George Perkins, the deep-soul and gospel artist who was slated to perform at this fall’s Ponderosa Stomp, died unexpectedly at his home in Hammond, La., on April 17. He was 70. Perkins was best-known for the hit “Cryin’ In the Streets,” an anthem he aptly pronounced “the right song at the right time.”
Born Sept. 25, 1942, at Denham Springs, La., Perkins came out of the gospel tradition.
“When I was 16 or 17, gospel was real hot,” recalled Perkins earlier this year. “I started a quartet, the Silver Stars, with Frank Turner and a couple of my nephews. We did a lot of Soul Stirrers songs.”
George Perkins points his fingers toward Soul Heaven, where the soul and gospel singer presumably has since gone after passing away in April. The “Cryin’ in the Streets” singer was scheduled to appear at the 2013 Ponderosa Stomp. (Photo copyright Aubrey Edwards)
The Silver Stars proved to be popular, appearing at local church services and gospel music programs. In 1968 the Silver Stars were invited to record for the Ebb Tide/Ebenezer’s Gospel label. Two singles appeared: “They Call Him Jesus” and “Father Don’t Forget Me.” While Perkins maintained a busy singing career, he also managed to graduate from business college, eventually becoming an insurance agent.
Two years later, fate would enter Perkins’ life in a way no one could have predicted.
“A hillbilly guy gave me the title to the song ‘Cryin’ In the Streets,’” said Perkins. “I came up with the rest of the lyrics. The lyrics were about the Dr. Martin Luther King assassination and the civil rights movement. I arranged the song, and it came out on the Golden label. WXOK in Baton Rouge started playing it. It stayed at No. 1 there for two months. Then it started to hit all over the South, Memphis to Florida.”
While Golden placed the record with All South Distributors in New Orleans, the label was hard-pressed to keep up with demand for the single outside of All South’s network of retail accounts. In stepped Houston’s Leland Rogers (brother of future country superstar Kenny) who owned Silver Fox, a label distributed nationally by Shelby Singleton Enterprises. Silver Fox leased the “Cryin’ In the Streets” master, and Rogers’ hooked Perkins up with a booking agent in Nashville.
“I performed all over the South: Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, all through the Carolinas. I stayed plenty busy traveling for months.”
Perkins was proudest of his weeklong stint at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.
“I had the No. 3 record in New York, recalled Perkins — quite an accomplishment for a down-home Southern R&B record. “The Delphonics were No. 1 ["What You See (Is What You Get")] and Shirley Brown was No. 2 (“Woman To Woman”). The No. 4 record was the O’Jays’ ‘The Backstabbers.’”
When the dust finally settled, “Cryin’ In the Streets” had spent 12 weeks in the Billboard R&B charts, rising as high as No. 12.
The follow-up on Golden was “How Can A Broke Man Survive.” Despite its merit, the record stalled. Perkins moved on to Johnny Vincent’s Ace label in Jackson, Miss., even recording the inevitable “Baby I’m Fed Up With (Crying In the Streets).” No hits were forthcoming, and he did no better with a second-line record he cut in New Orleans with Clinton Scott.
1972 saw Perkins signing with writer/producer Jerry Strickland, who had formed the Soul Power label in Shreveport. Despite being perky Southern soul, both singles stalled.
By 1974, Perkins was working for the Royal Shield Insurance Co. in Baton Rouge. The company’s owner not only backed Perkins by giving him time off when he had out-of-town gigs, but also went as far as opening a recording studio (Deep South) and starting a label (Royal Shield) to help promote Perkins’ career.
“They had big plans for that studio,” said Perkins. “It was state of the art. They spent a lot of money on it, but it just couldn’t make a go of it. There just weren’t enough record companies in Baton Rouge to sustain it.”
As far as his Royal Shield releases were concerned, there were a couple of nice outing including the churchy “You’ve Been Good To Me,” which featured his old partner Frank Turner. Unfortunately, Perkins’ career seemed mired in the shadow of his original hit, which he even remade on Royal Shield. Perkins had a couple releases on his own label, GP, and he bowed out with a release on — you guessed it — the Cryin’ In the Streets label.
“I pretty much stuck to gospel after the early 1980s,” said Perkins. “In 1984 I cut a gospel album, ‘The Best of George Perkins.’ I still sang in church.”
Perkins leaves a wife, three sons, and three daughters.
Possessed of a voice that writer Robert Christgau likened to “An Afro-American air raid siren,” Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams is as underappreciated and misunderstood as he is irreverent and irrepressible. Having hovered in and around the margins of America’s musical underground for his entire career, the Dogg’s lamentable tendency for “Buzzard Luck,” as his song so memorably once put it, also happens to be his greatest strength: he refuses to be pigeonholed, is virtually impossible to dilute, and simply cannot be taken sitting down. He is the type of artist who causes commercially-minded A&R men to throw their arms up in sheer frustration and despair. This bristling musical activist didn’t start out this way; he recorded prolifically during the sixties as Little Jerry Williams, helped organize the famed Muscle Shoals horn section and wrote songs and produced records for Irma Thomas, Z.Z. Hill and Doris Duke, to name just a few.
But some time around the apex of the Vietnam War something within him cracked. By 1970 this self-proclaimed “Ph.D. in Niggerism” was mad as hell, and he wasn’t going to take it any more. That year he released Total Destruction of Your Mind under his newly adopted canine moniker and the next two years brought Rat On and Cuffed, Collared and Tagged. The Dogg had arrived and America’s musical landscape would never be the same. Here was a soul philosopher who not only rhapsodized about the mysteries of love and the temptations of cheating, but had a bullshit detector built into his brain — set to red alert at all times — that drove him to confront hypocrisies head-on. The rare artist who can bring his audience from laughter to tears and back again in a single sitting, Swamp Dogg’s one-of-a-kind brand of socially-conscious country soul practically defies description. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover even took note, tapping his phone line and adding him to his secret list of citizens involved in “Un-American” activities.
Here then, are two of his most cripplingly beautiful performances, two critiques of our country that sadly ring as timelessly true today as they did when he first recorded them forty years ago. “Sam Stone,” the brutal tale of the tragic life and death of a returning war veteran, is one of those songs that appear to have been lost in the wilderness shortly after its creation, just waiting for the artist it was destined for to come along and discover it. Written and originally recorded by John Prine, for “Sam Stone” Swamp Dogg was just that artist. Prine’s lyrics are disturbingly, ingeniously graphic – in fact, it’s safe to say that it would be impossible to write a song on this subject as darkly effective as this one – and their brilliance is only matched by the Dogg’s heart-breaking delivery, giving it the voice and gravitas it longed for.
Swamp Dogg” Sam Stone
Torn from the same page of frank and unnerving truth-telling comes “God Bless America For What?,” this time from Swamp Dogg’s own pen. Although recorded before “Sam Stone,” it seems almost descended from it, making its point from a sweeping historical perspective rather than a personal one. With “God Bless America (For What)?,” he tackles the conditions that led to the unraveling and eventual demise of Sam Stone and countless others like him, entreating his audience to unite across color and religious divides to help reconcile the country’s glaring inequities with its founding promises of individual freedoms and justice for all.
Swamp Dogg: God Bless America For What
Now, without further ado, let the Dogg bring you what he promised from the very beginning: Total Destruction of Your Mind.
Margaret Lewis Warwick’s soulful country ballad “Reconsider Me,” penned by Warwick and RAM label owner Mira Smith, reflects the hours the songwriting duo spent together honing a mournful, intimate interplay of voice and guitar. The world-weary lyrics and Warwick’s forlorn, wistful vocal fit like hand in glove with the echoing guitar lines.
Ironically, the pair’s low-key version would set the stage for musical-chart fireworks when interpreted by heavy-hitting vocalists. Country-music legend Narvel Felts, for one, scored a No. 2 hit with his version released in 1975, following earlier attempts by fellow twangsters Ray Pillow and John Wesley Ryles. However, perhaps the version most beloved by local music fans floated from the angelic voice of New Orleans’ own “Tan Canary,” soul titan Johnny Adams, whose soaring 1969 waxing was his biggest hit, peaking at #8 on the American R&B charts and #28 on the pop charts.
Adams isn’t the only Louisiana legend to take on “Reconsider Me.” The recently deceased Jimmy Elledge, who at age 18 burst onto the scene with his Chet Atkins-produced take on Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” tackled the song late in his career on a self-released CD. A pianist with a multi-octave vocal range, Elledge delivered perhaps the only take spine-tingling enough to rival the Tan Canary’s.
But tonight, July 17th, at 6 p.m. at the Old U.S. Mint is your chance to hear the original co-composer re-create her version as only she can. Mira Smith has passed, but come see Margaret Lewis Warwick tonight in a presentation by the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation and The Friends of the Cabildo. She will be accompanied by a band that includes Monroe musician Kenny Bill Stinson, known for his dead-on imitation of “The Killer,” Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as for his stint in Louisiana supergroup Lil’ Band o’ Gold.
Above: The Lewis Sisters- Rose, left, and Margaret, right, with Dale Hawkins on stage at the Louisiana Hayride.
“In April 1957 Margaret Lewis won 2nd prize at a talent show in Plainview, sponsored by Johnny Horton, the prize being a guest appearance at the Louisiana Hayride at Shreveport. There, Johnny and Tilman Franks introduced her to local businesswoman Mira Smith, who had her own studio and played guitar with young local cats like James Burton. An aspiring songwriter, she took Margaret under her wing, sending her out on the road with local star Dale Hawkins. Margaret and her sister Rose ended up doing backing vocals for some of Dale`s Checker sessions in Chicago, singing on Baby Baby, Mrs Merguitory’s Daughter, La-Do-Da -Da, Superman and most memorably of all the awesome Little Pig. Later she sang on the equally awesome Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby by Dale.”
“Shreveport could have been another Nashville.” So declares singer, songwriter, and music entrepreneur Margaret Lewis, the West Texas-born songbird who got her first big start in 1957 with an invitation to appear on the Louisiana Hayride. The glory days of the nationally broadcast Hayride – which launched the careers of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Johnny Horton, Kitty Wells, and countless others – are over, but you can catch Lewis, now known as Margaret Lewis Warwick, at this Tuesday’s edition of Heroes of Louisiana Music at the Mint.
In Shreveport, Lewis formed a partnership with the equally legendary Mira Smith, a songwriter and guitarist who owned the local label RAM (short for “Royal Audio Music”). Between 1959 and 1961 Lewis cut numerous country and rockabilly singles on RAM, including “Cheaters Never Win” and “Shake a Leg,” and later signed with Capitol. She and her sister toured as backup singers for Dale Hawkins, performing on some of his Chess sides. She also forged a songwriting partnership with Smith, hitting with “I Almost Called Your Name” for Margaret Whiting and “Mountain of Love” for David Houston.
In 1966 the duo moved to Nashville, signing on with Shelby Singleton’s SSS Productions and cranking out a slew of major hits: “Soul Shake” for Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson; “Country Girl” for Jeannie C. Riley; “Wedding Cake” for Connie Francis; and the country-soul classic “Reconsider Me,” which charted for New Orleans’ own Johnny Adams as well as Narvel Felts. Lewis has had more than 100 songs cut by artists such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Conway Twitty, and two of her songs are included on the 2005 Grammy-winning compilation Night Train to Nashville.
Lewis married Smith’s cousin, Alton Warwick, in 1981 and eventually returned to Shreveport, where her efforts helped spare the fabled Municipal Auditorium from the wrecking ball. She has served as chairwoman of the Louisiana Music Commission, and in 2009 she received the Offbeat magazine award for lifetime achievement. She currently performs with her group The Thunderbolts and most recently produced the Louisiana Hayride’s Bicentennial Bash.
“Who do you love?” Bo Diddley asked. In the case of this Tuesday’s “Heroes of Louisiana Music at the Mint,” the answer is C.P. Love. This soulful Crescent City singer will be starring in the first installment of a four-part series presented by the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation and the Friends of the Cabildo, in conjunction with the Louisiana State Museum. The presentation starts at 6 p.m. in the Old U.S. Mint’s newly renovated concert space, where Love will perform, chat with music writer Jeff Hannusch, and answer audience questions about his long career in soul and R&B alongside some of the greatest legends of the industry. We hope that at the end of this presentation, you will love C.P. Love as much as you do some of his own musical heroes: Danny White, Smiley Lewis, Otis Redding, and Sam Cooke.
The very definition of an unsung hero, C.P. Love “has the rare distinction of being better known for a song he didn’t record rather than one he did,” according to Hannusch. The legendary King Floyd offered his newly penned song “Groove Me” to Love, who passed on the future 1970 smash hit in favor of its composer. Love brought a demo of King’s version to promoter Elijah Walker and famed producer Wardell Quezergue, who declared with his characteristic understatement: “I believe we have something.” And the rest is history. “I never regretted not recording ‘Groove Me’ — I felt glad for King,” Love said.
But Love, born Carleton Pierre Love in New Orleans in 1945, is brimming with his own talent, on both vocals and guitar, and has played with dozens of legends in soul and R&B since 1957. Growing up on the West Bank, Love recalled playing his first marquee gig in Marrero with piano giant Professor Longhair. “The band consisted of just Fess and a drummer. … [Fess] was a quiet guy who didn’t go for any humbug.”
In its heyday Love also frequented the city’s most famous incubator of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, the Dew Drop Inn on LaSalle Street. “I started going by the Dew Drop, where I hung with Deacon John, Esquerita, Curley Moore, and Earl King.” Over the years Love has played in clubs all over the region, from the Devil’s Den on North Galvez to the F&M Patio and famed Bourbon Street spots like the Sho-Bar and La Strada, where he worked with Clarence “Frogman” Henry. “I did Bourbon Street for 10 years at several clubs. That was the best lesson I ever got as a singer.”
Plenty of Room For More – C.P. Love
By 1968, Love was recruited by Elijah Walker and Earl King to cut a single on their King Walk label: “Plenty of Room for More” / “You Call the Shots” — both Earl King compositions reminiscent of Wilson Pickett.
You Call the Shots – C.P. Love
With “Groove Me” a monster hit for King Floyd in 1970 on the Malaco label, Love once again deferred to Floyd and gave him the first shot at “I Found All These Things.” However, Love later cut the song as well, and it became a regional hit on Atlantic – and could have gone bigger if Love had been able to go on tour with James Carr for a stop at the Apollo Theater. “I Found All These Things” is considered a deep soul classic and one of the best souls singles from the Malaco vaults. Love and his band the Invaders toured with King Floyd for nine months and then with Candi Staton and Bobby Womack. He also has opened for talents such as Fats Domino and B.B. King.
I Found All of These Things – C.P. Love.
Love then played Bourbon Street for 10 years until the clubs went non-union, and he balked at the exploitative conditions. “If you wanted to work on Bourbon Street, you had to take a big cut in pay. I wouldn’t accept that.” Love moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1986 and worked the club and festival circuit along the West Coast. He also cut a four-track EP for the Award label and recorded an album on New Orleans producer Carlo Ditta’s Orleans label, whose roster has included Rockie Charles, Guitar Slim Jr., Coco Robicheaux, Danny Barker, and Roland Stone. Bassist George Porter and guitarist Leo Nocentelli of the Meters provided backing for the one-day session, which included three of his own songs.
Indeed, it is Love’s own original songs of which is he proudest, including “Stubborn Girl,” “True Blue,” and “Secondline Home.” He owns his own publishing company, Pierre Publishing, as well as Trip City Jingles, a marketing-jingles firm. Having returned to New Orleans, Love has played the Jazz and Heritage Festival and clubs such as the House of Blues. However, he won’t be returning to Bourbon Street anytime soon. “I’m not going to embarrass myself by working on Bourbon Street for $8 a set.”
The Old U.S. Mint is at 400 Esplanade Ave. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The program runs from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. $30 general admission, $25 for Friends of the Cabildo members. For more information, click here or here, or call 504-523-3939.
Bobby Marchan in drag confers with Solomon Burke onstage
On its Sept. 15 kickoff, attendees at the Ponderosa Stomp‘s music conference learned about R&B legend, notorious transvestite, and pioneer rap promoter Bobby Marchan – in a panel led by Alison Fensterstock and illuminated by Marchan’s Manicure Records partner Henry “Palomino” Alexander; Q93 DJ Wild Wayne; and singer Gerri Hall of Huey “Piano” Smith’s Clowns. But before Marchan shared his consummate business acumen decades later with the rappers who founded Cash Money Records as well as chitlin-circuit stars like Sir Charles Jones and Mel Waiters, he made an impression as lead Clown vocalist, an emcee at New Orleans’ Dew Drop Inn and Club Tijuana, and later scored a #1 smash by covering the Big Jay McNeely hit “There Is Something on Your Mind” for Bobby Robinson’s Fire label. Be sure to listen to Marchan’s spoken interlude at minute 2:00 – pure tongue-lashing, sassy flamboyance infused with rap-like cadences.
Friday, Sept. 16, Stomp conference attendees will get a chance to get up close and personal with the man whose version of “There Something on Your Mind” Marchan made his own: Big Jay McNeely. From 2:45 to 3:35, Jason Hanley of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will interview McNeely. For more conference info, click here. Catch McNeely playing the Stomp on Saturday night. Full schedule is here.
“The King of the Sax Honkers,” Big Jay McNeely first topped the Billboard R&B chart in 1949 with “The Deacon’s Hop” on the Savoy label before charting once again in 1959 with the blues-drenched ballad “There Is Something on Your Mind.” Infusing his style with a frantic preacher’s intensity that paved the way toward rock ‘n’ roll, the rabble-rousing McNeely – seen at left playing on his back – became known for his outrageously flamboyant stage antics as much for his trailblazingly torrential sax blowing, recording for many labels including Federal, Vee-Jay, Imperial, Exclusive, Aladdin, and Warner Bros. McNeely played at the inaugural Stomp 10 years ago, and we are pleased to have this legendary rock ‘n’ roll madman returning this Saturday night. Don’t miss it!
Born Eddie Jones, Guitar Slim created one of the most seminal blues classics of all time in “The Things I Used to Do.” This is the B-side of that great record, both of whose sides feature Ray Charles on piano. A master showman who dyed his hair to match his suits and shoes, Guitar Slim was highly influential during the 1950s, and his colorful legacy, which touched musicians from Earl King to Frank Zappa, is well-worth another look. Come see WWOZ DJ and documetarian David Kunian lead a panel today discussing Slim’s career, with his peers and bandmates Gerri Hall, Irving Banister, and Lawrence Cotton. It runs 2:45 – 3:45 p.m. at the Renaissance Arts Hotel in New Orleans’ Warehouse District, 700 Tchoupitoulas St. For more info on the conference, click here.