Herbie Duncan died recently. I don’t know what killed him or the exact date that he died. Does it matter?
Herbie Duncan cut three 45’s: Hot Lips Baby b/w Little Angel (Mar-Vel, 1958, re-issued and still available from Norton Records), Escape b/w Roll Along (Glenn, 1959) and That’s All b/w End Of The Rainbow (Glenn, 1960).
Hot Lips Baby is one of rock’n’roll’s pinnacle moments. It turns up on dozens of rockabilly compilation LP’s and CD’s, both legal and bootleg*. It’s my favorite type of record, one where you ask yourself, “did this guy really think he was gonna be the next Elvis”? and/or “how the hell did this even get recorded”? It’s discs like Hot Lips Baby that make record collecting worth it; all those hours around fat, smelly guys who still live with their parents, creepy record dealers trying to pass of bootlegs as rarities, hours spent digging through dusty piles of junk (the knees are really feeling it these days). When you find a record like this (and you don’t find ’em like this too often) it’s like winning Lotto, or the Olympics. You know that you haven’t wasted your time (and life) tracking this stuff down.
In 1986, Deke Dickerson (Untamed Youth, Deke Dickerson Combo, etc.), President of the Herbie Duncan Fan Club (yes, such people exist) tracked him down and found him and his wife living in a trailer camp in Olathe, Kansas. Of that visit he wrote:
“I’ll always remember Herbie most from this visit, when he took his old guitar out of the case, sat on his La-Z-Boy chair, and began warbling “Me And Bobby McGee” in his trademark vocal style. His body, his hands, his head, remained almost motionless as the words and music spilled out from his voice and guitar. Strangely, almost inhumanly, the La-Z-Boy chair began violently rocking back and forth, as if it was levitating, though Herbie remained almost motionless. My friends and I looked at this and remarked on it later, and to this day I have no idea how he did that. There was magic–magic that few understood, but undeniable magic–contained in the body and soul of Herbie Duncan“. Magic indeed. Take that Aliester Crowley! By the sounds of this record it’s magic that the band all manage to finish the song at almost the same time. In fact, the guitar, bass player and drummer all end up stopping on different beats.
I’m a sucker for a good novelty. Hence, a minor fascination with that notable British rock’n’roll character Lord David Sutch aka Screaming Lord Sutch, proof positive that, sometimes, in the world of rock’n’roll having no talent is sometimes just not enough. He was certainly a photogenic little bugger though, no? Despite the claim on Wikipedia that he was “3rd Earl Of Harrow”, David Sutch (b. Nov. 10, 1940) was not of royal lineage and in fact grew up in the working class area of Kilburn, North London. He fell in love with rock’n’roll upon hearing Rock Around The Clock in 1956 (he dug Haley because he was the spitting image of his other hero– Winston Churchill). Determined to forge a career in rock’n’roll he made his way to the 2i’s coffee bar in Soho, that incubator of all British pre-Beatles R&R talent (see Vince Taylor posting for more on the 2i’s scene) but was rejected and found a gig at a nearby biker joint called the Cannibal Pot, where he was soon fronting his own outfit– The Raving Savages whose original line up featured future session drummer Carlo Little and pianist Nicky Hopkins. His main calling card was a stage show inspired by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and old horror movies, that saw Sutch jumping out of a coffin, chasing semi-nude women around the stage with a meat cleaver, even doing a re-enactment of Jack The Ripper murders to illustrate the tune of he same name (see video clip above). He brought theatrics to rock’n’roll a good decade before Alice Cooper. In this manner it took a while for audiences to realize he couldn’t sing two bars in the same key. He was soon packing ’em in all over the U.K. and in Hamburg where he was a good draw at the Star Club.
In 1961 he was discovered by Joe Meek who produced Sutch’s first two horror themed singles– Til The Following Night (HMV) and Jack The Ripper (Decca), the group now billed as Screaming Lord Sutch & his Savages. Quite a few future notables passed through Sutch’s group including Ritchie Blackmore (guitar star of Meek produced instrumental combo the Outlaws and later of Deep Purple), Jimmy Page, Keith Moon (briefly), and others. He cut a string of novelty horror singles, most are fairly unlistenable– Dracula’s Daughter, Monster In Black Tights, She’s Fallen In Love With A Monster, etc. but some of the b-sides where quite good, original arrangements of rock’n’roll classics.Huey Smith’s Don’t You Just Know It and the Coaster’s I’m A Hog For You (both served as the flip side of Jack the Ripper in different pressings), Bye Bye Baby (flip of Dracula’s Daughter) are all credible, exciting rock’n’roll discs. His best was this 1965 re-make of the Johnny Burnette Trio’s first 45 (covering both sides in highly original arrangements that highlight the strengths of his band) Train Kept A Rollin’ b/w Honey Hush (CBS, UK). If it was the only record he ever made, he’d have been remembered as a genius. His best early sides compiled on a bootleg called The Screaming Lord Sutch Story can be found here.
In 1963 Sutch attempted to launch his own pirate radio station– Radio Sutch which would feature rock’n’roll records mixed in with such attractions as Mandy Rice-Davis doing dramatic readings from Lady Chatterly’s Lover but a falling out with his manager Reginald Calvert nixed the project (Calvert was later murdered by someone he swindled). The same year Sutch stood for public office for the first time, running for Prime Minister on the Teenage Party whose main platform was lowering the voting age to twelve. He would go on to run for PM in each election up until 1990, the Teenage Party evolving into the Raving Loony Party (in one memorable election he wanted to extend suffrage to animals). It was in politics that Sutch is best remembered in the U.K., always cutting a striking figure at election time, no publicity ploy beneath was beneath him. Some people even voted for him.
By the late sixties he had taken to riding around in a horse drawn chariot, his Savages outfitted in togas— “You’ve got to keep up with the times”, he told Nik Cohn.
In 1970 Sutch was signed to Atlantic who attempted to market him to an uncomprehending U.S. market releasing two LP’s– Screaming Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends (featuring all the Savages alumni who’d made it as well as Jeff Beck, John Bonham and Noel Redding) and Hands Of Jack The Ripper. He toured the U.S. in a Union Jack painted Rolls Royce. These LPs have the distinction of being among the worst ever recorded, although in retrospect, crappy as they are they’re way better than 90% of what’s made the charts in the ensuing decades.
Sutch continued to gig and even record the odd disc through the eighties, I saw him play at the Milkweig in Amsterdam in the early nineties, attempting to align himself with the Psychobilly craze, he was great in that “you had to be there and be stoned” sort of way. Unfortunately I was so loaded on hash that I lost the autographed 8×10 I’d gotten by stumbling into his dressing room and dropping the name of a mutual friend. I do remember he was surrounded by the strangest assortment of acolytes I’ve ever seen, including a guitar player named Rasputin who looked just like the real thing.
In 1991 Sutch published his autobiography: Life As Sutch (with Peter Chippendale, Harper-Collins, UK), an amusing if rather peculiar volume, for some reason it was recalled and is very rare today.
In 1999 his beloved mother Annie Emily Sutch passed away (he had lived with her for his whole life) and not long after (June 16, 1999) a grieving Lord David Sutch (he’d added the Lord via deed poll) hung himself. Sad ending, like all great rock’n’roll stories. Lord David Sutch, aka Screaming Lord Sutch is a perfect example of how a person of little promise was able to use rock’n’roll to rebuild his entire being into something special, some one who will be remembered, for as long as people care about rock’n’roll.
James “Sugar Boy” Crawford Jr., b. Oct 12, 1934 is one of the last of the great New Orleans rock’n’rollers still alive. Old timers remember him as having the best band in the city for a decade or more, as well as being the originator of Jock-a-Mo aka Iko Iko, the
Crawford formed his first group in High School– the Chapaka Shawee (which means “we ain’t raccoons”, they had no idea what it meant having gotten it from a Mardi Gras Indian chant). In addition to Crawford on piano and vocals were Edgar “Big Boy” Myles on vocals and trombone, Irving Bannister on guitar, Warren Myles Nolan Blackwell and Alfred Bernard, I’m not sure who played what or if the latter three just sang but in 1952 Aladdin issued their only 45, under the name of the Shaweez. The a-side is a minor masterpiece, “You Made Me Love You” in which Sugar Boy who trades lead vocals with Myles delivers a sobbing finale to this R&B/doo-wop ballad. The b-side was a cover of Guitar Slim’s “Feelin’ Sad”. The record was issued without having even signed a contract, they were paid $5, for the entire group!
Soon Sugar Boy had gone pro and was inked to Chess who issued three 45’s on Checker in 1954. On these sides Sugar Boy was backed by Eric Warner on drums, Frank Field on bass, Big Boy Myles on trombone, David Lastsie on tenor sax and Snooks Eaglin on guitar. The first of these discs– Overboard is one of the wildest R&B discs ever. Taken at Ramones speed, the musicians sound like they’re racing each other to the end of the tune. The record went nowhere but his second Checker disc- Jock-A-Mo was a huge local hit and would later be taken to the top of the charts as Iko Iko by the Dixie Cups (with Crawford’s name missing from the writer’s credit).
Jock-A-Mo missed the national charts but it became Sugar Boy’s calling card and kept him in live work for years. A third disc–“No More Heartaches” b/w “I Bowed My Knee” didn’t sell at all and Chess dropped Sugar Boy, leaving eighteen amazing sides in the vaults. The entire Chess/Checker output can be found here (password is bluesandrhythm.blogspot.com). Tunes like the politically incorrect Watch Her, Whip Her , the instrumental Night Rider , What’s Wrong, There Goes My Baby, are as good, or better, than anything I’ve ever heard. They weld the second line beat peculiar to New Orleans to Rhythm and Blues better than any discs this side of Fats Domino.
By 1956 Sugar Boy was signed to Imperial and back in the hands of Dave Bartholomew who had produced the Shaweez (and about 90% of the great records made in New Orleans in the fifties).
With Bartholomew’s band– Earl Palmer on drums, Lee Allen on tenor sax, etc. (same guys who played on hits by Fats Domino, Little Richard, Smiley Lewis, Shirley & Lee, et al) Sugar Boy cut the fantastic She Gotta Wobble (When She Walks) which flopped and the ballad Morning Star which became a minor hit. All together Imperial cut four singles with Sugar Boy Crawford before cutting him loose.
Still, Sugar Boy and the Cane Cutters were a good draw and played a two year stint at the all white Carousel Club in Baton Rouge as well as touring all over Louisiana and as far east as Georgia and as far west as Texas. They’d occasionally make it back in the studio, in 1959 cutting a version of Danny Boy b/w Round and Round for Montel and recording I Cried and Have A Little Mercy for Ace (produced by Mac Rebbenack who also wrote the latter) in ’61 . He also cut backing tracks for Jimmy Clanton while at Ace.
In 1963 Crawford’s career came careening to a halt thanks to a beating at the hands of a racist cop who’d pulled the band over after a gig outside of Monroe, Louisiana. Sugar Boy spent a year in the hospital recovering, and gave up rock’n’roll for good.
In 1999 I met Sugar Boy, quite by accident. I needed a locksmith to change the lock in an apartment I’d just moved into and a friend gave me the number of a locksmith he had used. It was Sugar Boy Crawford who showed up and installed my new lock. I tried to talk to him about music but he was quite taciturn on the subject, only saying “I do my singing in church these days…” with a smile. He makes occasional appearances at gospel shows, usually playing piano and has turned down offers to play jazz fest and the Ponderosa Stomp (speaking of which, why is Bon Jovi headlining Jazz Fest? Why don’t they move the Stomp to a non-jazz fest week since there’s almost no cross over audience between the two at this point….pardon me, my mind wanders easily…). Sugar Boy Crawford, yes, he was a great one. He sure was…
In the latest installment of our new weekly feature we delve into Gillian “The Fang” McCain’s collection of found photos and ask ourselves, what do we say about this one?
My guess is that this is Siomone Mareuil recovering from her film role in Luis Bunuel’s 1929 classic Un chein andalou. Maybe not…but who ever she is, she cuts a striking figure.