Eddie Bo - Now Let's Popeye (Part II) (RIC 987)
Now Let's Popeye (Part II)
As I'm sure you know, Edwin Bocage has been increasingly acnowledged as one of the original progenitors of da funk. Excellent work has been done by folks like Larry Grogan, Martin Lawrie, and Dan Phillips that has documented his massive contributions to the music. Bo's work on Al Collins' "I Got The Blues For You" and his own I'm Wise had laid the groundwork for rock & roll as well, when Little Richard and Bumps Blackwell borrowed them for Slippin' And Slidin' in 1956.
After his stints at Ace, Apollo, and Chess, Eddie landed at Joe Ruffino's Ric and Ron labels in 1960. Ruffino utilized Bo's talents to the fullest, not only using him as his new songwriter, arranger, and producer, but putting his considerable carpentry skills to work building a studio for the company. He produced great records on Tommy Ridgley, Irma Thomas, and Johnny Adams for Ruffino, in addition to cranking out his own great sides like Tell It Like It Is and Every Dog Got His Day.
Bo then went on to fulfill every record label owner's dream in the early 60s, he created a national dance craze that rivaled The Twist! Now there are those that say that Eddie didn't make it up, that the dance came from the kids on the streets of his old neighborhood, the Ninth Ward. There are those who credit Chris Kenner with inventing the beat on his Something You Got. There are even those that claim that Huey Smith's version came first (Huey is one of them...). All we really know for sure is that RIC 987 was released in late 1961, and is, as far as I can tell, the first 45 with "Popeye" in the title. (Huey Smith & His Clowns' "Pop-Eye" - with vocals provided by a young Curley Moore - came out as ACE 649 in 1962).
It seemed like every record company in America jumped on the bandwagon after that, not wanting to miss out on the latest fad. Stax put out a whole album of Popeye tunes by the Mar-Keys. Ernie K-Doe jumped in with "Popeye Joe" on Minit. Don Covay was doing "The Popeye Waddle" on Cameo. Chubby Checker had the biggest hit of all when "Popeye (The Hitchhiker)", the B side of his #2 pop hit "Limbo Rock", broke the top ten on its own in October of 1962.
Joe Ruffino had a serious mistrust of national distribution of his records by other companies after Roulette basically stole his biggest hit, Joe Jones' "You Talk Too Much", out from under him in 1960. By the time he consented to lease Bo's original Popeye to Philadelphia's Swan Records, the dance craze had essentially run its course, and the single went nowhere.
One of the cool things about today's selection is that the label credits say; "Music by the AFO Studio Combo". This included, of course, Harold Battiste, Melvin Lastie, Chuck Badie, and probably John Boudreaux. Ironically, this same group recorded Barbara George's massive hit I Know at around the same time, only to see their own national distribution deal with Juggy Murray's Sue label steal their biggest star, and lead to the eventual collapse of AFO.
Bo ended up in a "pistol-waving" shouting match with Ruffino over this lack of support for his records, and the money he owed him, and left RIC in 1962 shortly before the label owner died of a massive coronary.
Eddie then began his odyssey of producing and recording for over 35 different labels over the years, leaving behind absolute funk masterpieces like Check Your Bucket, Pass The Hatchet, Can I Be Your Squeeze, and many more. Sometimes the records were produced on other artists, or sometimes just put out under various bizarre pseudonyms for one reason or another. His biggest hit came in 1969, when Hook And Sling (this time released under his own name) made it to #13 on the R&B charts. You can check out the dizzying array of Bo-related records at Martin Lawrie's superb Eddie Bo Discography over at Soul Generation.
One of the most sought after records in the Eddie Bo pantheon is the first release on a label he formed in 1964 called, aptly enough, FUN. It featured the young Snooks Eaglin (billed as Lil Snook) doing Cheetah b/w Sweetness. According to Martin Lawrie; "It is not clear if this record was ever released fully, several promo copies exist but so far as I know there are no issues." Talk about your basic Holy Grail, huh?
Anyway, I was lucky enough to see Eddie perform with Snooks (who I'm sure you know is one of my all time guitar heroes...) at the Rock N' Bowl in New Orleans while I was down there for Jazz Fest earlier this month. As far as either of them remembered, it was the first time they'd actually worked together since the release of FUN 303. It was simply amazing, man.
Do the Popeye, children!
On a more somber note, I wanted to show everybody this:
Here's what the Lower Ninth Ward looked like just 3 weeks ago. The absolute devastation of certain areas of New Orleans just blew my mind. Even though they don't report it on the News anymore and stuff, let me just say - "People, it's bad".
The City put on a brave face for Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras and all, but as the summer approaches, and the tourists stop coming, it's going to be a long haul. We already know that FEMA and the rest of our golfing country club government couldn't care less...
I know you've all been looking at those Katrina benefit links I have up on the right side here a long time. I was even thinking of taking some down... but after I saw the wounds with my own eyes, so to speak, I've decided they're staying. If you haven't done so already, please consider giving something back to the town that's given us all so much.