More than a half-century after his biggest and most-significiant hit records, “Mister Personality” Lloyd Price shows few signs of slowing down.
Speaking from his home in Westchester County, N.Y., this week, the 78-year-old pioneer of “the New Orleans Sound” says he still has plenty of irons in the fire.
Price is currently promoting his recently written autobiography — titled “The True King Of The Fifties: The Lloyd Price Story” — and he is working on a musical called “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” that will play on Broadway by next year. In addition, Price currently manages Icon Food Brands, which produces a line of specialty items such as sweet potato cookies, cereals, energy bars, spices, coffees and teas, potato chips and condiments.
“When I wrote and recorded ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ back in 1952, it marked the birth of rock ‘n’ roll,” said Price, who was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998. “That song sold millions, and it was the introduction of music as we know it today.”
Indeed, in a significant way, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” opened the ears of many white teenagers and played a big part in paving the way for back artists such as Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Ray Charles and Chuck Berry and white artists such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The milestone record, which topped Billboard Magazine’s R&B charts for seven consecutive weeks, has been recorded by 169 other singers, and it made Price the first teenager to have a million-selling record.
The Lloyd Price story began with his March 9, 1933 birth in Kenner, La., a suburb of New Orleans, as one of 11 children of Louis and Beatrice Price, owners of the Fish ‘n’ Fry Restaurant in Kenner. As a youngster, he had formal training on trumpet and piano, sang in a church choir and was a member of a musical combo in high school, and he developed his lifelong interest in business and food from his mother.
Dave Bartholomew, a bedrock figure in New Orleans R&B history as an arranger and producer, discovered Price at the fish-fry restaurant and arranged for Art Rupe of Specialty Records to audition the youngster, and Rupe immediately recognized the potential of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and moved to record it.
Rupe hired a band arranged by Bartholomew that included Fats Domino on piano and Earl Palmer on drums to back up Price at the recording session. After the enormous success of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, the next Price release — titled “Oooh, Oooh, Oooh” from the same session — went to No. 4 on the R&B charts, and several other singles met with only minor success before Price was drafted into the military.
For three years, Price served in the U.S. Army, including a stint in Korea, and when he returned, he found that he had been, in essence, “replaced” on the Specialty label by such artists as Little Richard and Larry Williams.
Price eventually formed KRC Records with Harold Logan and Bill Boskent, and his first recording on that label (“Just Because”) was picked up by ABC Records, and from 1957 to 1960, he recorded a series of national hits that included major sellers “Stagger Lee” and “Personality.”
Here’s a complete list of Lloyd Price hits that reached the Top 40 on the Billboard Magazine popular music charts, starting in 1957. Just click on the title to hear the song:
“JUST BECAUSE” (No. 29, spring of 1957) … “STAGGER LEE” (No. 1 for three weeks, early 1959) … “WHERE WERE YOU (ON OUR WEDDING DAY)?” (No. 23, spring of 1959 … “PERSONALITY” (No. 2 for three weeks, late spring 1959) … “I’M GONNA GET MARRIED” (No. 3, summer of 1959) … “COME INTO MY HEART” (No. 20, late 1959) … “LADY LUCK” (No. 14, winter of 1960) … “NO IF’S – NO AND’S” (No. 40, spring 1960) … “QUESTION” (No. 19, summer of 1960) … “MISTY” (No. 21, autumn of 1963).
Actually, there are two versions of “Stagger Lee” — the second one being a toned-down, “sanitized” rendition after American Bandstand’s Dick Clark asserted that the song had too many violent overtones and he wouldn’t allow the singer to appear unless some of the words were changed.
“The words that Stagger Lee shot Billy was a no-no (in some circles) at the time,” Price said. “And even though the record was a million-seller and then some, some considered the words out of character regarding what the record business represented.” [To hear the “sanitized” version and read comments pertaining to it, click here].
In 1962, Price and Logan formed Double-L Records — “Wilson Pickett was my very first artist,” Price said — but after Logan was murdered, he formed yet another label, Turntable, and opened a nightclub by the same name in New York City.
Price continued to stay active, and among other things, he helped Don King promote fights, including Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble In The Jungle.” He later formed two real-estate companies, developing middle-class townhouses in the Bronx.
[For complete information on Lloyd Price — including his food products, trivia, press releases and contact information — click here]
It might be said that Lloyd Price has been the ultimate survivor. Nearly six decades after the milestone “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down any time soon. He has mastered both entertainment and the business world, and he’ll always be remembered as one of the true pioneers and forerunners of rock ‘n’ roll music.