OffBeat Magazine is celebrating 30 years and reached that milestone with our November 2017 issue. To mark the anniversary, OffBeat will re-publish excerpts from features and interviews from the past 30 years. In our second installment, Jeff Hannusch interviews songwriter Earl King.
For four decades, Earl King (born Earl Silas Johnson, February 6, 1934) has been the reigning monarch of New Orleans rhythm and blues. King’s career is linked with those of Guitar Slim, Fats Domino, Jimi Hendrix, Allen Toussaint, the Meters, Dr. John and Robert Palmer, all giants in their domains.
What’s the ideal way for you to compose music?
Well, if I can I start working on a piece of music until I burn out. I don’t deal with nothing but that. I eat, sleep, and in between work on music. Writing for me used to be like being on an eight-hour shift. My break was going to the K&B counter for lunch. It’s time-consuming, but I enjoyed doing it.
I always tell new writers, ‘Don’t be afraid to tear a song down because you think you created something perfect.’ You can always find something else to make it better. Like one time I was writing a song for Dr. John, ‘Let’s Make A Better World.’ I lost the song and had to write it again. Dr. John cut it and six months later I found the original tune. Well, I’m glad I lost the song because it wasn’t as good as the second version.
Tell the story behind the song “Barefootin’?”
I had just finished [writing] Johnny Adams’ ‘Part of Me’ and Fess’ ‘Big Chief.’ I called Robert [Parker] and played ‘Barefootin’’ for him on the piano. Chief [Joe Assunto, who co-owned Watch Records] wanted to do the song but he said he had to wait because he was trying to get Johnny’s record exposed in New York and he wanted to get Fess’ record out. He told Robert, ‘Gimme about a month.’ Well Robert left there, took my basic thing and changed the word structure and went with NOLA [Records]. At the time I thought about going to court but Alvin Batiste stopped me. Fess’ record was making a little noise, the Dixie Cups [‘People Say’] were up there, and Willie Tee’s [‘Teasin’ You’] was in the charts. Alvin said, ‘Earl, you don’t need the money.’
Read more at http://www.offbeat.com/articles/earl-king-2/.