Opening for The Beatles Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry : Ain’t Got No Home!

In New Orleans, America’s greatest music city, they sure know how to throw a party.

Mardi Gras might just be the greatest and most joyous greatest civic celebration on the entire planet.

Mardi Gras rolls around every year.

But, on September 16 1964 New Orleans was en fete for a very different occassion. The Beatles were coming to City Park as part of their very first American tour.

The Beatles! A year earlier few had heard of them.

Now, following their historic appearances on Ed Sullivan and their subsequent colonisation of the Hot 100 they were famous at a level only previously approached by Elvis himself.

The whole city virtually levitated with anticipation and not just the crazed teenage Beatles fans.

No, even the Crescent City’s Mayor, Victor H Schiro, thought it only mete and proper to declare Wednesday September 16 1964 to be officialy, ‘Beatles Day In New Orleans’.

He welcomed the arriving, ‘English Storm’ in the Hurricane Month and, correctly, noted that what The Beatles did and sang was based on a cousin ship with Jazz – the jumping, danceable historic art form which was New Orleans inestimable gift to World Culture.

And, wonder of wonders, as the lights went down, who should be first on the Bill at this epochal show?

Why, none other than one of New Orleans most favoured sons, Clarence Frogman Henry, who could make a dead man rise out of his grave to dance and shout with Joy.

You want Joy? Joy, raining down in torrents?

Ecouter le cri de la grenouille! Ecouter! Ecouter!

Now, in my book, one of the primary purposes of music is to provide good cheer – to lift the burdensome cares of the day and remind you that to be alive is a glorious gift.

And, I can think of few records that fulfill that purpose to better effect than, ‘Aint Got No Home’.

It was a substantial R&B and Pop hit in 1956 as all over the nation people fell in love with the voice that could sound like a lonely boy, a lonely girl, a treetop bird and, best of all – A Frog!

What’s not to like!

There’s the trademark rolling on the river rhythm New Orleans sound that carries you securely along with the drums, bass and sax meshing perfectly together.

Clarence brings all his patent piano and vocal charm, honed in clubs like The Chicken Shack, to produce a record that is both a novelty and a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic.

Clarence, born and raised in the Crescent City, had clearly been listening to Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Shirley and Lee. The delightful Frog impression was his own boyhood invention.

Ooo .. ooooo …. ooooo … ooooo … ooooo .. oooooo!

Yes indeed. Yes Indeed.

I’m here to tell you that there’s no Jukebox in the whole wide World that wouldn’t be improved by having a copy of, ‘Aint Got No Home’ in its racks!

The success of Aint Got No Home brought appearances at the premier Black Theatres of the day – The Apollo in New York, The Howard in D.C and The Royal in Baltimore sharing the stage with luminaries like Clyde McPhatter and Chuck Berry.

But, there was no immediate hit follow up so Clarence went back home to the Boubon Street clubs where he always drew a loyal and enthusiastic hometown crowd.

Clarence’s next smash came courtesy of two fellow Louisianians Paul Gayten and Bobby Charles.

Paul Gayten, a prodigiously talented musician, arranger and Bandleader, acting as a talent scout for Chess Records had spotted the potential of Clarence and hustled him into Cosimo Matassa’s Studio to record his initial hit.

Paul had recorded Bobby Charles immortal, ‘See You Later Alligator’ later popularised by Bill Haley, and the two combined their talents to write, ‘(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do’ which gave Clarence a big, fat, International hit in 1961.

Bobby Charles, a secret hero of Rock ‘n Roll, will feature here later. He had the priceless gift of writing songs which sounded as if you’ve always known them yet which never lose their playability through the years.

I chose to feature the live version above for the thrill of seeing and listening to a gold plated N’Awlins Band (with back up Dancers!) and the oratorical tones of legendary WLAC DJ Bill ‘Hoss’ Allen.

Wonderful to hear the exchange between ‘Frog’ and ‘Hoss’, to briefly glimpse Robert ‘Barefootin” Parker and to realise that Frog’s accent is so thick you could near cut slices off it!

Clarence’s final appearance on the Charts also in ’61 was with a revival of the standard, ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love’ written by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher.

There are countless versions by everyone from The Mills Brothers to Peggy Lee and on to Ringo Starr.

Still, for my money, if you have a few drinks taken and fancy a whirl around a hardwood floor you can’t do better than call up the Frog!

Clarence has recorded extensively, toured Europe and played with many of the greats besides The Beatles but he has always returned home to the bosom of Bourbon Street.

If you’re lucky, even though he’s now in his ninth decade, you might see him there still.

Be assured you’re guaranteed a real find time and without doubt you’ll find yourself crooning along to his classic tunes.

As The Mayor of Jukeboxville I’m issuing my own Proclamation:

Whereas, in order to increase the wellbeing and mirth of all it devolves upon myself to officially proclaim today, June 5 2017, to be officially Clarence Frogman Henry Day.

Encore, ecouter le cri de la grenouille!

Irma Thomas : Deep Soul – Through trial and tribulation Wishing someone would care

Mama said:-

‘Child, when you’re born a woman you gonna have to get used to the taste of the salt in your tears.’

‘Now I ain’t telling you every man’s a devil but believe me everyone of them has some of the devil in him and you better be ready for that’

‘Of course, some sweet men got a touch of the angel about them – if you find one of those girl you better hang on tight!’

‘But, beware! Some of them are full of love and smiles one day (specially when you young) but the next they can curl their lip and leave you all alone (specially when you older)’

‘Why your own Daddy didn’t stay around long enough to see you crawl before he was chasing some other dream somewhere down the road. And, he never looked back’.

‘Lookin’ the way you do girl you never gonna be short of suitors. Likely, you gonna meet some good and some bad. Get your share of sunshine.

And, Lord knows, you gonna get your share of rain. Sometimes, it’s really gonna come down, really gonna come down.’

‘Sometimes all you can do is wait it out til the sun comes rolling round heaven again.’

‘And, I guarantee it wont be too long before you be prayin’ for someone new to make it right again.’

‘Because, darlin’ girl, aint no woman alive, no matter how bad the last man treated her don’t wish, really wish, that out there in the night, somewhere along the road – there’s someone who will really care.’

‘Don’t ever give up on that’

‘Now girl, sometimes a man you want gonna need some persuading – you think you can do that?’

‘Mama – I know I can, I know I can!’

‘And, I gotta tell you mama any man who leaves me behind gonna rue the day.

He wont be very far down the road before he realises he never gonna find one like me gain.

Oh, then, he’ll be thinkin’ of running all the way back to beg me on his knees to take him back.

He gonna find I need a lot of persuading. A lot.

He gonna find time is on my side. My side.’

Need I say more?

Notes:

The above dialogue is of course, fiction.

Yet, it can’t hope to come close to the drama of Irma Thomas’ own life.

Born 1941 in rural Ponchatoula, La she was raised in New Orleans and by the age of 19 was twice married and the mother of four children.

Working as a 16 year old cocktail waitress she shared a stage with Tommy Ridgley at the Pimlico Club.

Tommy and anyone with half an ear could tell that this girl could really sing! Joe Ruffino at Ron Records was persuaded too leading to the release in May 1960 of the deliriously fiesty, ‘(You can have my husband, But please) Don’t mess with my man’.

She soon moved to the larger Minit label where she was fortunate to work with the great Alan Toussaint. Her records also benefited from the superb arranging and production skills of H B Barnum.

Together this team produced a series of heart shredding classics which will always burn deep before the dark altar of deep soul.

The four sides featured above showcase a singer who emerges, bruised, from the shadows to share the secrets of a heart that has known joy and pain.

Yet, that battered heart beats on, beats on, beats on – encouraging ours to do the same whatever trials beset us.

Her vocal performance in her own, ‘Wish Someone would Care’ must set some kind of benchmark in soul balladry.

Indeed, before she has sung a word her opening tear choked moans crack the heart wide open.

Then, we can only surrender to the swooning majesty of her superbly paced vocal which is immeasurably assisted by the downriver flow of the organ and the dread and doom insistence of the drums.

Here, by an act of creative faith, Irma Thomas has encapsulated a lifetime of feeling in less than 150 seconds.

This record can never die. There will always be trial and tribulation in this vale of tears.

And, as the night ends and the dawn is about to break all you can say as you ready yourself to face another day is:

Mmmmm, Mmmmmm, Mmmmmm, Mmmmm.

The best compilation of Irma’s magnificent early 60s recordings is, ‘Time is on my side’ on the Kent label.

From her later work I recommend investigation of the excellent series she made for Rounder Records – especially, ‘The New Rules’