I don’t think any American city has exerted quite the same pull on its homegrown musicians as New Orleans. Louis Armstrong, the consummate New Orleans musician, got out. Just about everybody else stayed. No matter how much bigger every one of them except Fats Domino might have been elsewhere, they seemed to think that either making it somewhere else at the expense of leaving home wasn’t worth the cost or else making it anywhere else really didn’t amount to much anyway.
There have been a lot of stories over the years about just how Frankie Ford came to be the white voice on a record as black as “Sea Cruise.” One story had it that the local producers were tried of having their songs show up on the charts in versions cut by white artists elsewhere. Another had it that Huey Smith and his band, who had already recorded the music track, were out of town when it was time to cut the vocal. Yet another had it that Smith put a vocal on but either he or a record company honcho was unsatisfied with it and had heard about this white boy who could really wail.
At this point–probably at any point–it likely comes down to who you want to believe.
In any case, the record (along with the magnificent album it ended up anchoring) was a key signifier of the race confusion that was at the heart of the revolution’s liberating ethos, and hence, one of the reasons wave after wave of establishmentarian thinking had to be dedicated to crushing it. Despite the success of the Overlords in blackening our modern skies with doom and so forth, you can still hear the liberation here…
…on both sides of one of those fifties-era contenders for “Greatest two-sided single ever,” of which there are probably way fewer than you think.
Forty years later, he could still do this…
…so, whatever the reason he never had a big followup, it didn’t have anything to do with limits on his talent.
And who knows but what he and so many others were right all along.
If you made it to the front of the New Orleans line even once, what else did you ever really need to prove?