Lloyd Price (Special photo)
Funny thing about the early, early days of rock ‘n’ roll. Some of the biggest hits had highly unusual histories.
Such was the case with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” the first national hit by Lloyd Price in 1952.
Not satisfied just singing songs, Price started writing and singing jingles for New Orleans radio station WBOK. One of Price’s jingles, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” became so popular that Price opted to take it to Imperial Records with the idea of inking a recording deal.
Imperial rejected Price, instead signing another New Orleans product, the piano-playing Fats Domino. Domino, a Hall of Famer, quickly became a superstar, collecting five gold records before 1956 and selling more records during the 1950s than everybody but Elvis Presley.
Price, who celebrates his 81st birthday today (March 9), took the jingle to the Specialty label who signed the teenager. He then made the jingle into a full-length song, which quickly jumped to No.1 on the R&B charts, remaining there for seven weeks.
One of 11 children, he clicked with two other Top 5 R&B hits in 1952 – “Oooh-Oooh-Oooh” and “Restless Heart.”
A shrewd businessman and superb evaluator of rock ‘n’ roll talent, Price helped launch Little Richard’s Hall of Fame career, convincing the Macon native to send a tape to a subsidiary of Specialty Records who immediately signed him. One of rock’s early superstars, Little Richard had a plethora of hits during the 1950s including “Tuiti-Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin” & Slidin’,” and “Rip It Up” in 1956, “Lucille,” “Jenny, Jenny” and “Keep A-Knockin’,” in 1957 and “Good Golly, Miss Molly” in 1958.
Price’s music career was placed on hold in 1953 when he was drafted by the military and served three years in the Far East.
Upon his release in 1956, he moved to Washington and started his own label, Kent Record Company. To get his songs national exposure, Price “leased” his songs to ABC Paramount.
His first hit was “Just “Because” which rose to No. 29 in 1957.
Price, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then had his biggest hit spanning 1958 and 1959 when “Stagger Lee” landed at the top of the charts for four weeks. The song, which was adopted from a traditional folk tune, “Stack-O-Lee,” personified Price’s trademark style of R&B vocals with orchestral backgrounds.
While “Stagger Lee” reached No. 1, it wasn’t without controversy.
The song was about an altercation that occurred in a barroom during a game of dice. The result was Stagger Lee shot and killed Billie.
Religious pressure groups tried to force Paramount Records not to release the song because of its “immoral” subject matter.
Dick Clark, American Bandstand’s host, refused to play the original because of the lyrics.
Paramount re-released “Stagger Lee” with a new version not mentioning gambling or shooting.
It’s amazing how much music mores have changed during the past 55 years. If “Stagger Lee” needed to be “toned down,” how many of today’s rap songs would have had problems getting airtime during the 1950s?
Since Price’s smash hit with “Stagger Lee,” it has been covered by Pat Boone, Ike & Tina Turner, James Brown, Tommy Roe and The Grateful Dead. The song has been covered more than 400 times.
Price’s version ranked 456th on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
“Stagger Lee” was just the beginning of Price’s hot streak.
Price followed with four Top 20 hits in 1959 — “Where We You on My Wedding Day?” “Personality,” “I’m Gonna Get Married” and “Come Into My Heart.”
He had two other Top 20 hits in 1960 — “Lady Luck” and “Question.”
His business and music acumen surfaced again in 1962 when he formed the Double L label.
One of the biggest stars to get his start on Double L was Wilson Pickett.
Pickett had 16 Top 40 hits including “In the Midnight Hour,” in 1965, “634-5789,” Land of 1,000 Dances” and “Mustang Sally” in 1966, “Everybody Needs Somebody” and “Funky Broadway” in 1967.
Another of Price’s “finds” was his chauffeur, Larry Williams. Another of the New Orleans stars, Williams had three big hits in 1957 — “Short Fat Fannie,” “High School Dance” and “Bony Maronie.”
While many rockers suffered financial difficulties when their songs stopped charting, this is not the case with Price.
Still occasionally performing today, Price currently is managing Icon Food Brands that features Southern style foods. His Lawdy Miss Clawdy brand features items from greens to sweet potato cookies and his Lloyd Price Brand specializes in Lloyd Price’s Soulful ‘n’ Smooth Grits and Lloyd Price’s Energy 2-Eat Bar. He also has a Lawdy Miss Clawdy clothing line.
Barry Levine writes entertainment stories for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.