George Perkins

George Perkins
"I hear somebody cryin', cryin' in the streets,
I hear somebody marchin', marchin' through the streets.
It time we started prayin/', to make a better day."
—George Perkins, "Cryin' In the Streets"

Because of the shear magnitude of his first secular recording, "Cryin' In the Streets," George Perkins has been relegated to the status of "one hit wonder" by some listeners. To that, one might well respond, "Better a one hit wonder than a no hit wonder."

Perkins was born September 25, 1942, at Denham Springs, Louisiana, then a tiny country town north-east of Baton Rouge off Highway 190.

"I came out of the gospel tradition," recalled Perkins. "I listened to Mahalia Jackson, Slim & the Supreme Angels, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Gospel Keynotes. When I was 16 or 17, gospel was real hot. I started a quartet, the Silver Stars, with Frank Turner and a couple of my nephews. We did a lot of Soul Stirrers songs."

The Silver Stars proved to be popular locally, appearing at church services and gospel music programs. In 1968, the Silver Stars were invited to record for Ted Harris' Ebb Tide/Ebenezer's Gospel label and 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 high school and business college, eventually becoming an insurance agent.

Two years later, fate/luck would enter Perkins' life in a way nobody could have predicted.

"A hillbilly guy (Sam Matter?) gave me the title to the song 'Cryin' In the Streets,'" said Perkins. "I came up with the rest of the lyrics. (Perkins name isn't listed as a writer on the song, which was originally published by Golden Music.)

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 (Ted Harris') Golden label."

As Perkins aptly stated, 'Cryin' In the Streets,' "Was absolutely the right song, at the right time." The initial reaction to 'Cryin' In the Streets" was electric.

"WXOK in Baton Rouge started playing it," detailed Perkins. "It stayed at number one 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. Then in stepped Houston record man Leland Rodgers (brother of Kenny and owner of Big State Distributors) who had formed Silver Fox, a label affiliated with Shelby Singleton Enterprises in Nashville. Silver Fox (the name of the label had to be inspired by Kenny Rodgers) leased the master to "Cryin' In the Streets" for national distribution 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' biggest accomplishment though might have been his week long stint at the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

"I had the number three record in New York (quite an accomplishment for a down home Southern R&B record)," recalled Perkins proudly. "The Delphonics were number one ("What You See (Is What You Get") and Shirley Brown was number two ("Woman To Woman"). The number four record was the O'Jay's "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 number 12.

The follow up on Golden was, "How Can A Broke Man Survive." Despite It's merit, and the fact it was later covered by Little Johnny Taylor, the record stalled. Perkins thought a change in scenery might help and he did a session for Johnny Vincent's Ace label in Jackson, Mississippi, 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 sign with writer/producer Jerry Strickland who had formed the Soul Power label with Bobby Patterson in Shreveport.

"They had a nice studio up there (Shreveport). Jerry came up with some good material and solid arrangements."

Despite being perky Southern soul, both singles largely stayed on the shelf.

By 1974, Perkins was working for the Royal Shield Insurance Company in Baton Rouge. The owner not only backed Perkins by giving him time off when he had an out-of-town gig, but he 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 wasn't enough business in Baton Rouge (New Orleans producer Senator Jones occasionally used the studio). 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. (He even remade the song on Royal Shield). Perkins had a couple releases 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 still sing in the church and I still write new material too. I just finished a new song, 'The World Needs More Love.' I'm sort of semi-retired now. I retired after 20 years at Prudential, but I still do a little bail bonding. I'm looking forward to performing down in New Orleans (Perkins is appearing at the 2013 Ponderosa Stomp), they tell me people from all over the world will be there. People still ask me to do 'Cryin' In the Streets.' I'm gonna do that, but I'm gonna mix in a little gospel too."

Jeff Hannusch

« Artists