JOHN FRED (By Phil Davies)
Born John Fred Gourrier, 8 May 1941, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Little did I know in January 1968 that one day I would cherish earlier records by then current chart star John Fred & his Playboy Band. His r&b/Beatles flavoured Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) has always been a 60s fav of mine, great bass intro, saxes, piano and that living bra line, too much.
The Gourrier family roots are French, like many other artists in the bayous. John and his school pals grew up digging the r&b big beat oozing out of New Orleans. Big Joe Turner was also a fav. They formed a band originally called the Redcaps before realising there was another southern band called that. Playboy magazine was big news back then and a bandmate suggested the Playboys moniker.
Sam Montalbano held local band hops in Baton Rouge and John's band and that of local pal Johnny Ramistella(aka Johnny Rivers) played there. Sam had his own label and had already cut Lester Robinson on My Girl Across Town (with John on backing vocals) on Montel at Cosimo's in NO. Sam suggested to John and the boys that they should cut a record.
When they went to Montel Records to record the awesome Shirley, owner Sam Montalbano said he knew of another Playboys so he put John Fred & The Playboys on the 45. Band members included Ike Clanton (brother of Jimmy) and Tommy Bryan(who co wrtoe Shirley). Fats Domino was cutting the classic Whole Lotta Lovin' before John's session and Fats' legendary band played on Shirley, assisted by Playboy Mickey Coerver on sax. The session took place on September 23rd 1958. The flip My Love For You was basically a Chuck Willis What Am I Living For take off.
Shirley was doing well on the r&b stations until the jocks found out the group was white!! Roll over Lil Rich and tell Pat Boone the news. Shirley is a great record and should've been a bigger hit in the golden era. Stu Colman confirmed the quality by cutting a top ten UK hit for Shaky decades later. By now the original is a dancefloor must, dragging all the strollers out. But it just scrapped to number 82 in Billboard when it mattered (Cashbox put it slightly higher in the 60s). John did get to go to N York to appear on the Alan Freed show. The highlight was meeting his idol Clyde McPhatter. Perhaps if Sam had leased it to Ace or any label with better distribution the song would've been a top 40 smash.
Follow up Mirror Mirror (On The Wall) had the Jordanaires dubbed onto it in Nashville . Whilst Good Lovin' (a Bobby Charles song) was meant to be the flip of a Huey Smith produced song You Know You Made Me Cry. Both Bobby and Dale Hawkins were inspirations for John. The final Montel 45 was Down In New Orleans, which received a lot of airplay there but eant nothing elsewhere. John toured with Jimmy Clanton, Roy Orbison, Thomas Wayne and Duane Eddy.
John then went to college playing sports in the early 60s, John's 6 foot 5 inches tall and his dad was a pro baseball player with the Detroit Lions. In 64 he contacted old band mate Mickey Coerver and they put together a new Playboys. They were persuaded by a guy named Rocky Robin to cut a new record and he put it out on the N-Joy label. it's the classic version of Boggie Children. Rocky was a pharmacist and records were his hobby. He handed the band over to Stan lewis in Shreveport and he took over Boogie Children. They also cut You're Mad At Me, a take off of the trendy British Invasion sound dominating the US charts. That came out on Paula creditted to John Fred & the Playboys whilst the stunning Boogie Children came out just as The Playboys. John recalled that Boogie was a mix of Hooker's original and Frankie Lee Sims' classic Walkin' With Frankie, a potent brew indeed.
John hooked up with his hero Dale Hawkins, recording on 4 track at the Tyler Texas studio (where Dale cut his own lp on Bell and hits by Bruce Channel). they cut How Can I Prove before Dale left the studio and John cut his own Up & Down, getting to number 1 in New Orleans for 8 weeks. Stan took out a full page ad in Billboard but once again the picture of the white band killed the r&b stations airplay stone dead, D'OH!
Agnes English became a regional hit before Judy In Disguise stormed to the top of the Billboard pop charts and earned my hard earned 6/8d (from golf caddying) to reach number 3 in the UK charts in early 68. The record still sounds great today. It was a worldwide smash and lead to many US tours and tv appearances (Dick Clark, Johnny Carson all the biggies).
UK CBS reissued Shirley with a horn overdub (dubbed on by Sam Montel), whilst the flip was an instro of Hi Heel Sneakers. John met Elvis in Vegas and had his photo taken with the king in the August of 69. This was arranged by his buddy Wayne Cochran who was also appearing with Ike and Tina's revue at the International. When they were introduced Elvis turned around and said " John Fred, Boogie Children". This blew John away, Elvis knew about Judy but had heard the rocker whilst driving around late at night listening to the great Wolfman Jack. They chatted about Louisiana music for a couple of hours before Elvis' show, he gave John a front row seat too, Nice one E!
They met again at Graceland circa late 73/4 (through John's pal, the great Dan Penn) and chatted again, playing pool and listening to Elvis' Excello 45s, Elvis was very keen on hearing all about Slim Harpo. Same thing happened to John when he met the Beatles, John Lennon also wanted to hear all about Slim Harpo. Later, Shaky called him up and thanked him for writing Shirley.
Today, John still sings Shirley at his infrequent US gigs, he plays casinos, private parties, fairs and festivals. Luckily, his royalties mean that he can pick and chose his gigs, a nice ending for one of our heroes for once.
Recommended reading: Trevor Cajiao's excellent interview with John, Now Dig This issue 198, Sept. 99, also Rob Finnis' great notes to the Ace cd mentioned below.
Recommended Listening: The Montel sides, especially Shirley (there's a repro 45) on Ace's tasty Golden Age Of American RnR Vol 6 Both Shirely and Boogie Children appear on many boot cds eg Stompin Vol.6, Desperate RnR vol 4 and East Coast (huh??) Teen Party Judy In Disguise, just the 45, I bought the Pye album in 69 and it's easily the best thing on it There's a cd History of John Fred on Paula/Flyright, and Westside have an anthology cd With Glasses/Best Of JF.
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