Vocalist C.P. Love has the rare distinction of being better known for a song he didn’t record than one he did. Love had been offered “Groove Me” by King Floyd, but passed on the song, feeling that Floyd deserved to record it, and would do a better job with it. However, despite missing out on a certified hit, Love managed to chalk up a couple of regional successes and assemble a compact but enjoyable resume of soul and R&B recordings.
Love was born Carleton Pierre Love in New Orleans in 1945. He grew on the West Bank, living at various times in Vacherie, Algiers and Marrero. At the age of 12, he began playing guitar with some pals in Marrero who had formed a four-piece band. He later switched to bass when he found a guitarist who was better than himself. Later he joined Little Benny and the Creoles, which occasionally featured Walter Washington on guitar. Originally, Love didn’t sing, but the group’s vocalist couldn’t learn a particular song, Love took his place, eventually dropping the guitar.
“I liked Sam Cooke, Buster Brown, Elmore James, Danny White and Smiley Lewis,” said Love. “Those were the guys you heard on the radio. Later I started going by the Dew Drop. That’s where I hung with Deacon John, Esquerita, Curley Moore and Earl King. Earl used to really turn me on with tunes like ‘Trick Bag’ and ‘Come On’.
One of the first marquee jobs Love got was at Jessie’s El Grande in Marerro, sharing the bill with Professor Longhair.
“I came in and sang some Bobby Mitchell tunes and Fess backed me up,” said Love. “The band consisted of Fess and a drummer. I think his name was Lionel and he was from Algiers. All he had was a snare, bass drum and one cymbal, but when he played he sounded like two drummers.
“We were in the middle of the set when a guy came in with a shovel and hit two guys over the head with it. They got in a fight over a woman and all hell broke loose.
Me and Fess grabbed his electric piano and carried it outside. Fess was driving an old limousine with the seats pulled out of the back. We just slid the piano inside and then sat in the front of the car. Jessie [the owner) came out, after the fight was over, and asked us to start playing again but Fess said, ‘No.’ He was quiet guy who didn’t go for any humbug.”
In the mid-1960’s, Love joined a popular New Orleans band, Eddie Gilmore and the Invaders, who played at the GTO and the Devil’s Den, clubs located on Galvez Street. The Invaders were popular on the Tulane fraternity circuit. This led to one very interesting gig.
“There was a young Italian guy booking us frat dates that paid real well, n said Love. “He called us and said he had booked a job for us. He wanted us to play at the F&M Patio, and back the Coasters and Aretha Franklin. Aretha was just getting popular at the time and we couldn’t believe she’d play at a little place on Tchoupitoulas Street. When we got in the dressing room, we looked at who was supposed to be Aretha and the Coasters, and knew they were impostors. We did the gig and the girl impersonating Aretha ran off the stage at the end of the set and jumped in a car and took off. Of course everybody in the audience knew it was a fraud and the promoter got busted.”
One evening, Elijah Walker, a local promoter, longshoreman and entrepreneur, saw the Invaders and liked what he heard.
“Mr. Walker used to book dances and concerts,” said Love. “He’d bring in whoever had a hot record and hire a New Orleans band to back them. At the time, a band that he hired to back his show up canceled so he asked us to take their place. After we did die show, he asked me if I was interested in making a record with him. Naturally I said, ‘Yes.”
“Mr. Walker had learned the music business the hard way. He wasn’t cheap, and he was very generous to me, but he wouldn’t take no shit. If he didn’t get what he was paying for, or somebody was trying to get over on him, he would get pissed off. Mr. Walker didn’t get kicked in the ass, he was the one kicking ass.”
At the time, Walker and Earl King were partners in the King Walk label. Around 1968, Love cut “Plenty Of Room For More” and “You Call the Shots” for King Walk at a studio on Conti Street owned by Lionel Worthington. A standard Earl King arrangement and composition, “You Call The Shots” reminded listeners of Wilson Pickett and sold well locally.
Love’s ability to sound like other popular singers got him a job doing “sound-alike records.” At the time it was common to find budget albums and 45s in department stores containing current hits, but not by the original artist. Walker made a connection with MGM Records (responsible for the budget Hit label) and Love recorded in a Baton Rouge studio mimicking James Brown, Pickett and Otis Redding.
In the meantime, Walker and King had dissolved their partnership and Walker, who was assembling a stable of New Orleans artists, formed a new partnership with Wardell Quezergue.
Together they formed Pelican Records, a production company and label, and opened an office on Louisiana Avenue. Then along came “Groove Me.”
“I told Mr. Walker about King Floyd,” said Love. “I knew him from my cousin who was going with his sister. King had just come back from California. He heard I made a record and that was when he told me about ‘Groove Me.’ I heard the song and immediately realized he had something. King just wanted the song recorded, be it by him, me or somebody else. But I thought he had a really unique voice and he should record it. I was working with a gospel group at the time and we made a tape with King doing “Groove Me” at a school in Shrewsbury.
“I brought the tape to Mr. Walker and that was the first time I meet Wardell. Wardell heard the tape and told Mr. Walker, ‘I believe we have something.’ Mr. Walker said he’d take a chance on ‘Groove Me,’ but if he lost money, I was going to have to pay him back.”
At the time, Love was rehearsing a Joe Broussard song called “I Found All These Things” and was scheduled to record it in Jackson at the Malaco Studio in May of 1970. (Jean Knight, Bonnie and Sheila, Joe Wilson and the Barons also were to record the same day as Love). However, Love suggested that Floyd should take his place.
“I remember Walker saying to me, ‘Man why do you want to look out for him all the time’,” said Love. “I just thought it was a good song and King should record it. I never regret not recording ‘Groove Me,’ I felt happy for King, I never gave not recording the song a second thought.”
Love did get a chance to record “Never Been In Love Before” and it was picked up by Atlantic just as “Groove Me” had been. The record did well particularly in New Orleans and in some areas of the South. However, Love couldn’t make a tour with James Carr that would have taken him from Gulfport to the Apollo Theater in New York. Love feels that if he’d have made those dates, the record might have broken into new markets.
Floyd had a huge hit with “Groove Me” and was very much in demand. He returned Love’s favor by hiring him to open his shows and using the Invaders. After nine months with Floyd, Love toured with Candi Staton and Bobby Womack but by 1972 he was back in New Orleans.
On the recording front, Love did sessions as a background singer and he cut at least one record for Janis Records in Philadelphia. He also recorded “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” but can’t recall the label it appeared on. Love also did an incomplete album for a Detroit label, but he can’t remember the name either. By 1977, Love was on Bourbon Street.
“I did Bourbon Street for 10 years at different clubs,” said Love. “That was the best lesson I ever got as a singer. In the beginning it was a job I looked forward to, but near the end it was job I looked forward to getting away from. I started at the Sho Bar in and then I started working at La Strada.
“We’d come on at 7:00 until 9:00 p.m. and then ‘Frogman’ Henry would come on and play until 1:15 in the morning. Then we’d come back and play until 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. I did that for two-and-a-half years, doing soul covers and New Orleans tunes. My job was to make the cash register ring and I was good at that. But after Bourbon Street went non-union, you had to work your ass off to make any money. You see there are more musicians than jobs. The club owners started hiring bands for a lot less money and getting rid of the bands they had. If you wanted to work you had to take a lot less money. I didn’t like that.”
A change of scenery was in order, so in 1986 Love packed up and relocated in the Bay Area. He made several good connections and played the club and festival circuit between San Diego and Spokane. Love also cut an EP for Award and an album for Orleans.
“Carlo Dillo asked me if I wanted to make a record with him and I agreed,” said Love, referring to the Orleans producer/owner who lived briefly in California. “I wrote three of the songs on there. Carlo mentioned that we weren’t going to have very much time to do the recording. George Porter and Leo Nocentelli were going to play on it and they were only going to be in San Francisco for one day. We did the session at Fantasy Records. I wanted to do my voice-over, but the next thing I knew it was out.”
After 13 years in California, Love returned to New Orleans earlier this year to help take care of his mother. He’s made a couple of appearances at the House of Blues and a Tipitina’s, but he admits readjusting to the Crescent City isn’t easy.
“As far as doing gigs, it feels like the same old, same old,” said Love. “The clubs don’t want to pay any decent money and I’m not going to embarrass myself by working on Bourbon Street for $7 or $8 a set. But if the money’s there, and I can rehearse a good band, I’d be interested in that. But what I’m really interested in is going in the studio and cutting a gospel album. I was working on a gospel project before I left California and I’d like to complete that.”
Frankie Ford is back on Bourbon Street for the first time in two decades. Ford is appearing at the Chris Owens’ Club several nights a week (see listings). In return for the $35 admission, you get two drinks and an authentic 1950s rock and roll show.
Ernie K-Doe and Eddie Bo are appearing at the Washington Monument on July 4th. The concert will be broadcast tn the American Routes show by NPR to over 150 stations. Locally, you’ll be able to hear the recital on WWOZ.