504 on 45--Bobby Marchan

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In the past couple years, I've developed a pretty serious addiction to old New Orleans records. Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, I was pretty constantly being washed over by the wake of New Orleans culture, and always had a pretty serious aversion to New Orleans music, the same way that Irish friends of mine cringe whenever they hear traditional Irish tunes like "Danny Boy" (check out my blog on Powells.com for more about this). SInce the storm, though, I have given into my destiny of loving old New Orleans funk, soul and r n' b. What did it for me was a tape of Soul Jazz records' anthology Saturday Night Fish Fry, a two disc collection of rare to not-so-rare tracks from the

sixties and seventies. After I got that (and a record player), I began scouring record bins for more music from that era, aggravating my allergies and rubbing shoulders with all the other vinyl nerds at the record shops, freaking out when we find 45's by Lee Dorsey, Betty Harris, Eddie Bo, Chuck Carbo, Ernie K. Doe, Huey "Piano" Smith, Irma Thomas et al. Recently I got turned on to Mr. Bobby Marchan. I'd heard his 1960 hit, "There's Something on Your Mind", but didn't know anything else by him, or anything about him. I picked up two forty fives of his, that hit and one called "Shake Your Tambourine". I was impressed by Tambourine, which is as dancy and jumping as the name suggests. I was also surprised to find that the B-Side to "Something", "There's Something on Your Mind-Part 2" wasn't just about love lost, but a call to arms in which Marchan suggests that when your lady and best friend shack up together that:after you can't stand it no more,you go on down townTo the pawn shop and get yourself a pistol,and then youMake it back up on the scene,where your love one andYour best friend are now together..You go right in andBust down the door and shoot him..You can't shoot herBecause you know if you shoot her,all of your love andYour long lifetime will be gone forever.I was even more surprised, however, when I opened up ye olde Rough Guide to Soul and R&B and read up on Mr. Marchan. Apparently Marchan was the lead singer of Huey Piano Smith's Clowns (Huey would even send the band out on tour, performing under his name, while he stayed in New Orleans to write songs), the high pitched one that you can hear on songs like "High Blood Pressure" and "Doncha Just Know It". The surprising part, though, was that Marchan also performed in drag, having been enamored with "female impersonators" since he was a kid. He got a job as an MC at club Tijuana (Where Eddie Bo also got his start), where Huey Smith brought in Ace Records' Johnny Vincent to check out his show. Vincent was impressed. So much so, in fact, that he gave Marchan two hundred bucks and signed him on the spot--Without realizing he was a man! A few days later Marchan and Huey Smith went down to record some songs and Marchan went in drag. VIncent might not have caught on at all, in fact, if Huey Smith and the other musicians in the studio could've kept a straight face. But that is not, as you can guess, what Smith and his clowns were known for, and they had trouble playing from cracking up so much. Eventually Smith spilled the beans and Vincent "Near;y had a heart attack" according to Marchan, but he still got the record deal! And this isn't an isolated thing. Marchan arguably trod down a stiletto-beaten path that is now being followed by "Sissy Bounce" MC's like Katey Red (myspace.com/sissybounce). Having grown up in the deep south myself, I'm fascinated by this whole phenomenon. Is New Orleans just particularly accepting? Are African American communities more accepting that white communities? Are there lots of drag queen singers still? Lots of Sissy Bounce MC's (Despite so much rampant, outright homophobia in hip-hop?)? Isn't this a really hard way of life?If anyone can tell me more, I'm enthralled. Also I heard a rumor that Bobby Marchan set up rap shows in New Orleans in the eighties. Anyone know if that's true?drop me a comment if you have any info.Ethan Clark

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