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Bobby Charles: See You Later, Alligator *

Album Reviews:

Uncut (magazine) (p.102) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he mournful dirge 'On Bended Knee' or tearful blues 'Why Don't You Leave'...confirm Bobby Charles as the founding father of 'Swamp Pop'."

Album Notes

Whether it's a single-disc compilation or a comprehensive box set, Bear Family sets the standard for high quality in sound and for scholarship, content, and presentation. This 28-cut, single-CD Bobby Charles collection is an excellent case in point. See You Later, Alligator compiles all of his sides for Chess Records between the years 1955 and 1961, a full half of which didn't see release at the time they were recorded. Abbeville, LA's Charles (given name Guidry) was a 17-year-old Cajun high-school kid when he wrote and cut "See You Later, Alligator" with his own band, the Cardinals, at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Recording Studio on North Rampart Street in New Orleans. What is remarkable about this track nearly six decades later is how different it sounds from the hit Bill Haley version and how much more it jumps; the whole band feels like it's barely staying on the rails. This is pure swamp pop, unadulterated Cajun rhythm & blues. The flip side was another Charles original, the classic "On Bended Knee," a strolling, midtempo ballad that rhythmically slips and slides all around his wide-open, soulful lyric. There are three sides he cut during sessions with Willie Dixon's band in early 1956. Playing with Dixon, Bill Stepney, Harold Ashby, Jody Williams, and Harold Burrage, Charles cut his most uncharacteristic sides -- harder, edgier, and faster than what he'd cut in New Orleans. These three songs include "Why Did You Leave," "Watch It Sprocket," and "Don't You Know I Love You (You Know I Love You)." With the exception of one other number -- "No More (Ain't Gonna Do It No More)" -- cut in Chicago and co-written with Dixon, the rest of these sides were all cut at Cosimo's studio, which had moved to Governor Nicholls St.; most were produced by Paul Gayten. The bands on these cuts included the likes of drummer Earl Palmer and tenor boss Lee Allen, baritone man Alvin "Red" Tyler, bassist Frank Fields, and pianist Edward Frank -- though "I'd Like to Know" from March of 1961 may indeed feature a vocal group that worked with Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) at the time. Even a young Allen Toussaint took part. With author Rick Coleman's long, authoritative, and engaging liner essay in the package, this is an indispensable purchase for anyone interested in Charles' music in particular and historic New Orleans roots rock & roll and rhythm & blues music in general. ~ Thom Jurek


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