This timeless, reclusive and incisive songwriter sadly passed away before his tribute to Fats Domino was released, he was 71 years old. He was born and lived most of his life in the Abbeville, Louisiana area, and his music reflected both the times and the area he came from. His first brush with fame came in 1955 with the release by Chess Records of Later Alligator. Chess at that time was a label that was all black artists, they didn't discover Charles was white until all was signed and he was going out on the 'Chitlin' circuit, and a mixed race ticket in those days was a heinous crime and put his life in danger at times. Bill Haley put out the white version, See You Later Alligator (in those days race records were covered by the likes of Pat Boone to 'sanitize' them) of the song and had a million seller with it. The word from Charles about the origin of that song was that he and his band The Cardinals had played a dance and stopped at a diner for some coffee on the way home as and he was leaving he said to one of the band members, "See you later alligator." From a table of unknown people who were drunk, a woman said something that caught his ear and he asked her what she said. "After a while crocodile," was the reply. He went home and 20 minutes later there was a million seller. He was 15 when he wrote it.
Charles was a songwriter and wrote hits for a large numbers of other singers. Fats Domino recorded a large number of his songs and had a smash hit with "Walking To New Orleans; and Clarence "Frogman" Henry had a smash with (I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I Do. Charles himself never had a hit record and though his songs did well for others he just never made it, partly through bad timing and he wasn't the best vocalist. He had the support of a wide range of musicians including The Band, Delbert McClinton, Paul Butterfield and Doctor John. He did a number of albums that were all good but they never sold well. This one is a solid affair and displays his fine songwriting with songs like Before I Grow Too Old, When Love Turns to Hate, and Little Town Tramp; with a crack band behind him including Mac Rebennack (Dr John), Sonny Landreth, Derek Trucks, and Mickey Raphael, this disc is a gem. No you are not going to get the best vocals, however the songs are sharp observations and well done with his deep, often bittersweet reflections on various subjects, but particularly relationships of all kinds, and a band that is tight, sharp and focused on the music.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles