Born Lawrence E. Birdsong, 15 June 1934, Pulaski, Tennessee
Larry Birdsong was an African American singer with an appropriate name. He really could sing like a bird. Many record company people believed that he was destined for stardom. He enjoyed one label deal after another. It wasn't for lack of trying that the big breakthrough crossover hit bringing fame and fortune never happened for Birdsong.
Born in 1934, Larry came from an extremely musical family in Pulaski, TN. Though there never was an organized family band, every one of the eleven Birdsong children sang. The story goes that Larry was discovered in the early 1950s by Nashville R&B promoter Ted Jarrett (1925-2009). Larry was still a teenager and had been in trouble. He was just out of reform school and, in order to sign him to a contract, Jarrett had to go to court to plead for his release from probation so that he might tour and record. But Larry's brother Jimmy Birdsong (a singer and recording artist in his own right) believes otherwise. "Ted Jarrett says he brought Larry out of Pikeville Reformatory School. I think some sheriff in Pulaski brought Larry to Nashville and put him up with Ernie Young [owner of Excello Records]."
Birdsong's first two singles were recorded in 1955 in Nashville with Louis Brooks and his Hi-Toppers. "It Won't Be This Way Always"/"You Won't Be Needin' Me No More" (Excello 2064) was followed by "Pleadin' For Love"/ "You'll Never Know" (Excello 2076). "Pleadin' For Love" peaked at # 11 on Billboard's R&B charts in July 1956 ; it would be his first and last chart entry. At this time it is not available on YouTube, but those who have access to Spotify can listen to it there. In 1956-57 Larry recorded for two labels owned by Ted Jarrett, Calvert and Champion, backed by Jimmy Beck and his orchestra. In between there was a solitary release on a major label (Decca 30186), "Oo Wee Honey"/"Let's Try It Again". Decca probably purchased these masters from Jarrett, whose band provides the backing.
In 1957, Vee-Jay Records in Chicago showed interest in Larry. Ted Jarrett insisted that the label could only sign Birdsong if they took on Gene Allison (another Jarrett protégé) as well. Both singers had their first session for Vee-Jay in July 1957. Allison hit the jackpot right away with "You Can Make It If You Try" (# 3 R&B, # 36 pop) and stayed with Vee-Jay for four years, but Birdsong was not so lucky and had only two sessions for the label. From a rock 'n' roll point of view, "I'm Pleading Just For You" (Vee-Jay 254) is probably his best single ; you can judge this for yourself on YouTube (link below). I first heard three of Larry's Vee-Jay recordings (including "I'm Pleading Just For You") on an Upsetters CD. However, the backing sounded to me as typical of Cosimo Matassa's studio band, not the Upsetters, and when I checked this in the Blues Bible by Leadbitter and Slaven, it was confirmed that the July 1957 session was held in New Orleans, with Lee Allen, Red Tyler, Edward Frank, Earl King, Frank Fields and Charles Williams.
There was another New Orleans session in 1960, a one-off single for Ace, but "I'm So Glad You're Home" (Ace 589) lacks the typical Ace N.O. sound and is best classified as an early example of soul music. Between Larry's tenures at Vee-Jay and Ace, Ted Jarrett issued some more Birdsong titles that he had in the can from his Champion days. These 1958-59 releases include "Scooter Poofin'" (Champion 1009), another successful attempt at rock n roll, with good piano accompaniment. "Do You Love Me" and "Somebody Somewhere" aren't bad either. After Ace, his next stop (1961-62) was at the Home of the Blues label in Memphis, where he recorded four singles under the supervision of Willie Mitchell. The best of these (in my humble opinion) are "Aunt Mattie" and "Little School Girl". There was a four-year hiatus before Larry recorded again. In 1966 he signed with Red Wortham's Sur-Speed label, for which he recorded two soul singles. More soul music was cut at Ted Jarrett's Ref-O-Ree label between 1968 and 1973. Sur-Speed and Ref-O-Ree were local Nashville labels with limited distribution. Apart from some gospel recordings released in 1982, Birdsong did not record after 1973.
Larry Birdsong passed away at home in 1990. They found him several days later. He had been living in an apartment off 8th Avenue in south Nashville. Not much is known about the circumstances of his death. It probably was due to heart trouble.
Birdsong was a very versatile singer, who recorded blues, doowop, jazz, gospel, rock n roll, smooth crooning and soul. Some people consider him to be one of the greatest black singers in Nashville.
- Discography by Pete Hoppula : http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/larrybirdsong.htm
- CD : Every Night Of the Week (Black Magic BM 9203). A Dutch release from 2003. 26 tracks from all phases of his career.
- Acknowledgements : Chris P. James, Liner notes for the Black Magic CD. Mike Leadbitter & Neil Slaven, Blues Records 1943 to 1970 (1987).
- Ted Jarrett obituary : <click here>
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