Bobby Charles, Singer, Songwriter, National Treasure 1938-2010
January 19, 2010 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Bobby Charles 1938-2010. Songwriter, musician's musician and cultural treasure, he died on last Thursday in Abbeville,Lousiana. In the 1950s, he wrote Fats Domino's Walking to New Orleans, Bill Haley and the Comet's See You Later, Alligator and recorded for Chess records. His eponymous Bearsville album recorded in Woodstock in 1972 has been described as the best Band album released under another name.(Check out Small Town Talk there.) He appeared as well in the Band's farewell concert filmed as The Last Waltz. He made an enormous contribution to American popular music.

From Blue Arts Studio, here is a biography in three parts: 1, 2 and 3. From the New Orleans Time-Picayune, here is Lost Legend. Here is Hidecki Watanabe's excellent Bobby Charles fan page. And here, from YouTube, are two performances from 1970.
posted by y2karl (25 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Technically, if it was recorded at Bearsville Studios, it was recorded in Bearsville, not Woodstock. Difference is a mile, but still. Ok, I'm just messing around.
posted by spicynuts at 11:44 AM on January 19, 2010

Also, his performance, with the Band, of Down South In New Orleans can be found as an outtake in the box set of the Last Waltz.
posted by y2karl at 11:48 AM on January 19, 2010

Oh man. He was a heavyweight. Street People ( with Levon Helm and Rick Danko) is one of my favorites. RIP, and thanks for the music.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:49 AM on January 19, 2010

posted by brundlefly at 11:51 AM on January 19, 2010

Too many notes this year. ♪
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:55 AM on January 19, 2010

Nice post. I had missed this news.
posted by OmieWise at 12:05 PM on January 19, 2010

...He led a local group, the Cardinals, for whom he wrote a song called Hey Alligator at the age of 14. The song was inspired by an incident at a roadside diner, when his parting shot to a friend – "See you later, alligator" – inspired another customer to respond with: "In a while, crocodile."

The popularity of the song led a local record-store owner to recommend Guidry to Leonard Chess of the Chicago-based Chess Records label. After Bobby had sung it over the phone, Chess signed him up. He traveled to New Orleans to record the song and several others under the name Bobby Charles. On his first visit to Chicago, he shocked the label's owners, who had been expecting to meet a young black singer and had arranged a promotional tour of the "chitlin' circuit" of African-American venues.
The Guardian: Bobby Charles obituary
posted by y2karl at 12:09 PM on January 19, 2010

Amazing story, amazing man.

Times-Picayune: 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.

“I can hear all the chords up here,” he said, pointing to his brain, “but I can’t tell you what they are.”

posted by blucevalo at 12:20 PM on January 19, 2010

And here, appropriately, and along with other samples of his work throughout his career, can be found a recording of his 1972 album's I Must Be In A Good Place Now.

That album, Bobby Charles, will always be in my top ten favorites. There are so many beautiful songs on it. Besides those mentioned here, Tennessee Blues is a heartbreaking standout, with some of Amos Garrett's sweetest guitar playing ever.
posted by y2karl at 12:23 PM on January 19, 2010

Ah, man, that's too bad. He was something else.
posted by Richat at 12:48 PM on January 19, 2010

Here's Down South in New Orleans with The Band. Someone must have must just uploaded this to YouTube. The vocals sound more ragged than they do on the Last Waltz album - but the performance is there. For the record, the four you can see are L-R Rick Danko, Bobby Charles, Robbie Robertson, and Dr. John (Mac Rebennack).

I did not know that Bobby also wrote "Walking to New Orleans". That's my favorite Fats Domino song.
posted by Ber at 1:00 PM on January 19, 2010

posted by cookie-k at 1:04 PM on January 19, 2010

mp3s and more background at Home of the Groove. Thanks for the post y2karl.
posted by acro at 1:11 PM on January 19, 2010

yep. jay reatard last wednesday, and bobby charles on thursday. i went into hibernation after that.
posted by msconduct at 1:15 PM on January 19, 2010

mp3s and more background at Home of the Groove...

double post! [  ;) ]
posted by y2karl at 1:30 PM on January 19, 2010

A Non Video YouTube: Bobby Charles - I'll Turn Square For You

Although it is one of my favorite titles, I did not know that he wrote or recorded that song until today. I only knew of it via the covers by Paula Watson and George Washington.
posted by y2karl at 1:41 PM on January 19, 2010

Oh, by the way, on a related topic, the record label of George Washington and Band's I'll Turn Square For You was one of more famous of the cartoon labels by the same artist which appeared on certain 78s on the Roy Milton, Miltone and Ace Records.
posted by y2karl at 2:37 PM on January 19, 2010

Thanks for the post, y2karl.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:46 PM on January 19, 2010

I had completely forgotten, as well, that Bobby Charles was so cool, Joe Strummer covered him, and covered him brilliantly, in the oddly re-titled "Silver & Gold (Before I Grow Too Old) on Joe's last record with the Mescaleros, Streetcore.
posted by Richat at 3:53 PM on January 19, 2010

Man, I've been tryin to find some torrents of his stuff since I heard. As someone who is obsessed with the Band and loves Dankos first solo album (also featuring Small Town Talk), I really need to hear it.
posted by saul wright at 5:53 PM on January 19, 2010

I did not realize until just now that the Band site, from where the 4th link of the post is located, had pulled down all its audio and video. I had sent him an mp3 of Small Town Talk when I bought the Stony Plain CD of the album way back when. Well, as for torrents, I see from Googling for a Small Town Talk mp3 elsewhere, that there are plenty.
posted by y2karl at 6:58 PM on January 19, 2010

As a native of Abbeville, LA (Mr. Charles' hometown), I grew up hearing his songs, usually as interpreted by the likes of Warren Storm, Tommy McClain, Johnnie Allen, Fats, Frogman, etc.. It wasn't until a few years ago that I discovered his own recordings. The songs were always on the money, perfect nuggets of soulful pop. He will be missed.

posted by shecky57 at 6:54 AM on January 20, 2010

Thanks much for the post.

posted by languagehat at 10:44 AM on January 20, 2010

There is a stream of Small Town Talk here. And there is an mp3 of it here. I first heard the song when I heard Geoff Muldaur sing it when I went to see Paul Butterfield's Better Days back in the day. I have loved it ever since.
posted by y2karl at 10:47 AM on January 21, 2010

« Older off the beaten path   |   Trans-Siberian Railway Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments