“A great friend, a great artist, and a great inspiration” was how Fats Domino recalled Bobby Charles, an enigmatic figure whose songwriting talent was matched by commercial misfortunes that left him with a mistrust of the music industry. He died today in 2010.
Death of singer-songwriter Robert Charles Guidry aka Bobby Charles, at the age of 71. Playing in his native Louisiana with a band called The Cardinals, Bobby Charles had written a track entitled “Hey Alligator” when just fourteen and came to the attention of Chess Records while they were on a Southern talent hunt.
Despite some confusion over his race – Chess failing to realise that they’d signed a white man with a voice of a black man – Charles enjoyed some success with the label, although the publishing rights proved to be more profitable from them, thanks to Billy Haley’s hit version, retitled “See You Later, Alligator”. After half a dozen singles though and disputes over royalty payments, Bobby was shown the door in 1957.
Coming to the attention of New Orleans performer Fats Domino and his producer Dave Bartholemew, he won a deal with Imperial Records as a performer, but again enjoyed greater success writing songs such as, “Before I Grow Too Old” and “Walking to New Orleans”. Those both became hits for Fats Domino, and with a burgeoning reputation in the Crescent City, Charles then provided Clarence “Frogman” Henry with, “But I Do“.
The sale of Imperial then saw Charles without a deal again and after several obscure releases, he signed to Jewel. Commercial success continued to evade him though and by the early 1970s he’d pitched up in Woodstock outside New York City. Hooking up with bluesman Paul Butterfield there, Charles would then record a self-titled album in 1972 with Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson aka most of The Band. Dr John also played organ and appears on album highlight, ”Small Town Talk.”
Further contractual problems though would see Charles disappear from view again, resurfacing back in Lousiana in the 1980s with his own label, Rice ‘N’ Gravy. Encouraged by guitarist Sonny Landreth, 1995 would see him release “Wish You Were Here Right Now”, recorded with a host of famous faces including Neil Young and Willie Nelson, while “Secrets of the Heart” three years later showcased more of his compositions.
This comparative glut of releases included “Last Train to Memphis” – a 2004 career-spanning retrospective – and 2008′s effort with Dr.John, “Homemade Songs”. Bobby’s final release was to be “ Timeless”, although it appeared following his death. Like most of his other work, it remains comparatively undiscovered and under-rated to the majority, which is nothing short of scandalous.
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And here’s some rare footage of Bobby in action: