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: