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What do you want out of your biggest rock songs in history?

A huge hit? An enduring classic? An influential trendsetter? The launching of a Hall Of Fame career?

Okay, you got it. D’you want even more?

How about this… one record which sent so many ripples out that spread far beyond just the artist in question, directly impacting the careers of a litany of bigger artists, producers and record labels, some obvious, some not, all because of this one debut single cut by a 19 year old kid who only got the chance to sing either because he broke down and cried or because someone wanted a sandwich.

If you’re looking for one record to act as a fulcrum for all of 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll, it would be this record.


Give You All Of My Money
At this point we’ve covered just shy of two thousand rock songs that have been released during its first four and a half years of existence. By now the genre is fully established, a growing commercial juggernaut that has even seen a handful of records cross into the hallowed pop charts despite strict cultural segregation.

Society doesn’t realize it yet but years of white adult homogony when it comes to pop culture is about to be wiped out by this tidal wave of rock ‘n’ roll.

What stood this music apart from the start was who made it and why. Rock ‘n’ roll has always been the realm of youth and others forcibly kept down for reasons beyond their control. As such this was more than a way to simply make money, it was their entire identity, a way to define to the world who you are as you come of age.

Nineteen year old Lloyd Price was one of those kids. He reportedly went to an open audition being held in New Orleans by Art Rupe of Specialty Records – possibly steered there by Dave Bartholomew who stopped in for lunch at Beatrice’s Fish & Fry, which Price’s mother owned and heard Lloyd playing and singing – and after nobody showed much promise over the first few hours, Rupe was going to cut his losses and leave. Price, still waiting his turn, cried and was finally given the chance to sing and with Lawdy Miss Clawdy knocked them out.

But the circumstances surrounding his signing paled in comparison to what happened when they all reconvened in the studio in late March for a recording session in which getting a massive hit single might’ve been the least significant thing accomplished that day.


Just Reelin’ And Rockin’ Baby
The first impressive thing about this record is the song itself was an original, although like a lot of teenagers just starting out as songwriters it had a lot of far-flung “inspirations” starting with the fact that Price had gotten the idea itself from a disc jockey named Okie Dokie who used to say the title as a frequent exclamation in his on-air patter to describe something particularly impressive.

Musically it was constructed around the same basic framework that had built Fats Domino’s debut from two years earlier, The Fat Man, as well as Professor Longhair’s imminent classic Tipitina, all of which stemmed from Champion Jack Dupree’s Junker’s Blues.

But what gave Lawdy Miss Clawdy its character was Price’s emotional investment in the story, as he’d recently had his heart broken in real life and was pouring out his grief vocally while describing the pain the breakup had put him through.

The bulk of the lyrics are more of a vindictive diatribe against this girl who he clearly still wants, saying how good she looks in between accusations of promiscuity owing to his own jealousy and failure to win her over.

That’s what this song captures, the perspective of a kid learning to navigate the dating scene, still unable to differentiate between a crush and a lasting love. He’s frequently overwhelmed by the intensity of conflicting emotions yet within the context of this song he manages to harness those swirling thoughts and form a narrative that hits on all of that while still making sense… especially to those going through the same things themselves in their own young lives.

Price makes for a good guide. His voice, never the best of instruments even with more experience, fits the theme, alternately yearning and whining, and every time you think he’s about to go too far in one direction he’s kept in check by the musical arrangement which is what takes this record to another level altogether.


As Fine As You Can Be
Dave Bartholomew’s moral stand upon finding out he’d been taken for granted at Imperial Records after turning the company around in 1950 only to see a white distributor and record store owner get a cash bonus for their success instead of him, was noble and righteous… and also detrimental to his own career. Though he’d immediately gotten the chance to record elsewhere, and even scored a hit as a writer with Tra-La-La, he was out of his element recording in Cincinnati for King Records while backed by Todd Rhodes’ northern band.

Bartholomew was New Orleans through and through and needed handpicked musicians playing his own charts with him producing to be truly effective and on this session he’s back in control as Specialty had hired him freelance to oversee Price’s first session. He’s got the band he wants but not quite the sound he’s looking for… at first.

Just then a familiar face appeared in the doorway of J&M Studios. Someone he knew well but hadn’t seen in awhile and hadn’t worked with in over a year. Because of that there was unstated tension between Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew as they said hello, neither quite dealing from a position of strength. Domino’s soon to be chart topper, Goin’ Home, was only just about to be released, while Bartholomew may have been in charge here but was working with a teenager making his recording debut.

Bartholomew offered the olive branch, asking Fats if he wanted to sit in. Domino demurred, saying he was under contract and wasn’t allowed. But at the same time he also knew that he hadn’t quite found the magic he’d briefly touched when working with Dave and the well-drilled session musicians gathered there that day and perhaps itching for a chance to play with them again he finally relented and sat down to “have some fun”.

Within minutes Bartholomew had found the key to the record, discarding the simple boogie that Fats had come up with for the opening and getting him to play rolling triplets instead. With that the song opened up and from there Bartholomew’s crocheting patterns – Earl Palmer’s complex simultaneous light backbeat while playing 6/8 on the cymbals which was done over a more involved bass pattern topped by droning horns and Domino’s dominant triplets – gives Lawdy Miss Clawdy its depth and character.

It’s a restless sound that nevertheless pulls on Price’s shirttails to keep him in step. Even Herb Hardesty’s sax solo puts the brakes on the kid’s runaway grief keeping him from letting his hurt overwhelm him, almost as if gently telling him that all is not lost with this girl if he’ll only keep his head. That push/pull dynamic works beautifully, sounding impatient and yet under control at the same time.

It’s not unusual for a song to come alive in the studio, but this was one record where the producer’s hands-on approach ensured the sum was most assuredly greater than the individual parts.

I Know It Can’t Be Me
Any time you have a record top the charts, as this one did for almost two months in the summer and established the artist as a star while in the process giving Specialty Records a more modern rock sound to pursue for the rest of the decade, it’s hard to imagine those aren’t the headlines here.

But these are not normal circumstances and it’s clear the winners of Lawdy Miss Clawdy are named Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino and Lew Chudd, owner of Imperial Records, who upon hearing this realized he had lost the most talented musical mind in the city of New Orleans when he’d given his job to a con-artist instead.

Within a week or two of this single hitting the street, Chudd had re-hired Bartholomew at a steady salary and got him and Domino in the studio together where they’d quickly build an empire of sound, working off this formula they created to churn out hit after hit.

But while Art Rupe lost out on a producer that could’ve done the same for Specialty Records, he got some pretty good consolation prizes as a result of this record as Lloyd Price’s ensuing stardom is also what led directly to Rupe’s two most successful rock acts down the road, as it was Price who talked Little Richard, then working washing dishes at a bus depot, into sending Rupe a demo that led to his signing and the most explosive records of the decade. Later he provided the company with Larry Williams, his piano playing singing chauffeur who in effect became Little Richard’s replacement when the latter turned his back on rock ‘n’ roll for the ministry.

The web spun from this one record spreads as wide as any you can find in 1950’s rock and while it is indeed an all-time classic and worthy of all the accolades bestowed on it over the years, the funny thing is it’s not even the best rock single to come out this month.

Rock ‘n’ roll has definitely hit its stride.


(Visit the Artist page of Lloyd Price for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)