One of rock’s more colorful careers even though only a portion of it was in music.. yet while he was a singer Little Caesar scored two sizable regional hits in Southern California and helped to popularize the so-called “death record” which would remain a small, but important, niche if rock for years to come.

Harry Caesar was born in 1928, growing up in Ohio and wound up serving a brief time in jail after his gang activities led him astray. Upon his release he joined the Army where he boxed, turning pro upon his discharge but retiring after a single fight.

Moving to California’s Bay Area he sang with The Peter Rabbit Trio and in 1951 got a recording session for Modern Records that went unreleased. The following year he signed with John Dolphin’s Recorded In Hollywood label where he enjoyed his longest sting and his greatest success.

His second single, The River”, was a big hit in Southern California and because of the suicidal content faced radio bans, earning it extra publicity which may have helped to offset that, especially since in Los Angeles the top station for rock ‘n’ roll did its shows from Dolphin’s Of Hollywood’s front window who undoubtedly plugged it heavily for their sponsor.

The follow-up was designed to take advantage of that reputation and is one case where such a calculated move paid off, as “Goodbye Baby”, another death disc, cracked the national charts and ensured that Little Caesar would get his name in the history books as the progenitor of a morbid trend that afflicted rock music for the next decade or so.

But nothing he did after that could recapture the same interest and while he kept trying on a number of labels over the next few years, including as a member of the group The Turbans, he never found any further success as a singer.

In 1960 however he appeared in his first film in an uncredited role for All The Fine Young Cannibals, the title of which would later go on to serve as the name of a popular group in the 1980’s. Bit by the acting bug, now under his full name Harry Caesar, began to show up in various supporting roles for the next two decades, guesting on the hit TV shows Julia in 1969, Mannix the next year, a few episodes of Sanford And Son and Baretta and countless other shows in the 1970’s and 80’s from Good Times and The Dukes Of Hazzard to Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law).

On the big screen Caesar had a part in The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman, a role in the Academy Award nominated The Lady Sings The Blues, as well as the prison football drama The Longest Yard starring Burt Reynolds, the noir classic Farewell My Lovely with Robert Mitchum, and A Few Good Men featuring Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson.

He still sang in clubs, ironically eschewing his own two big records in favor of more familiar generic songs made popular by others, but music was now just a sideline to acting.

Soon after his final screen performances in Burt Reynold’s TV show Evening Shade and the film Josh And S.A.M., both from 1993, Harry “Little” Caesar passed away at the age of 66 in June 1994, forty-two years to the month after his debut as a recording artist.

He may never have been a star in either music or acting but he orbited them in both fields for the bulk of his time on earth.
LITTLE CAESAR DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Recorded In Hollywood 233; June, 1952)
A well sung and played song that doesn’t try to do too much, keeping the focus on Caesar’s misery over losing his girl to his best friend, featuring understated support from saxophonist Que Martyn on a very mellow track. (5)

(Recorded In Hollywood 234; July, 1952)
The start of the death record trend in rock ‘n’ roll, this dire subject is matched with a sparse haunting arrangement and sold convincingly by Caesar’s desolate vocals looking inward and finding nothing but darkness… a tough listen but good performances all around. (7)

(Recorded In Hollywood 234; July, 1952)
A song about sex that isn’t sexy, dirty, well sung or well played and is frankly slightly confusing and possibly disturbing as Caesar uses a broom analogy for his sexual activities which I assure you doesn’t read any better than it sounds. (2)

(Recorded In Hollywood 235; September, 1952)
This pushes the death record novelty that Caesar introduced his last time out to the extreme in what is his crowing achievement, a big hit and one of the best constructed records of its era, almost a radio drama rather than a song that is far too good to be called a gimmick. (8)

(Recorded In Hollywood 235; September, 1952)
Another dour mood piece, albeit one without any fatalities, this is defined by the slow give and take between Caesar’s maudlin spurned lover and Que Martyn’s saxophone which acts as his emotional bellwether and makes for mesmerizing listening. (7)

(Recorded In Hollywood 236; November, 1952)
More staged melodrama, this time bemoaning women who cheat on their husband’s – even if it IS with Caesar himself – but the routine is getting kind of weary, especially without musical accompaniment that gets you moving, even though it’s still acted well enough. (5)

(Recorded In Hollywood 236; November, 1952)
A rare opportunity to hear an upbeat Caesar singing about something positive – sex – rather than delivering a eulogy, this is his best vocal performance and would match his best overall output if not for a weak piano solo that slows down an otherwise solid arrangement. (7)

(Recorded In Hollywood 238; December, 1952)
A nice change of pace that after another spoken back and forth with the girl finds Caesar singing a straightforward uptempo kiss off to her because she’s not rich enough to support his own expensive dreams, helped by a grinding track by Que Martyn’s group. (7)

(Recorded In Hollywood 238; December, 1952)
More of a bluesy structure and delivery, though still squarely in the rock genre with the backing, Caesar sounds pretty good with this no-frills approach, showing he not only had it in him to do without gimmicks, but to apologize for his past wrongs in the process. (5)