Notes On The Life Of Lloyd Price

Lloyd Price loved to hang out with his little brother Leo at their mama Beatrice’s fried catfish restaurant, the Fish ’n’ Fry in Kenner, Louisiana when they were kids. She had a jukebox filled with early blues stompers like Beans and Cornbread by Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner’s Watch That Jive, and Amos Milburn’s Chicken Shack Boogie.

A play would cost you a nickel, and if Lloyd was in the building he would dance along to the cut. Customers would throw quarters at him to spur on his shuck and jive routine.

Lloyd was born the 7th child of Louis and Beatrice Price. He started out playing the trumpet as a freshman at Kenner High School, and by the time he was a sophomore he’d formed a five piece band, the Blue Brothers, and started performing live on WBOK, Louisiana’s oldest black-owned radio station.

Ever the vigilant talent scout, Dave Bartholomew had seen the youngster play at Miss Beatrice’s cafe, and offered him the opportunity to cut a demo at F&M Studios, 10 miles down the river at the edge of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Lloyd Price’s Turntable Nightclub in New York City

On March 13, 1952 Lloyd ventured into Cosimo’s studio at Rampart and Dumaine to lay down a demo of Lawdy Miss Clawdy Fats Domino sat in on piano replacing Salvador Doucette. “When Bartholomew proffered the recording to Art Rupe (Specialty Records), he was more than delighted with the results. And why not? The rest was history,” said Cosimo Matassa in an old interview.

I just wanted to impress the girls in high school and hear my name said on the radio.

Lawdy Miss Clawdy went number one on the R&B charts and would sell over a million copies.

Lloyd Price on the song’s importance: “After Lawdy Miss Clawdy, suddenly black kids and white kids were coming together through music. White kids were buying the record, dancing to the record, and that was the catalyst for the first youth movement.”

It had to be a delicious bit of revenge for Bartholomew as he was on the outs with Lew Chudd of Imperial Records, and was responsible for what would become a massive hit for Chudd’s rival Art Rupe.

But how bad was Rupe screwing the artists of the day? Take it away Dance Music Hall of Fame pioneer Henry Stone:

“Art Rupe from Specialty had a whole guide that he gave his people on how to find an artist in the street, sign em’ to a deal, and cut a record. In those papers, he’s offering a half cent royalty contract. For every record sold, he’s offering the artist half a cent royalty.”

Stone continues:

“So if a guy had a million selling record and could have $5,000 or $10,000 comin’ to him, whatever the deal was, a half a cent was very unusual, that was unusually low, it was usually 2 or 3 cents a record for an artist if I remember correctly. But half a cent? Art Rupe from Specialty was a real tough tough wheeler and dealer…”

Art Rupe’s Specialty Records

Flush with fame from his big hit Mr Price recalls:

I was all the great artists rolled into one, from Monday to Sunday. I was bigger than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson put together.

Unfortunately, Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia came calling and Price was drafted into the military. Who is Russell? His biographer Gilbert C. Fite writes, “White supremacy and racial segregation were to him cardinal principles for good and workable human relationships.” When he saw the ascending star of Price it infuriated him and he saw to it that the young man was drafted.

While Price was serving a stint in the army, an old friend Bill Boskent had relocated to Washington DC and opened up a nightclub on the chitlin’ circuit called The Casbar. After Price mustered out of the service he reunited with his buddy, and along with songwriter Harold Logan formed a partnership that resulted in a new business venture, Kent Records Corporation.

Lloyd Price paid Art Rupe a $1,000 for his old contract and he was ready for a fresh adventure. Now Lloyd had to come up with a hit to make the new company some money.

And did he ever. The 26 year old kicked down the door of the establishment by writing, producing and playing piano on monster smash Just Because, a plaintive, down-tempo love song that came out of nowhere to go to number three on the R&B charts and number 29 on the pop boards.

In a peculiar bit of spite, Art Rupe hired Price’s cousin Larry Williams to record a note for note version which he quickly released on Specialty Records. It failed to chart on pop and reached number 11 on R&B. Price family reunions may have been a bit tense afterwards.

KRC had little success over the next couple years, and in 1958, arranger Sid Feller signed Price to an ABC-Paramount contract. Price soon reimagined an old blues song called Stack-A-Lee into the pop oriented Stagger Lee, hired the Ray Charles Singers to pour some gasoline on the fire, and had a smash that went to number one on both the pop and R&B charts where it would stay for four weeks.

It would be his biggest hit.

Lloyd Price would make some decent money for ABC-Paramount over the next two years with Personality going to number two pop, and I’m Gonna Get Married hitting number three but come 1963 Price was restless and ready to go into business for himself once more.

He called up his former business partner Harold Logan and they formed a new company called Double L Records. Now they needed some talent. Like Otis Redding.

Price had tried to get ABC to sign Redding…

I tried to get ABC to sign him but they laughed at me, so I had Robert Bateman, who had just produced The Marvelettes’ Please Mr Postman at Motown, take him in the studio and do a demo.

Pickett would record If You Need Me on on March 15, 1963 for Price’s new concern, and as it began to climb the charts Jerry Wexler of Atlantic quickly rushed out a Solomon Burke version to battle with Pickett who was one of Burke’s best friends. Solomon bit back by running a radio campaign for his buddy to help boost Pickett’s sales.

Wilson Pickett on Double L Records

Price himself would wade into the fray by recording the old standard Misty which went to 21 on the pop charts but it was too little too late, and by the end of 1964 Double L Records was consigned to the history books. After cups of coffee with Monument and Reprise, Lloyd was ready to explore a new avenue.

Legendary jazz nightclub Birdland at 52nd and Broadway was up for sale, and ever the entrepreneur, Price teamed up with JAD Records to purchase it and set about turning the famed club into a new hot spot. JAD formed a subsidiary record label called Turntable, and handed the reigns to Price.

To promote their new marque, they renamed Birdland Turntable much to the disgust of the old jazzbos that had been going there since 1949.

I got James Brown and each time he played, we’d line them up round and round the Broadway – it almost became a riot. We also had Maxine Brown, The Coasters, Chubby Checker, Patti LaBelle And The Bluebelles, Bernard Purdie, King Curtis… you name them, they all worked at the Turntable.

“It was the biggest club in town. We had 378 seats with a cabaret license, and it changed the way New York worked in terms of clubs – the stage came out of the floor, we had disco lights, strobe lights, we had a recording studio and we recorded all the shows.”

But then in a case that stunned even jaded New Yorkers, in May of 1969, Harold Logan was shot dead in the club’s business office. The case remains unsolved.

“It was a race thing, had to be. We started getting these telephone calls – we got so tired of answering them. ‘There’s a bullet with your name on it too,’ ‘Your car is going to explode,’ all that stuff, said Price.

Lloyd Price owned the Crawdaddy Club in New York City

By mid-1971, Turntable was struggling, so Lloyd renamed it the Crawdaddy Club and booked himself into the room to see if he could line the coffers. His record label shut down, and Price migrated to Scepter Records to record Hooked On A Feeling at Muscle Shoals but the cut sank without a trace.

In 1971, fresh off a manslaughter beef for stomping an employee to death, Don King emerged from prison with a plan. He’d get in touch with his old buddy Lloyd Price and see if Price could coax Muhammad Ali into participating in a “charity event” Ali agreed but little did he know that King was to be the recipient of the endeavor.

Come 1972, Price cut the theme song for The Legend of Nigger Charley a blaxploitation western movie, and followed that with two 45s for GFS Records, Sing A Song and Love Music

But Price who’d long fantasized about Africa was about to make his biggest career move yet.

I always had thoughts about Africa, because as a kid in Louisiana I had heard that was where all of the black people were from. We were taught in school that there was nobody in Africa but pygmies, and that they’d eat you up!

“So I called (Muhammad) Ali from (Don King’s) house, and we met with him. King really got bitten by Ali about wanting to do fights. The next thing you know, we had the Rumble in the Jungle in ’74.”

“You could not go back to Africa without doing a festival. It was just a simple case of getting on the phone and calling the acts. I was the most popular black guy in New York with my record labels and my club, and we ran with the slogan ‘From slave ship to championship’.”

“Yeah. We had Bill Withers, James Brown, Etta James, Johnny Nash and Hugh Masakela booked. If the plan had gone down with who I had booked…Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin…but they bugged out at the last minute, and do you know why? They had black pilots on Zaire Airlines! They all said they didn’t want to ride with any black pilots. Some of them still went, but Aretha, Marvin and Stevie didn’t go.”

Lloyd Price promoted Ali vs Foreman in Zaire in 1974

Price would go on to live in Nigeria for over a decade, during which time he formed the LPG record label with Don King, and sold his Crawdaddy nightclub.

Quitting Africa, Price left when a coup toppled the government with which he was aligned. After relocating to New York, Lloyd would go on to become a property developer working in The Bronx.

The old R&B man quit the music business til 1993 when he went on a European tour with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Gary U.S. Bonds.

“It was the first time I had played in the UK and it was a wonderful experience. We played Wembley in front of 11,000 people, Little Richard was a riot. Little Eva was on the bill too.”

In 1998 Lloyd Price was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “one of the premier rhythm-and-blues singers of the 1950s and 1960s”

In the ensuing years Price started a line of breakfast cereals to honor himself, Dorothy Dandridge, Louis Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson’s Raisin, Almond, Crunchy Granola sounds particularly delicious.

Unfortunately, the savvy businessman let his domain expire on his his lawdymissclawdy website and now it’s ripe for the picking.

Frank Sinatra once said of the irrepressible musician and entrepeneur, “Lloyd Price is the most-complete entertainer I have ever known.”

What do you want them to write on your tombstone Mr Price?

“He Tried”

Lloyd Price
b. March 9, 1933
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