CLARENCE “FROGMAN” HENRY-BABY AIN’T THAT LOVE-TEXAS AND TENNESSEE SESSIONS 1964-1974.
CLARENCE “FROGMAN” HENRY-BABY AIN’T THAT LOVE-TEXAS AND TENNESSEE SESSIONS 1964-1974.
New Orleans is one of America’s great musical cities. It always has been. That’s always been the case for just over a hundred years. Back then, blues and gospel provided Big Easy’s soundtrack. Next came Dixieland and swing. By then, New Orleans lived and breathed music. Even prohibition couldn’t stop the musical party in New Orleans.
Speakeasies sprung up across the city, as the Jazz Age took shape. New Orleans, one of America’s musical capitals came alive. Especially when one New Orleans’ most successful sons, Louis Armstrong took to the stage.
In 1924, Louis Armstrong became the featured soloist in the Fletcher Henderson dance band. Louis Armstrong spent the year with the Fletcher Henderson dance band. This was part of his musical education. It paid off, and
Louis Armstrong became one of the legends of jazz. However, Louis Armstrong wasn’t the only New Orleans’ native making a name for himself back then.
The Big Easy was the birthplace of Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and Mahalia Jackson. Just like Louis Armstrong, they were all making forging a successful career in music. Later, so would Professor Longhair and Fats Domino. They would become two of New Orleans’ most successful musical exports, and influenced the next generation of musicians. This included Clarence “Frogman” Henry, whose career is celebrated on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974 which was recently released by Ace Records. It documents a ten year period in Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s career. His story began in New Orleans, back in 1937.
Clarence “Frogman” Henry was born in Algiers, New Orleans, on March 19th 1937. He was one of seven children, but the only one who showed any musical aptitude.
His musical aptitude became apparent from an early age. There was a battered old piano in the Henry household. Young Clarence looked at it as a challenge. He was determined to teach himself to play it. However, he was only a child. This wasn’t going to stop Clarence. Eventually, through persistence, practice and determination, Clarence became a proficient pianist. For Clarence, this was his Everest. Next, he moved onto the trombone. Like the piano, Clarence conquered the trombone. So, when Clarence enrolled at Algiers High School, he was already a proficient in two instruments.
When his teachers saw that Clarence was a talented musician, they encouraged him. He improved under their tutelage. However, it was the breakthrough of another New Orleans’ native, Fats Domino, that inspired Clarence musically.
From that day that Clarence first saw Fats Domino, he was determined to become a singer. For many teenagers, this was the stuff of dreams. Not Clarence. He was determined to make his dream a reality. By the time his school days were almost at an end, Clarence had taken his first foray into music.
This was with Bobby Mitchell and The Toppers. They were well known in New Orleans. Despite their potential and talent, they struggled to make a name for themselves further afield. Clarence was a longtime fan of Bobby Mitchell and The Toppers. So when they were looking for a trombonist, Clarence auditioned. Bobby Mitchell thought Clarence fitted the bill, and Clarence became a Topper. He was now a professional musician.
The only problem was Clarence was still a student. He wanted to graduate, so had to juggle his studies with playing with Bobby Mitchell and The Toppers. This wasn’t ideal. However, Clarence made the best of it, playing live dates with Bobby Mitchell and The Toppers. Then on 9th February 1953, Clarence played the trombone on four tracks with Bobby Mitchell and The Toppers. During this session, Clarence started to write his now songs. It seemed Clarence was looking to the future. Especially when, after two years as a Topper, Clarence called time on his career with Bobby Mitchell.
Looking back, Clarence was taking a risk, turning his back on Bobby Mitchell and The Toppers. Maybe he realised they were never destined for fame and fortune? For Clarence, the future looked bright.
Not long after leaving Bobby Mitchell and The Toppers, Clarence formed his own group. They were mostly, a covers band. Sometimes, though, Clarence sung some of his own songs. That’s where Clarence was spotted by Pascal Marcello. He offered Clarence a gig at the Joy Lounge, in Gretna. That’s where Clarence got his break.
Paul Gayten was known locally as an R&B singer and pianist. He was also Chess’ A&R man. When he heard Clarence, he liked what he heard. Clarence was what Chess Records were looking for.
Following the emergence of Fats Domino, every record label was looking for their very own Fats Domino. So, A&R men set off across America looking for the next big thing. Paul Gayten thought he found it with Clarence Henry.
Having heard Clarence, Paul phoned Leonard Chess. He told his boss about this young, unknown singer, Clarence Henry. Leonard Chess not wanting to risk losing a potential star, made his way to New Orleans. Paul urged the owner of Chess Records to sign Clarence to their Argo imprint. When Leonard Chess heard Clarence sing, he knew his trip was worthwhile. Clarence Henry, and also Bobby Charles, were both signed to Chess Records the same day. Now Clarence’s solo career was underway.
Before his first recording session, Clarence and Paul penned two tracks, Driving Troubles and Ain’t Got No Home. The two tracks were recorded. When the time came to release Clarence’s debut single, Driving Troubles was chosen as the single. Ain’t Got No home was destined for the flip side…for the time being.
On the release of Driving Troubles, the single looked like it was about to sink without trace. Then DJ Poppa Stoppa flipped the single over. From the moment ge played Ain’t Got No Home, the radio station was getting calls to play what listeners called “the frog song, by that frog man.” Not only was Clarence well on the verge of having his first hit single, but his nickname was born.
By January 1957, Ain’t Got No Home entered the top twenty on the US Billboard 100, and reached number three in the US R&B charts. It looked like Clarence was about to enjoy a successful career at Chess.
That wasn’t to be. Clarence’s next four singles flopped. After that, Chess Records stopped taking Clarence’s calls. Already, he was yesterday’s man.
Four years later, in 1961, Clarence heard from Chess Records again. Although he hadn’t recorded anything recently for Chess, he was still under contract. So, Leonard Chess was within his rights to ask Clarence to cover a Bobby Charles song, I Don’t Know Why.
When Clarence arrived at the studio, Chess Records had put together their A-Team. They accompanied Clarence on I Don’t Know Why. However, there was a problem. A song from the forties had the same title. So, I Don’t Know Why became But I Do, and in the process, rejuvenated Clarence’s career.
When it was released, But I Do reached number four in the US Billboard 100, and number three in Britain. The followup, a cover of the Mills Brothers’ You Always Hurt, The One You Love gave Clarence another hit single. It reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100 and number six in Britain. With two hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic Clarence “Frogman” Carter’s was the comeback king.
As comebacks go, it was somewhat brief. After You Always Hurt, The One You Love, Clarence’s next couple of singles failed to chart. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Clarence was due to tour Britain with Bobby Vee and Tony Orlando. By the time the tour began, Clarence was a forgotten man.
To coincide with the British tour, Pye released A Little Too Much. Clarence even lip synched his new single on the British pop program Thank Your Lucky Stars. However, it was too little too late.
By 1963, Clarence hadn’t had a hit single for two years. Chess in America, and Pye in Britain had had enough. They were pouring good money after bad, trying to transform Clarence’s career. The time had come to pull the plug when Clarence’s cover of Nat King Cole’s Looking Back sunk without trace. There was no Looking Back for Chess or Pye. They turned their back on Clarence “Frogman” Carter. Music was changing, and in Britain especially, Clarence seemed to represent music’s past.
Bob Astor, Clarence’s longtime manager, refused to give-up on Clarence. They had been together a while, and been through good and bad times. So, once Clarence’s contract with Chess expired, Bob took Clarence to see Huey Meaux. However, there was a problem.
Huey and Cosimo Matassa had been partners in what was then, New Orleans’ premier studio. However, the pair fell out. There was no mending their relationship. This meant that Huey had no regular recording studio To call home.
That however, didn’t seem to matter. It seemed that whatever studio Huey decided to use, he was able to conjure up his trademark New Orleans sound. That’s what Bob Astor was looking for, for his client Clarence “Frogman” Henry.
Huey, who back then, was one of the Big Easy’s top producers, agreed to help. From 1964, right through to 1966, it’s thought that Heuy Meaux and Clarence “Frogman” Henry worked together.
Ironically, though, Huey was never officially credited as Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s producer. Instead, Bob Astor and Peter Paul were. That’s disputed by some as Huey’s voice can be heard on the master tapes. There could be an innocent explanation. It could be that for two years, Huey and Clarence attempted to rejuvenate the “Frogman” ailing career.
By 1966, the two men went their own ways. However, they had managed to record a plethora of music, some of which finds its way onto Ace Records’ recently released compilation Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974.
There’s a total of twenty-eight tracks on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974. This includes nine unreleased tracks. Eight tracks made their way onto an Edsel compilation released in 1999. The other eleven tracks on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974 were released between 1964 and 1974.
Having found a new producer for Clarence, Bob Astor, his manager, found him a new label, Parrot, a subsidiary of London Records. Clarence was still in the game. However, would his career take off at Parrot?
Now signed to Parrot, Clarence released five singles for Parrot. The first three singles don’t feature on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974. However, the inclusion of You Can’t Hide A Tear and Cajun Honey more than make up for this. So, does the inclusion of Baby Ain’t That Love, the Huey Meaux penned Think It Over, and a remake of Clarence’s first hit single Ain’t Got No Home. It’s transformed. A stomping beat and blazing saxophones accompany Clarence, as he unleashes a vampish vocal. His biggest hit takes on new meaning. Despite the quality of Clarence’s releases on Parrot didn’t sell well. This left Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s career at the crossroads.
It had been five years since Clarence “Frogman” Henry had enjoyed a hit. Clarence was a talented singer, songwriter and musician. However, during the two years he spent with Parrot, commercial success passed Clarence by. He couldn’t live on his past glories. So Parrot release Clarence from his contract.
Clarence wasn’t without a contract long. He soon signed to Nashville based, Dial Records. It was owned by musician turned musical impresario, and publisher, Buddy Killen. With Buddy’s help, Clarence recorded two singles at Chips Moman’s American Studio. If anyone could turn Clarence’s career around in 1967, it was Chips Moman.
After cutting four sides at American Studio, the time came for Clarence to release his Dial debut. Hummin’ A Heartache, was chosen and released as a single in 1967.
On the B-Side was This Time. Sadly, it wasn’t This Time for Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Despite its quality, this fusion of pop and R&B flopped. This wasn’t the time for Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Maybe next time?
That wasn’t to be. Clarence released That’s When I Guessed as a single in 1968. With its country-tinged sound, it marked a stylistic departure from Clarence. So did the flip side, Shake Your Moneymaker. It was a slice of good time, funky soul. However, despite Clarence’s best efforts, history repeated itself. The single sunk without trace. That was the end of Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s time at Dial.
Nothing was heard of Clarence “Frogman” Henry until 1969. Although he charmed the crowds on Bourbon Street, Clarence never entered the studio until he was asked to record a live album for Roulette.
Clarence “Frogman” Henry Is Alive And Well Living In New Orleans was released on Roulette in 1970. For some, this was a blast from the past. With Clarence not having had a hit since 1961, many people had forgotten about him. However, still Clarence hadn’t entered the recording studio since 1967. It would be another three years before he set foot in Huey Meaux’s studio.
After seven years apart, Clarence and Huey reunited in 1973. The result of the sessions were a trio of singles released on the American Pla-Boy label. The first single, In The Jailhouse Now was released in late 1974, with We’ll Take Our Last Walk Tonight on the B-Side. Just like Clarence’s previous singles, it passed most people by. Hot on the heels of In The Jailhouse Now, came You Can Have Her. This was the last single Clarence released on the American Pla-Boy label. Still a hit single continued to elude Clarence “Frogman” Henry.
You Can Have Her is the final single that features on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974. However, there’s still plenty more music to enjoy, including the nine previously unreleased tracks on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974.
The unreleased tracks on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974, show different sides to Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Among their highlights of the unreleased tracks are covers of Billy Hill’s The Glory Of Love and a driving version of You Made Me Love You. Looking Back is transformed into a beautiful, soul-baring ballad. Then Clarence strolls his way through You’ve Got A Lot To Learn. Long, Lost And Worried, a Mac Rebennack composition, sounds as if it was written for Clarence. He breathes life and meaning into the song. Just like Clarence’s cover of Heartaches By The Number, it’s a real find. However, it’s not the last.
Eight tracks that feature on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974, made their way onto an Edsel compilation released in 1999. This includes slow, moody and bluesy Cheatin’ Traces. So does an upbeat, poppy version of Huey Smith’s Sea Cruise. A real find is I Can’t Take Another Heartache. As Clarence delivers a worldweary vocal, gospel-tinged backing vocals accompany him. Mathilda has a country blues influence, as Clarence delivers a truly heartfelt vocal. It’s one of the best of the tracks that Edsel licensed back in 1999. So, it’s fitting it features on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974, which was recently released by Ace Records.
Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974 documents a ten year period in Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s long and illustrious career. Sadly, it wasn’t the most successful period of Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s career. There’s a reason for this.
From the British Invasion of 1964, neither R&B nor soul music was as popular in America. Blues and jazz had suffered the same fate. Pop, psychedelia, rock and then prog rock was what most people were listening to during this period. This meant that soul and R&B were marginalised. It seemed that the upsurge in interest in pop and rock was affecting sales of other genres in music.
The only soul label that seemed to be enjoying any sort of success was Motown. They were continuing to churn out their unique brand of poppy soul. Apart from Motown, soul singers signed to Stax and Atlantic enjoyed a degree of success. This would be the case with soul music throughout the period that Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974 covers.
Between 1964 and 1974, the soul factories of Detroit, Memphis and Philly would enjoy their moment in the sun. They seemed to find a winning formula. However, their sound was formulaic, and the success didn’t last.
This meant that the singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic were dominated by pop and rock. For soul singers like Clarence “Frogman” Henry, it meant their music often passed record buyers by.
That proved to be the case. Between 1964 and 1974, commercial success eluded Clarence “Frogman” Henry. He never enjoyed the commercial success that enjoyed at Argo. This was ironic. During this period, Clarence “Frogman” Henry was continuing to mature as a singer and musician. He was a much better singer by 1974, than he was when has signed to Argo. However, throughout that ten year period, commercial success eluded Clarence.
That’s despite the best efforts of producers Chips Moman and Huey Meaux. So, Clarence “Frogman” Henry returned to where it all began, the Big Easy.
For nineteen years, Clarence “Frogman” Henry made his money on Bourbon Street. Each night, locals and tourists flocked to Bourbon Street, where Clarence “Frogman” Henry won friends and influenced people. Clarence “Frogman” Henry was one of the biggest draws on Bourbon Street, where he played a selection of his finest moments, including some of the music on Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974.
CLARENCE “FROGMAN” HENRY-BABY AIN’T THAT LOVE-TEXAS AND TENNESSEE SESSIONS 1964-1974.
- Posted in: R&B ♦ Soul
- Tagged: Ace Records, Ain’t Got No Home, Baby Ain’t That Love-Texas and Tennessee Sessions 1964-1974, Bob Astor, Bobby Mitchell and The Toppers, But I Do, Chess Records, Chips Moman, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Clarence “Frogman” Henry Is Alive And Well Living In New Orleans, Huey Meaux, Peter Paul, You Always Hurt