Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jimmy Donley - Santa! Don't Pass Me By (Tear Drop 3007)

Santa! Don't Pass Me By

If you know anything about me, you know that I don't believe in coincidences. Every once in a while something happens that kind of spooks me, because it just feels like it was meant to be... I was flipping through some 45s this afternoon, trying to put something together for my annual year end post, where I try to honor some of the folks who have gone on before us.

One of those people was my friend Huey P. Meaux who passed away on April 23rd. No matter what you may have thought of him, he was truly an American original, and an indomitable force in the music industry for many years. Many of the records he cut along the way will live on forever. He cared deeply about that legacy, I think, as witnessed by the fact that he had his own headstone engraved and installed years before he was called upon to lie beneath it. "Producer Extrordinaire," it reads, "Did it My Way! No Regrets! Love Ya - Bye Now!" On the back, he lists the names of the people who stood by him and remained in his corner while he was in prison, among them the two men he considered his brothers, Jerry Wexler and Shelby S. Singleton.

I was introduced to the Crazy Cajun by another record man, Chuck Chellman. We'd spend hours on the phone sometimes, while Huey told me his stories. Some of the most amazing ones had to do with Jimmy Donley. Meaux had signed Jimmy to his fledgling Tear Drop label after Decca let him go in 1962. Donley was a violent, wife-beating drunk who also happened to be a genius, writing some of Fats Domino's best records in the 1950s. He was a household name in those days on the Gulf Coast, and songs like his own Born To Be A Loser spoke the lovesick language of the Cajun Prairie. By the time Huey signed him, Donley was spinning out of control, and was basically homeless. After his mother died in early 1963, Huey found him seriously drunk, hysterical and playing guitar at her graveside. He cleaned him up and got him a hotel room, telling him to get some sleep, and that he'd see him in the morning. Only by the time the morning rolled around, Donley had hooked up a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car and killed himself. "I cried like a baby," Huey told me, "the more talent they have, it seems like they have a little tornado running inside their head..."

Now, as some of you know, my kids and I put together a Christmas CD that we send out to family and friends every year. In 2006, before I met Huey Meaux, or had any clue who Jimmy Donley was, we included this incredible song you're listening to now on the CD. It has grown to be one of our all-time favorites and gets played to death around here every December. I'll be honest with you though, I still never put two and two together until I looked up the Sunny and the Sunliners 45 I was going to use next week in the Tear Drop discography I found on Wikipedia, and saw this record on there. It stopped me in my tracks, man, and I knew I had to post just one more Christmas song. Huey would have wanted me to...

One of the conditions of his parole was that, in addition to being required to wear an ankle monitor, Huey was not allowed to have a computer. He was, however, heavily into his Fax Machine, and I miss the cryptic typewritten notes that would show up unannounced at all hours of the day and night. The last one I received from him was on New Year's Day:

March 4th was the date that his parole was due to expire, and the ankle monitor was to be removed. The last time I spoke with him was on his 82nd birthday, March 10th. He sounded weak, and had been confined to a sick bed when they came to take the monitor off the week before. He never got up again.


Anonymous Scott Hunt said...

I'm sorry to here about the loss of your friend. It just so happens I've been researching a girl group in Texas by the name of the Dolls, and Mr. Meaux's name has popped up. They were out of Waco and did some recordings and shows in Dallas. Did he ever mention to you about working with them? They would have crossed paths around 1965/66. Any help would be appreciated.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

I'm sorry Scott, but I don't recall speaking with Mr. Meaux about them.

Thank You.

11:04 PM  

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