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.Embed from Getty Images
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!