Archive for the ‘Bobby Charles’ Category

See ‘Ya Later Alligator

January 19, 2010

The Street Parade was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Bobby Charles, Louisiana songwriter extraordinaire.

The Cajun Charles was born Robert Charles Guidry in Abbeville Louisiana in 1938. He gained early fame writing songs for Fats Domino, Frogman Henry and Bill Haley & the Comets, including “See ‘Ya Later Alligator,”  “Walking to New Orleans,” and “(I Don’t Know Why I Love You) But I Do.”

Charles experienced a revival when he appeared with The Band in the Last Waltz (his version of “Down South in New Olreans” included on the album is a classic) but he was always a reluctant performer, releasing a few albums while living in near seclusion. His songs were more famous than he was, and he seemed more than content to leave it that way as he dealt recently with a range of disasters from fire to flood to cancer. He has remained largely unknown although enjoying an almost cult-like following in some circles.

Charles agreed to stage a “comeback” at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,  but he was forced to back out at the last minute due to health issues. Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack, Marcia Ball, guitarist Sonny Landreth and other admirers performed his songs in his absence.

“He was the champion south Louisiana songwriter,” Landreth said. “Everybody had a favorite Bobby Charles song. He had the gift.”

“I never wanted to be a star,” he said. “I’ve got enough problems, I promise you. If I could make it just writing, I’d be happy. Thank God I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of people do my songs.”

In the 1970s, Mr. Charles wrote a song called “The Jealous Kind.” Joe Cocker recorded it in 1976, followed by Ray Charles, Delbert McClinton, Etta James and Johnny Adams. Kris Kristofferson and Gatemouth Brown covered Charles’s “Tennessee Blues,” as did newcomer Shannon McNally. Muddy Waters recorded :Why Are People Like That”; so did Houma guitarist Tab Benoit on his Grammy-nominated 2006 album “Brother to the Blues.”

He could not play an instrument or read music. Songs popped into his head, fully formed. To capture them, he’d sing into the nearest answering machine; sometimes he’d call home from a convenience store pay phone. In a recent interview he said, “I can hear all the chords up here,” he said, pointing to his brain, “but I can’t tell you what they are.”

Charles’s 1972 self-titled album is one of the Street Parade’s all-time favorite albums. Working with a remarkable back-up band including Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, and Doctor John, Charles is at his Louisiana finest. This is one of those albums I can never grow tired of hearing. It was a hard-to-find classic for many years, but it’s easily accessible now after recently re-released. Any fan of the Street Parade should really have this album.

Once again, the Street Parade is sad to announce a musical loss such as this, but certainly happy to spread the news of good music. Bobby Charles, we’ll miss you.

Bobby Charles

Happy Birthday, Bobby!

February 19, 2008

The great songwriter and singer Bobby Charles turns 70 years young on Thur the 21st. And many happy returns!

A Louisiana Cajun (born Robert Charles Guidry), Charles grew up in Cajun country listening to Hank Williams and Fats Domino. Early on, he wrote such classics as “See ya Later, Alligator” (made famous by Bill Haley and the Comets) and “Walkin’ to New Orleans” (written for the great Fats Domino himself) and then went on to help develop the musical style of Swamp Pop. All of which is great, but for me it gets no better than his 1972 self-titled recording with The Band. This album ranks as one of my all-time top ten. Especially noteworthy tracks include “Save Me Jesus” in which he implores Jesus to save him from “this godforsaken place” and “All the whiskey” with its refrain of “He got all the whiskey and he won’t give me none” (and apparently he got all the women, and he got all the money) written for his then-manager Albert Grossman (yes, the same Albert Grossman who managed Bob Dylan). I think you can see what Charles thought of Grossman’s managing style. Obviously, it wasn’t a long-lived collaboration. In fact, it really signaled the end of recording for Charles. After fiascos with Grossman and other music-biz people, he went to Louisiana and settled back into the quiet rural life. He put out a “return” album in 2004 that I was really excited about–including collaborations with Neil Young, Lucinda Williams and others–and while it has some decent cuts, it’s certainly not the Charles of old. But, then again, I don’t hold that against him. Bobby, you’re still one of my favorites. For the rest of you, if you get a chance, give this a listen: