several classic swamp pop tunes: Little Eddy's "Linda Lu", Tommy McLain's "Sweet Dreams" and "Before I Grow Too Old" singles, and Charles Mann's "Red, Red Wine". After his second marriage and with two young children, James got out out of the music business for over a decade, but returned in the 1980s, playing in Louisiana Pride, which featured local vocal favorites, Mann, Little Alfred and Skip Downers. One of his last sessions was on Mann's locally popular version of Dire Straits' "Walk Of Life". Long in poor health, Danny James Sonnier passed away in 1991 at the age of 46.

In the coming weeks, I'll bring you two more of Danny James sides, which I think were his best. So, stay tuned.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's a good question

thanks for you great blog

3:55 AM, July 17, 2007  
Blogger The Stepfather of Soul said...

I'm really loving the Danny James track, and can't wait to hear the other two!

11:04 AM, July 17, 2007  
Blogger Todd Lucas said...

I'll jump for joy and click my heels together, if I ever run across a Rockin' Sidney 45 out in the wild. By the way, I dig the turban.

8:36 AM, July 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A palanguin is a covered, hand carried carriage. Supported by humans with poles, you know? A palanquin guitar is a mystery still.

8:53 AM, August 23, 2007  
Blogger The Mastermind said...

Great Blast From The Past Dan, you brought forth some good facts about Gold Band, and the music of the era. You also had some good comments on Rockin Sidney. I might be a little biased though, considering he's my grandfather.

7:11 PM, May 12, 2008  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, Mastermind. I'm proud to have a grandchild of the rockin' Count write in. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

10:34 PM, May 12, 2008  

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