Born 19 July 1935, Memphis, Tennessee
Matt Lucas has a highly individual rock and roll style. It’s not really rockabilly, though he performs many rockabilly classics during his shows. I have seen it described as “Southern Rock ’n’ Roll”. He is a very dynamic and entertaining live performer.
Born in Memphis, Lucas was raised in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, as an adopted child. He never found out who his real parents were. In his teenage years he "chose to be a wild, crazy kid” (his own words) and had to spend fourteen months in a reformatory for stealing a cement mixer truck to run away from home. He was 14 or 15 when he got out and took off for Los Angeles to try and get into the movies. There Matt started playing drums with mostly black bands in the L.A. area. He loved blues, jazz and big bands ; fellow whites called him a “nigger lover”. Around 1955 he came back to Missouri, where he played drums in strip clubs.
In July 1956 Lucas met Narvel Felts, who would become a lifelong friend. Soon both men joined Jerry Mercer’s band, Narvel on slap bass and Matt as a drummer. But Matt was sacked after two weeks after getting carried away with a hootchy kootchy dancer at a carnival. Lucas played various clubs and dives learning his trade. In 1959 or 1960 he made his first record, “Tradin’ Kisses”/“Sweetest One”, released on the Good label, owned by Roland Janes, who also produced the recording. The A-side is an attractive rocker.
Not long thereafter he rejoined Felts, who now worked with a trio. Lucas was soon asked to sing a few songs during each set in order to broaden the trio’s repertoire. In addition to songs like “Annie Had A Baby” and “Hoochie Coochie Man”, he started playing around with Hank Snow’s 1950 country hit “I’m Movin’ On”, changing some of the lyrics and adding lines like “wind it up baby” and “shake it for your daddy”. The song became a crowd favourite and convinced him he had a potential hit on his hands. In 1962 Lucas recorded “I’m Movin’ On” for Renay Records, another Roland Janes label. Narvel Felts played guitar on the session. At first it did nothing, until Rufus Thomas (in his DJ role) started pushing the record on a black station. A small label like Renay couldn’t handle the demand and in March 1963 the record was leased to Smash for national distribution. It rose to # 56 on the Billboard Hot 100, made the Top 20 in Canada and the Top 10 in Belgium.
The Narvel Felts Trio became the "Matt Lucas Trio, featuring Narvel Felts on guitar". Matt’s next Smash release was a revival of Roy Orbison’s 1956 hit “Ooby Dooby”, performed in the same high-energy style as “I’m Movin’ On”. It was a minor hit on the Cash Box charts, but failed to register on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1963 Lucas left Narvel Felts and started a solo career. Still being recorded by Roland Janes, he switched to Dot Records. His dynamic versions of “Maybelline” and “Put Me Down” were coupled for release in November 1963, followed by Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Lovelight” in 1964.
This was the end of Matt’s first period as a rock and roll recording artist. He continued to make records in the 1960s and 1970s for small labels, but these fall mostly in the “blue-eyed soul” category and are of limited interest to the genuine R&R fan. The years 1965-1970 were a period of decline, especially in Matt’s personal life. But he succeeded in kicking his alcohol habit and moved to Toronto, Canada, where he cut a blues album with Ronnie Hawkins called “I’ve Paid My Dues” (1972). Lucas and his seventh wife Barbara left Canada in 1975, relocating to Florida. Then his wild life caught up with him. He had a heart attack and decided to make some drastic changes in his lifestyle. Around 1980 he accepted an offer for a job as an entertainer on a cruise ship, which turned out to be an excellent career move, giving him a long steady period of employment while making good money.
Matt Lucas recorded two albums in 1983, one with blues material, the other in his old rock and roll style. Another rockabilly album was released in 2000, appropriately called “Rockabilly 2000”. “Shockabilly” followed in 2001, but this album was never released, though Matt still hopes to find a home for it. In the 21st century he has made many notable appearances, for instance at Viva Las Vegas (2001), Hemsby, England (2002), the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans (four years in a row) and Sweden (2005).
He is still happily married to Barbara ; they travel around seven months out of the year. For the rest of the year they live in McAlpin, Florida, and Lakewood, New Mexico. In 2016 Lucas underwent a quintuplet bypass operation, but today (June 2017) he is still active with performing, writing and recording. At the age of 81 he signed a recent record deal with a company in Miami that specializes in Northern Soul, a market where he has done very well with past recordings. Matt Lucas keeps on rocking!
More info :
Discography : http://rcs-discography.com/rcs/artist.php?key=luca5000
CD : I’m Moving On and Other Timeless Rockers With the Legendary Matt Lucas. A 2002 release on the Dutch Redita label. 22 tracks, including all the 1960-64 recordings. Liner notes by Adri Sturm.
Acknowledgements : Matt Lucas, Bill Millar, Tony Wilkinson, Wikipedia, Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Dik, June 2017
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