Saturday, April 20, 2013

John Fred & His Playboys - John Fred & His Playboys (1966)



John Fred (b. John Fred Gourrier, 8 May 1941, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA, d. 15 April 2005, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA) was a 6 foot 5 inch, blue-eyed soul singer who originally formed John Fred And The Playboys in 1956. This unit made their first record (‘Shirley’) two years later with Fats Domino’s backing group. During the early 60s various versions of the Playboys recorded for small independent record labels such as Jewel and N-Joy, and eventually became known as John Fred And His Playboy Band. It was not until the end of 1967 that success finally came with the international hit, ‘Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)’. An amusing satire on the Beatles’ ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, the single beat off a rival version by Amboy Dukes. Unfortunately this meant the Playboy Band were unfairly perceived as a novelty group, when in fact they were a tight, well organized and long-serving unit. Fred’s blue-eyed soul vocals were most evident on Agnes English, which included a rasping version of ‘She Shot A Hole In My Soul’. By the end of the 60s the band had split-up, with Fred going on to record with a new group and work as a producer for RCS in Baton Rouge.
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Blue-eyed soul outfit John Fred & His Playboy Band were among the biggest one-hit wonders of the 1960s, topping the Billboard charts with their tongue-in-cheek Beatles homage "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)." Born John Fred Gourrier on May 8, 1941, in Baton Rouge, LA, the singer was the son of professional baseball player Fred Gourrier and juggled music with his own sports pursuits, forming the first incarnation of the Playboys at the age of 15. A favorite at local sock hops and dances, the group's earliest live appearances often found them on the same bill as Fred's schoolmate John Ramistella, who would later enjoy significant chart success under the name Johnny Rivers. The Playboys cut their 1958 Montel label debut, "Shirley," at producer Cosimo Matassa's New Orleans studio with the aid of Fats Domino's backing band; the single soon entered the pop charts, ascending to the number 82 spot, and might have gone higher had Fred not turned down an opportunity to appear on American Bandstand in favor of playing for his high-school basketball team during its state championship drive. "Mirror Mirror" followed in the spring of 1959, and despite featuring the Jordanaires on backing vocals, was not a hit. The Playboys' next single, "Good Lovin'," also failed to chart, and when the subsequent "Down in New Orleans" met the same fate, Montel terminated the group's contract, and Fred went off to Southeastern Louisiana University to study and play basketball.

After graduating in 1963, Fred contacted original Playboys tenor saxophonist Mickey Coerver to re-form the band, adding Andrew Bernard on baritone sax, Jimmy O'Rourke and Hal Ellis on guitar, Howard Cowart on bass, Tommy DeGeneres on organ, Ronald Goodson and Charlie Spinosa on trumpet, Lester Dodge on drums, and Joe Miceli on percussion. After signing to the tiny N-Joy label, the revived John Fred & His Playboy Band issued their cover of John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillun" in early 1965 -- the single missed the charts, but was a favorite of Elvis Presley. A move to the Jewel label preceded "Dial 101 (Because I Love You)," another chart miss. After "You're Mad at Me" also disappeared, Fred & the Playboys cut 1966's "How Can I Prove" with one of the singer's boyhood idols, Dale Hawkins, assuming production duties, but when this also tanked, Jewel dropped the group, necessitating a switch to the Paula label for the band's next effort, "Making Love to You." After the 1967 flops "Sun City" and "Leave Her Never," Fred & the Playboys regained their footing with "Up and Down," which topped the charts in several Louisiana markets but did not catch on nationally. For the follow-up, "Agnes English," the group shed the harder-edged R&B approach of its past efforts in favor of a sound inspired by the British beat boom, again scoring a massive regional hit but falling shy of the national charts.

The irresistible bassline that would become the cornerstone of "Judy in Disguise" lurked in Fred's head for months before he and saxophonist Bernard finally wrote a full-fledged song to complete it -- satirizing the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and inspired by the enormous sunglasses then in vogue among the beach bunnies in Fort Lauderdale, the single appeared on Paula in late 1967 and in early January supplanted the Beatles' own "Hello Goodbye" atop the U.S. pop charts. After appearing on The Tonight Show and American Bandstand, Fred & His Playboy Band issued the follow-up, "Hey Hey Bunny," which went as high as number 57. There were four more singles in 1958 alone ("Lonely Are the Lonely," "Little Dum Dum," "Sometimes You Can't Win," and "Harlem Shuffle," respectively) but none of them charted, and by year's end Paula dropped the group altogether. Fred & the Playboys then signed to MCA to issue 1969's "Silly Sarah Carter (Eating on a Moonpie)," followed by a cover of the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R." From there, they recorded a pair of 1970 singles for Uni, "Three Deep in a Feeling" and "Julia Julia," before dissolving in the wake of a European tour.

1. Boogie Children (02:58)
2. When I Meet My Girl (02:08)
3. How Can I Prove (02:05)
4. Can't I Get (A Word In) (03:00)
5. Out Of Sight (02:40)
6. My Babe (02:43)
7. Don't Fight It (03:15)
8. Wrong To Me (02:31)
9. Making Love To You (02:21)
10. Play With Fire (02:18)
11. Night Owl (02:05)
12. Harlem Shuffle (03:08)

Though John Fred had been recording since the late 1950s, it wasn't until the mid-'60s that he was able to issue an LP. That album, John Fred & His Playboys, is a somewhat odd and uneasy affair in that it doesn't always highlight the swampy blue-eyed soul that was Fred's true strength. Much of it, in fact, is devoted to rather tame if basically pleasing hybrids of early British Invasion pop and American frat rock, coming off in retrospect as relics of how difficult the U.S. record industry found the changing times and incorporating new trends into U.S. rock music. More satisfyingly, "Boogie Children" is an absolutely terrific John Lee Hooker cover that rates as one of the finest Rolling Stones-like mid-'60s recordings by an American group. While nothing else here is nearly as good, at least the covers of "Harlem Shuffle," "Don't Fight It," and "My Babe" are more in line with Fred's R&B-oriented talents, though his most original blends of soul and pop would not truly assert themselves on record until after this LP's release.

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