Earl King

TrackSingle / Album
These Lonely Lonely NightsAce 509
You Can Fly HighAce 529
Everybody Got To CryVin 1003
Come OnImperial X5713
Trick BagImperial 5811
Always A First TimeImperial 5811
You´re More To Me Than GoldImperial 5858
A Mother's LoveStreet Parade
You Make Me Feel GoodStreet Parade
Street ParadeStreet Parade

Earl King photo 2

 

 

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Earl King playlist

 

 

DAVE STEPHENS’ NEW ORLEANS SCENES #9 – EARL KING

The Kings: B.B., Albert, Freddie … and Earl?

Quite regardless of his importance or otherwise, it’s a name that you might think is familiar, particularly in relation to New Orleans. But it’s probably not. There were/are musical Earls and plenty of musical Kings as we all know, but it’s only the connoisseur of the Big Easy who’s likely to be aware of the significance of Mr King. He was something of a musician’s musician: guitarist, composer, producer and arranger, and artist in his own right. His recording career started in 1953 and progressed right up to the nineties with three well-received albums on the Black Top label. His creativity continued to flow throughout that timeframe with the late albums not totally jam-packed with covers and retreads. While he never seriously broke through to a national level, his records sold well in New Orleans and he had an audience right across Southern Louisiana. That last sentence is too much on the bland side; what it doesn’t say is that I had one heck of a job narrowing down the candidates in order to squeeze them into a ten – more, indeed, than I’ve had with some artists you definitely would have heard of.

He was born Earl Silas Johnson IV in Algiers, Louisiana, in the 15th Ward of the 17 Wards of New Orleans, on 7th February 1934. His parents were Earl Silas Johnson III and Ernestine Gaines (also known as “Big Chief”, a name which would have later significance). Earl senior was a local blues pianist who died when junior was very young, and if there’s doubt about the little one’s age when dad died – different accounts put it at one or two years old – there’s no doubt at all that baby Earl inherited some of dad’s musical genes.

In addition to the usual early gospel singing experience, the youthful Earl also picked up a liking for more secular forms of music. To quote the man himself from Jeff Hannusch’s fine feature in Offbeat: “when I was 14, I went into a place on Tchoupitoulas Street, Big Mary’s, and saw Smiley Lewis with Tuts Washington. My mother cut into me that night, but I just had to hear that music. After that, I’d go see Smiley around by Sal’s on St. Thomas. They had another guy in there called Hold That Note Sam. I remember that place because the smell of reefer was so strong.”

At the age of 15, Earl started playing guitar and formed a trio with a couple of classmates from school. It wasn’t too long before the band started entering – and winning – talent competitions at places like the Dew Drop Inn and the Club Tijuana, although technically Earl was under age. At roughly the same time he met and befriended two other New Orleans based artists, Eddie Jones (who went by the stage name of Guitar Slim) and Huey Smith. The former, an already established blues singer and guitarist, would become a mentor to Earl; the two often played together and when Eddie had a bad car crash just as his record, The Things I Used To Do, started moving up the charts – it eventually achieved a million sales – Earl stood in for him as front man with the band (with some trepidation according to the Offbeat article). Pianist Huey Smith, who was closer in age to Earl and, like him, was still paying his dues, often acted as his accompanist forming a partnership which would endure through many of Earl’s Specialty and Ace recordings.

Which brings me on to the records. His first, appearing on the Savoy label, coupled Have You Gone Crazy with Beggin’ At Your Mercy, with both titles credited to Earl Johnson as performer and composer. Following time-honoured tradition, one side – in this case the A-side – was an up tempo number aimed at the dance floor, and the other was a slowie for the smooching or other activity. Without knocking the plug side – indeed both sides were executed with almost a surplus of confidence for a debut disc – it was probably the flip which was of more interest. A blues ballad, carried along by piano and saxes with plenty of influence present from Earl’s sparring partner Eddie Jones but already with greater sophistication in the arrangement and melody line than typical Jones slow blues.

 

SPECIALTY

The record didn’t do anything thanks probably to poor promotion, but Earl’s continued gigging in New Orleans caught the ear of budding music entrepreneur Johnny Vincent who, at that stage in his career, was operating as talent scout/record producer for Specialty Records. Just like Savoy, Specialty played the jumper/slowie trick for Earl’s first single, only this time the slow number, A Mother’s Love, occupied the A-side and it was an improvement:

The resemblance between Earl and Eddie was even more marked on this performance, in part because Earl’s guitar featured for the first time and his ascending fills, both in tone and pattern of notes, sounded very like Eddie (I almost said “just like Eddie” but that could have been an unintended pun on the memory of Heinz Burt). What the record did have, though, was spirit and it could be for that reason that it stuck with Earl and he cut the song twice more in later years. Version #2 came sometime during his Ace period (1955 – 60) but wasn’t issued as a single so I don’t have a date. The resemblance to Eddie Jones had largely disappeared, only to be replaced by a not displeasing infatuation with Aaron Neville’s vocal approach. Version #3 of A Mother’s Love was cut somewhere around 1969/1970 with Allen Toussaint in the producer’s chair (and for more on his recordings in this timeframe, skip a few paragraphs).

It’s clear from the spiky fills and a solo that stand out from the thoroughly modern – well, seventies modern – performance, that our man hasn’t totally forgotten his first musical hero. And in that thoroughly modern performance, just as Earl is pleading “Can I come home” in the third verse, the horns harmonise and remind us of the sort of sounds that used to leak out of Cosimo Matassa’s studio way back in the fifties and early sixties. That rare thing, a rerecording which turned out to be an improvement.

The Specialty “Mother’s Love” was credited to Earl King rather than Earl Johnson though this was actually a mistake. The Offbeat feature on Earl informs us that the label (by which I assume they mean founder and owner Art Rupe) had intended to give their new signing the name “King Earl” but the printer at the pressing plant slipped up and transposed the wording. Since the record achieved some traction, Specialty decided to stick with Earl King.

Several of his other Specialty sides echoed the stylistic approach of his first single for the label. No One But Me and Sittin’ And Wonderin’ were near soundalikes but still well performed and with sufficient difference to be of interest. However, his fast sides, like the latin-tinged Til I Say Well Done and the attempt to get into Richard/Domino territory, What Can I Do, displayed considerably more variety plus some of the range of Earl’s talents.

In 1955, “because King’s style was deemed very close to their current hit-maker Guitar Slim, Specialty dropped him after a few releases” (source: the Jeff Hannusch Offbeat feature). With hindsight this would seem a bit rich since the label appear to have marketed Earl as an alternative to Eddie even following the approach of making his follow-ups sound much like the near hit, just as they had followed up Slim/Eddie’s The Things I Used To Do with clones of that number.

 

ACE

Johnny Vincent had faith though. In 1955, he left Specialty and set up Ace Records in Jackson, Mississippi and took Earl King (and Huey Smith) with him. Ace’s first few records had tended more towards blues than commercial R&B with names like Lightnin’ Slim, Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson featuring in the first dozen or so releases. However, that thread, if there was a thread, was broken by the appearance of Earl’s Those Lonely Lonely Nights on Ace 509 in July that same year.

The record, complete with Huey Smith on out of tune piano, gave Earl his biggest hit, number 7 in the nation’s R&B Chart though unfortunately no crossover to the pop chart. It would have been viewed as slow R&B at the time but is now seen as the prototype or model for a form of music which flourished in SE Texas and Louisiana (but not significantly in New Orleans itself) in the early sixties and which came to be known as swamp pop. Guitar Slim is often named as an influence on swamp pop but in fact it was his disciple, Earl King, who actually put the building blocks together.

Most of Earl’s blues or blues ballads up to now had followed the 8 bar blues pattern like, say, Trouble In Mind. 12 bar slow blues from the man were relatively rare. But Everybody Got To Cry was an exception. Following the Guitar Slim pattern yes, but with a highly effective doomy riff from the saxes helping to make the record much, much more than a Slim pastiche (and the pianist, thought to be one Johnny Hernandez, was in tune this time, and rippling away to his heart’s content).

(The pedant out there might spot that this record was credited to “Handsome Earl” and that it appeared on the Vin label. The giveaway, though, apart from the label name, is the song writing credits both to this number and its flip: Johnson, Vincent. I can add that Vin was a short-lived subsidiary of Ace and that Earl sometimes used his real name rather than stage name in composing credits.)

At this juncture I felt that there was a need to leaven the diet of unrelieved gloom that I’ve been feeding the reader, so something up tempo and considerably more cheery was called for. You Can Fly High from 1957 meets that criteria superbly; what negativity there might be in the lyrics is flushed away by the sheer momentum of the music. A clipping of a review of the record posted in 45cat contains the following:

“Earl King shouts out a quick beat rocker with his usual exciting vocaling (sic). King bangs out the item with strong appeal. The shouter has lots on the ball and his personality comes through with such force that it may kick the deck off. Watch it.”

The sheer quality and consistency of Earl’s work at Ace maintained such a level that I had hours of agonising on just which tracks to select. Other tracks that came into consideration included the jumpers I’ll Take You Back Home with its innovative stop time sections, and the Joe Turner-ish, Is Everything Alright; the strollers Well´O Well´O Well´O Baby and I Can’t Help Myself; the putative swampies A Weary Silent Night (a number which would see a return visit) and the faster I’ll Never Get Tired; plus of course the slow burners or soul blues as we would later categorise them. Mother Told Me Not To Go was such a great example of the last named grouping that it was in the ten until almost the last minute.

But there’s one particular record from this period that just has to get a mention. Darling Honey Angel Child was the A-side of Earl’s final release for Johnny Vincent (it came out on Rex Records which was distributed by Ace). If it sounds familiar, it should; it was the dress rehearsal for Come On, one of Earl’s best-known records on which there’s much more to say after a brief interjection to document another label switch.

In 1959, whilst on tour with Sam Cooke, Earl was in the habit of opening his portion of the show with a working version of Come On / Darling Honey Angel Child. Dave Bartholomew, who was also on that tour, approached King after the tour finished to find out more about that opening number. Bartholomew at that time was not only Fats Domino’s band leader and composing partner but was also operating as A&R man and producer for Imperial Records. Earl was in the process of leaving Ace or had left – it’s all a bit hazy here – due to a dispute with Johnny Vincent about royalties which he claimed were withheld, so was receptive to an offer to move to Imperial.

 

IMPERIAL

Come On without a bracketed “Let The Good Times Roll” was recorded in Cosimo Matassa’s New Orleans studio – Vincent used other studios mainly because of price – and was issued as a two parter in November 1960 (acc. to 45cat). You can see why Dave Bartholomew’s ears pricked up when he heard it, the number was unusual in format consisting of vocal stop time portions which led on to instrumental (guitar led) sections which effectively formed the closing lines of the verses. That might not adequately describe it so just take a listen:

And it went on to sell a million copies. It would have been nice to be able say that, but there’s not an iota of truth in the sentence. Mind you a number of guitarists located right across the US did that same ear-pricking-up thing when they heard it for the first time. Wiki tells us that a certain Jimi Hendrix used to play it in a high school band in the Spanish Castle club south of Seattle. He went on to include the number on Electric Ladyland released in 1968. Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Anson Funderburgh cut the song too.

That agonising selection issue I had with Earl’s Ace output was at least as strong, if not even stronger, with his Imperial records notwithstanding the fact that he was at the label for only two years. In his “Rhythm And Blues In New Orleans”, John Broven stated that “Earl King’s series of records for Imperial between 1960 and 1962 must rank as some of the best items in the Imperial catalogue at this time.” In addition to Come On, I’ve gone for three contrasting tracks, all penned by Earl of course, which demonstrate his evolution as a songwriter and performer and the evolution of black music in general.

Trick Bag: New Orleans funk style with a side order of comedy (and the vocal interjections come from Benny Spellman). In the Offbeat feature that I’ve quoted from a few times, Jeff Hannusch tells us that Earl wrote the song about his father.

““My grandmother told me a story about my father’s temper once,” laughed King. “Every night my dad went by his girlfriend’s house to eat supper. One night, she just hands him a plate of food over the fence. My dad thinks about this, goes back to her place, kicks the door in, and there was another guy in there!””

Always A First Time: But not quite the first time for Earl’s new melismatic vocal style since I chose to open with the equally quavery (and later) version of A Mother’s Love. And he used the same technique for one side of the preceding single, Mama And Papa which I also happen to like. “First Time” won out because of the combination of voice and the horn arrangement which just stuck in the brain. The tune might have been as old as the hills but that just didn’t matter. The lyrics had charm too; Earl was improving.

I didn’t expect life on a silver platter
But there are some things that sometimes matter
Like losing you the way I did
When I’d been loving you from a kid
Nobody knows, nobody can tell
What tomorrow’s going to bring
That’s how I learned there’s always a first time for everything
Oh yes …

Always A First Time got to #17 in the US R&B Chart though those who know such things – or more specifically Jeff Hannusch – have said that the punters bought it for the flip, Trick Bag.

You´re More To Me Than Gold: Probably the most unusual record Earl cut while at Imperial, or possibly anywhere, and one that I suspect might have a marmite effect on listeners. The melody wanders rather than flows and the chord sequence is awkward. And yet, somehow it works. Earl is at his most intense, and that’s Aaron Neville or Al Green intense rather than Guitar Slim. Lyrically, the number is a tribute to his lady rather than an extended moan about her departure to the arms of another man. And the title is a reduced version of the punchline: “Your love means more to me than gold”.

Out of a dream, indeed.

And the one that gave way for “Gold”? 1962’s Case Of Love, a much more conventional soul ballad (and one that might well have been a pick for another artist). But I can’t leave the Imperial singles without shining a brief spotlight on Earl’s take on Guitar Slim’s calling card (and the one we all remember him by), The Things That I Used To Do. Was this Earl with one final tribute to the man who influenced him so much or a kind of exorcism of the Slim demon? Certainly it was a fine record which would have stood well on its own if you didn’t know the original.

Earl didn’t leave Imperial as such – he’s subsequently talked about a good musical relationship with Dave Bartholomew, and Imperial effectively left him – they were bought out by Liberty and our man didn’t survive the transition.

 

POST/AMY/HOT LINE/CHECKER

During the mid to late sixties Earl was without a recording contract but cut the occasional one-off single for a range of little and one not-so-little labels.

Both sides of the 1965 Marshall Sehorn produced Amy single, You´ll Remember Me and She´s My Drivin´ Wheel are well worth a listen with the A-side, a slow soul burner having a highly memorable first line, “You had a ring in my nose / a little bit more, I’d have proposed”, and the flip, much more dance floor focussed.

The Hot Line disc on which both sides were produced by Wardell Quezergue, got picked up by Chess/Checker for distribution. The plug side, Poor Sam, isn’t on YouTube but the flip, entitled Feeling My Way Around, is there and it’s another good ‘un with an intriguing rhythmical pattern and a fine, slightly jazzy vocal from Earl:

Earl wasn’t exactly idle when he wasn’t making records in this period. He had a spell as producer for the Duke label in Houston – he’d already produced several singles whilst at Ace including at least one by their prime hitmaker, Jimmy Clanton. He also continued writing songs (and I should add at this juncture that, just because I haven’t credited Earl with particular songs in the above paras doesn’t mean he didn’t – it was just getting repetitive saying it). Two of the ‘bigger’ songs he wrote during these years were Do-Re-Mi for Lee Dorsey, one of Lee’s early sellers, and the two part Big Chief for Professor Longhair, a number which went on to be a Mardi Gras regular. Earl himself also appeared on Big Chief as whistler and vocalist (but you have to wait for the vocal) – the song was named after his mother. Other artists he wrote for included Fats Domino, Willy Tee (Teasing You), Johnny Adams and the Dixie Cups.

In the mid sixties Earl recorded three demos at Motown. These are the tracks: Hunger Pains, Three Knocks On My Door and A Man And A Book. All three appeared in 1996 in a compilation, Motown’s Blue Evolution. They were produced by fellow New Orleans artist turned producer, Joe Jones. While none of the demos are up there with Earl’s greatest, I would still have thought they should have got him an entrée to the hit factory.

 

SANSU/CHARLY/KANSU/WAND/SONET/LISTENING POST

At some time (or times) during the period 1969 to 1972 – and the plural is more likely – Earl recorded a number of tracks under the supervision of Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn (with Toussaint looking after the musical aspects and Sehorn, the finances). At the time the two principals were running the New Orleans based Sansu record label and the Meters, who were then the label house band, backed Earl on the tracks. The intention was to create an album and have it marketed nationally by Atlantic. Talk commenced with Jerry Wexler but fell through. An album, Street Parade, eventually came out on Charly in the UK in 1981 with a repackaging and rerelease (as New Orleans Blues) on Tomato in the US in 2005. Some of the tracks, or variants of them, found their way on to singles on labels like Kansu and Wand. A more detailed version of this story is available on the Home Of The Groove site.

All of which is only of interest if the music on Street Parade/New Orleans Blues was/is of interest. The good news is that it is (and there’s no bad news and I’ll stick to the present tense). The original title and usage of the Meters suggests a funk makeover for Earl and, in part, that is the case. But not completely. Version #3 of A Mother’s Love from somewhere near the start of this journey is on this album, as is Part Of Me, a soul ballad Earl wrote for fellow New Orleans artist, Johnny Adams, in 1964. This is Earl’s own Street Parade take. The Adams’ original sounds early to mid sixties. Earl’s doesn’t. I’m not sure that I could have dated it at all without that background information (and I do wonder whether Sting ever got to hear the song).

You Make Me Feel Good is another stand out from the set and it’s my penultimate selection. Without that wah wah guitar the arrangement could have been Muscle Shoals. Okay, the song doesn’t really go anywhere but as the title says, it makes you feel good.

Mind you, if I was going to select a track from the set purely for fun content, I’d have gone for Medieval Days. If the key word in relation to You Make Me Feel Good is restraint, then this has to be the opposite. Could it have come from anywhere but New Orleans? Delicious. Allen Toussaint did have one hell of a sense of humour.

The two parter Street Parade is almost all Toussaint; Earl doesn’t even appear on Part 2, perhaps he’s off somewhere dancing, he certainly throws himself into Part 1.

I can hear music in the air
Somewhere, out there
An’ I can hear happy voices
Out-a in the air
It makes me want to celebrate
Hm, I feel good inside

And I wanna get outdo’s
Yes I do, in the open wide
A big time serenade
It must be a Street Parade
And I wanna Second line
Gonna have a good time, yeah-yeah!

Street Parade became a regular at the ultimate street parade, the Mardi Gras.

And that would have been a fitting way to close this piece only Earl wasn’t quite done yet. In 1977 he recorded an album – reportedly cut in a day according to Blackcat Rockabilly Europe – which saw release on the Swedish Sonet label with the title, That Good New New Orleans Rock ‘N Roll, which got rereleased on CD with The Sonet Blues Story in front of that wording. It contained 4 revisits to some of his better known material, one version of a song of his recorded by someone else (Lee Dorsey), Do Re Mi but otherwise it was business as usual i.e. new songs written by Earl. Of those new numbers, I’d single out The Panic’s On which harks back to “way back then” (and has an unusual & attractive melody line), and the 5 minute Baby Sittin’, a slow 12 bar blues – “I’m home baby sittin’ while you’re out doing’ the town” – with some fine guitar work from our hero just to remind us that he still played, plus good ensemble work from the backing team. Maybe Earl wanted to tell us that, while he was usually classified as a rhythm & blues singer, he could both compose and perform a good old blues as well as the best of them, Kings included!

I’ve done little more than dip into the three Black Top albums, Glazed (with the Roomful Of Blues band), Sexual Telepathy and Hard River To Cross but what I have heard was up to Earl’s high standard (and I’d add that another blast from the past, Snooks Eaglin, features on guitar on three tracks of the last named). As a taster, in 1997 the label also issued a compilation of those albums entitled New Orleans Street Talkin’. This is Big Foot one of those tracks from Hard River To Cross with Snooks Eaglin present (and a vocal bass man who nudges a memory of Benny Spellman out of the grey stuff).

Earl died on 17th April 2003 from diabetes related complications.

“As is tradition with the Crescent City’s most beloved artists, he was carried home with a traditional jazz funeral procession complete with street parade and a second line, a fitting tribute to a man who defined the city’s musical heritage.” Dik de Heer, Blackcat Rockabilly Europe

 

Earl King poster

FOOTNOTES

1. The Offbeat feature on Earl that gets several mentions in the main text was an invaluable source in the creation of this piece. Writer Jeff Hannusch deserves some kind of medal for his devotion to the music from the Crescent City. I’d also give credit to BlackCat Rockabilly for their (or actually Dik’s) feature on the man.

2. Most readers will be aware of Smiley Lewis, if not for his own records but for the covers or versions that have been made of some of those records including: Blue Monday (Fats Domino), I Hear You Knocking (Dave Edmunds) and One Night (Elvis Presley). There’s no Toppermost in place on Smiley at present but this might just be a matter of time.

3. Pianist Isidore “Tuts” Washington was one of the professors and doctors of New Orleans. In the twenties and thirties he played in jazz bands in the city, and, after WWII, accompanied Smiley Lewis in a trio for a number of years, appearing on many of his records.

4, Huey “Piano” Smith was an influential R&B pianist and band leader who began working the clubs of New Orleans from 1949 onwards. He picked up his first record contract in 1952 and, in ’55 and the years following, he worked as pianist on Little Richard sessions for Imperial and also worked on several sessions for ‘name’ New Orleans artists like Smiley Lewis and Lloyd Price. In ’57 he formed the band, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns and recorded several national hits for the Ace label in Jackson, Mississippi. The hits included Don’t You Just Know It, High Blood Pressure and, Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu. Like Smiley Lewis, he’s overdue the Toppermost treatment. (Most of which words already appear in the Benny Spellman Topper.)

5. Eddie Jones, who was also known as Guitar Slim, was born in Greenwood, Mississippi but spent his short working life – he died at the age of 32 – in New Orleans. He was a blues singer and guitarist whose specialty was slow, agonised 12 bar blues with guitar work attempting to echo that agony via distortion. His best-known record by far was The Things I Used To Do on Specialty Records which has received the compliment of a whole host of cover versions. The original was produced by Johnny Vincent and arranged by a youthful Ray Charles. Eddie/Slim was known for putting on a pretty wild stage show. In that same Offbeat feature from Jeff Hannusch, Earl is quoted as saying re Eddie, “Guitar Slim was the performanist man I’ve ever seen”.

6. Savoy Records was founded in New York in 1942 by Herman Lubinsky. While there was a focus on jazz and dance bands in the early days, with people like Ben Webster, Ike Quebec and Erroll Garner on their lists, this expanded to include R&B and gospel. Though initially based in NYC, over the years they extended long arms into places like Los Angeles and New Orleans.

7. Bob Dylan included the Specialty take of Earl’s A Mother’s Love in the first series of his Theme Time Radio Hour (and it sits proudly on Disc 1, Track 4 of the CD Set Bob Dylan Presents: Radio Radio, Theme Time Radio Hour, Vol. 1).

8. I included a long discussion cum definition of swamp pop music in Footnote #1 of the Rod Bernard Toppermost (which was the first in the swamp pop series) and, rather than replicating it here I would point the reader in that direction. Earl’s Those Lonely Lonely Nights got a mention.

9. There have been many covers/versions over the years of Those Lonely Lonely Nights but the man who got off the mark with most alacrity (and stole some sales from Earl in the process) was Texan, Johnny “Guitar” Watson. This is his take on the number. Note the guitar break wherein Johnny manages to stay on one screeching note for what seems like an eternity. Frank Zappa, who was a big fan of Watson, used to play the number and this is a bootleg of a performance in 1969 by the Mothers.

10. If one cuts off datewise at say, 1970, Wiki lists four version of Let The Good Times Roll, coming from Louis Jordan, Shirley & Lee, Earl King and Sam Cooke. And that’s without variants from Southern Louisiana based on the French Creole wording of Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler. The most well known one of these is Bon Ton Roula recorded by Clarence Garlow in 1949 but there was also a Bon Ton Roulet from Clifton Chenier in 1967. While the relationship between the Jordan version which was written by a man called Sam Theard in 1946, and Earl King’s Come On is relatively clear: King uses Jordan’s lyrics but inserts his own instrumental passages, it’s not known whether there’s any overall wellspring behind all these versions.

11. The Jeff Hannusch feature on King yields the following on Come On:

“King recalled that the inspiration for Come On (later covered by Jimi Hendrix on Electric Ladyland) came from jazz guitarist Barney Kessel, who once recorded in New Orleans. “The guitar part was a cycle of sevenths,” pointed out King. “I didn’t want to play it that way, but George Davis [a respected New Orleans musician] told me to leave it in. When Hendrix picked it up, he did almost the exact same version of it, except for the improvisations.””

12. There has to be scope for an essay on usage of the term ‘Driving Wheel’ as a metaphor in (mainly blues) songs. The one I’m most familiar with is the excellent Junior Parker track from 1961 but if you perform a YouTube search on those two words you get a whole host of tracks from blues guys plus white singer/songwriter Tom Rush from a self-titled album in 1970.

13. In addition to songs mentioned in the main text, Earl also claims to have written Robert Parker’s Barefootin’. In a different Jeff Hannusch feature/interview with Earl, the latter states:

“I had just finished [writing] Johnny Adams’ ‘Part of Me’ and Fess’ ‘Big Chief.’ I called Robert [Parker] and played ‘Barefootin’’ for him on the piano. Chief [Joe Assunto, who co-owned Watch Records] wanted to do the song but he said he had to wait because he was trying to get Johnny’s record exposed in New York and he wanted to get Fess’ record out. He told Robert, ‘Gimme about a month.’ Well Robert left there, took my basic thing and changed the word structure and went with NOLA [Records]. At the time I thought about going to court but Alvin Batiste stopped me.”

14. Joe Jones was yet another New Orleans artist who managed to achieve one hit wonder status in 1960 with a song called You Talk Too Much. The number was written by Fats Domino’s brother-in-law; he’d offered it to Fats who turned him down.

15. The single version of Street Parade came out on the Kansu label which, like Sansu was run by Sehorn and Toussaint. Contributor Laviolet in 45cat explains the naming in the quote below:

“The name “Kansu” comes from the French “quinze sous” (15 cents), following Toussaint’s labels “Deesu” (dix sous, ten cents) and “Sansu” (cinq sous, 5 cents).”

16. The sleeve/liner notes to the original Sonet LP, That Good New New Orleans Rock ‘N Roll, were written by the highly respected Samuel Charters, who wrote major books on the history of jazz, blues and world music. He was an early proselytiser for the blues and lived in New Orleans for much of the fifties.

17. In the Black Cat Bone blog/chat room a contributor called Paul Greenwich recalls interviewing Earl who he calls “a wonderful guy, and a typical New Orleans maverick” and also comments in relation to a 1992 UK Tour with Bobby Bland and Irma Thomas and our man’s propensity for alcohol in his later days:

“I think it might have been that night, at the Astoria, on a bill with Bobby Bland and Irma Thomas, that he tripped over his 40-foot long guitar lead, couldn’t get up, and continued to play this weird, spikey guitar while lying on his back.”

18. The opening clip featured Earl with Dr. John on piano playing Those Lonely Lonely Nights, with date not given but I suspect (a) that it’s 1974, and (b) the backing band are the Meters. For a closer, here he is with Allen Toussaint on the piano stool at the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival in 1991, preceded by a tasty slab of guitar work.

Yes, I reckon Earl deserves to be up there with the other Kings.

 

 

Earl King photo 1

Earl King (1934–2003)

 

Earl King discography at 45cat

Earl King biography (Apple Music)

Dave Stephens’ New Orleans scenes
#1 Fats Domino, #2 Chris Kenner, #3 Jessie Hill, #4 Barbara Lynn, #5 Benny Spellman, #6 Ernie K-Doe, #7 Irma Thomas, #8 Barbara George, #9 Earl King, #10 Smiley Lewis, #11 Professor Longhair, #12 Shirley & Lee, #13 Lloyd Price

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Bobby Bland, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Lee Dorsey, Lightnin’ Slim, Little Richard, Junior Parker, Robert Parker, Big Joe Turner

TopperPost #847

4 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Mar 19, 2020

    He definitely deserves to join the other kings. Earl had a touch and a phrase that was always just right. Great list and wonderful article.

  2. Cal Taylor
    Mar 20, 2020

    What a fabulous Toppermost, really entertainingly written about a vastly underrated and talented star.
    Through the 1960’s when I got my grounding in R&B, Blues and Soul we never had any record of Earl released in the UK and although I knew of him as a name I had heard very little of his output. That has now been corrected and it shows what we missed. Earl recorded some really excellent stuff, besides writing hits for other top R&B artists.
    Thank you, Dave for improving my knowledge.

  3. Andrew Shields
    Mar 21, 2020

    Thanks for this Dave. Such great music and such fabulous guitar playing – not a note wasted.

    • Dave Stephens
      Mar 22, 2020

      Thanks gentlemen. There was a lot more listening and judgement forming than usual since most of Earl’s oeuvre was new to me but it was worth it and I hope that came through.

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