Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, the #1 rhythm and blues record of 1952, has an interesting pedigree.
Price was born in Kenner, LA (a suburb of New Orleans, it’s where the Louis Armstrong Airport is, and was discovered by Art Rupe of Specialty Records. Price had borrowed the melody from Champion Jack Dupree’s barrelhouse piano tune “Junker’s Blues” (1941), a song about heroin addiction.
The following photo is by Heike Rost, whose amazing work is viewable at http://www.heikerost.com.
Champion Jack Dupree was born on July 4th, 1910, and orphaned by age two when his parents died in a fire started by the Ku Klux Klan. He grew up in the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, also the home of Louis Armstrong. It was there that Armstrong received formal training on the cornet and was a member of the Colored Waifs Home Brass Band.
Armstrong wasn’t orphaned but landed in the home after firing a celebratory gunshot on New Year’s Eve. Here is where he shot the pistol and was arrested, 401 S. Rampart Street. Standing between office buildings and parking lots, it is one of the last remnants of a neighborhood once known as Back O’ Town, which was the “colored red-light district.” The ugly green-windowed building in the background is New Orleans’ City Hall.
A closer look at the present City Hall with anti-mayor signage after Hurricane Katrina.
This is a far cry from the austere, former City Hall the city replaced in 1957.
Pardon the digression…
Dupree learned to play the piano in brothels and house parties from Willie “Drive ’em Down” Hall, the boogie woogie pianist who never recorded but actually wrote “Junker’s Blues.” Dupree considered him his father. He also listened and learned from Isadore “Tuts” Washington, who went on to back up several major New Orleans musicians, including Smiley Lewis. He didn’t release a solo record of his own until 1981, when he was 74.
With “Junker’s Blues”, here’s Champion Jack Dupree. Having spent his early life bootlegging, boxing, and hoboing, he sounds more weathered than his 31 years.
Fats Domino released a variation on “Junker’s Blues” with his 1949 early rock and roll hit “The Fat Man.” More rollicking than “Junker Blues”, Fats’ featured his piano-playing for the first 40 seconds of the song, along with an unusual “wah-wah” chorus. It’s a whitewashed version of “Junker Blues,” with no mention of drugs. It’s basically just a song about being a fat man, and how girls like it.
Smiley Lewis, born Overton Amos Lemons (what a name!) is most known for the original version of “I Hear You Knocking”, which reached #2 on the R&B charts in 1955. Lewis had a top-ten hit in 1952 with his song “Bells Are Ringing.” Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree’s mentor, is on piano. It’s “Junker’s Blues” with sex: “Some people take long rides in the country/ to make love under a big oak tree/ but if I’m with the right one/ any old place will do for me.” Listen to the horn scream during the bridge.
Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” is lyrically less sexual, though it oozes in lines like “Because I give you all my money/ girl, but you just won’t treat me right/ You like to ball in the morning / don’t come back ’til late at night.” Price wrote the song (or wrote the lyrics) when he was making money writing and performing radio jingles. When he signed to Specialty Records, he recorded it as a full-length single. That’s his friend Fats Domino on the piano.
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” went on to be discovered and recorded many times over by artists such as Little Richard, The Hollies, Paul McCartney, and Joe Cocker. Elvis had a hit with it in 1956 with cleaned-up lyrics. Miss Clawdy no longer “balled” in the morning, she just left home in the morning. To do what, volunteer for the Junior League?
Here’s Elvis live in 1972, 20 years after Lloyd Price had his first hit, singing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” in a blue, sequined leisure suit.