Like so many of the world’s greatest albums, it stayed in print just long enough to become a cult classic. Forever enshrined on the jukeboxes at both the Circle Bar and the Kingpin, it is, as they say, not available in stores, or seemingly anywhere else for that matter. But Lafayette Soul Show, a 1993 compilation of hits and misses originally cut for the La Louisianne label and assembled by Britain’s Kent Records, is more than just one of the most unspeakably great collections of soul music ever assembled: it’s proof positive that South Louisiana’s entry into the ’60s soul sweepstakes was every bit as deserving of attention as those of Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Chicago or Detroit.
Not unlike Stax, Fame, Checker and Motown, the La Louisianne sound was a genre unto itself. Songs such as Jewel and the Rubies’ “Kidnapper,” Li’l Buck and the Top Cats’ “Cat Scream” and Don Fredericks’ “Big Boys Cry” seem to make all the more sense when one considers that they originated in a town located roughly halfway between Chicago, Illinois and Kingston, Jamaica. (And you thought New Orleans was the northernmost tip of the Caribbean).
Enter the imprint’s biggest hit makers, Little Bob and the Lollipops, originators of the party classic “I Got Loaded” and the subject of a brand new 26-track CD of the same name. Despite the fact that it doesn’t contain two of LSS’s greatest hits, “Burgher’s Beat” and “Mule Train,” I Got Loaded is brimming with nearly everything else that the group cut for the La Louisianne, Tamm and High-Up labels, including 1965’s Nobody But You LP—long referred to by fans as “the Red Album”—in its entirety. From killer versions of Edwin Starr’s “Agent Double O-Soul” and Howard Tate’s “Stop” to a dozen sizzling Lollipops originals, if you want proof that the ’60s really swung in Acadiana, look no further. The feeling of putting this CD on for the first time is one of pure vindication: one of the greatest soul singers of all time is finally getting his due.
Band leader, vocalist, drummer and songwriting extraordinaire Camille Bob grew up in Opelousas listening to his mother sing blues, spirituals and country music as he worked with his parents in the cotton fields. Then came Ray Charles. “In the year of 1955,” Bob states eloquently, “My brother had just been discharged from the Korean War so we went to a big club out here called Blues Paradise. He asked Good Rockin’ Bob if I could sit in with him. Ray Charles had just come out with ‘I Got A Woman’ and ‘Come Back Baby,’ so I sang those.”
As fate would have it, Good Rockin’ Bob’s drummer was leaving for the Air Force the next day. “I had a beautiful horse whose name was White Cloud,” Bob continues. “Good Rockin’ Bob loved horses and he had a red set of drums. I didn’t have any drums and so we traded; I gave him the horse and he gave me the drums. I started with him from there and it all kicked off like that.
“The first recording I did was ‘Little One’ and ‘Take It Easy Katy’ for Goldband Records in ’56. Then I started my band in 1958. We used to practice at this place called Rayfield’s Inn and I was gonna call my band Little Bob and the Tigers. The man who owned the place said, ‘Oh, no. Tigers? You can’t draw women like that. What about Little Bob and the Lollipops?’
“It was just five pieces in the beginning, we didn’t even have a bass player, the keyboard would carry the bass. It went on from there until we had 13 pieces and a girl singer, Carolyn Basley.”
A 1963 session produced the Lollipops’ first two singles, a quartet of impressive originals that sold well enough to increase demand for the band at clubs and universities alike. “At first I worked labor four days a week and played on the weekends and then we started working six or seven nights a week, sometimes two jobs a day.”
Having worked in white clubs as both a performer and a waiter, Bob was well-versed in both the black and white sides of the Bayou State’s segregated night club scene. Rhythm and blues artists from New Orleans had a particularly strong appeal to both audiences. “Eddie Bo used to come to a club out here called Bradford’s White Eagle and put about a thousand people in there. Lord, he’d rock the house. But my favorite New Orleans musician was Fats [Domino]. I’ve made so much money off of playing his tunes. You’d go to the white clubs and Fats was tops, he was number one. He’d come here to the Southern Club in Opelousas and man, Lord, that place would be so packed. One night I waited on him. I was playing there three nights a week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and when he’d come there on Thursdays I’d walk the floor, you know, wait tables. He loved his Cutty Sark scotch. One night I waited on him and he tipped me, oh, five dollars. (Laughs) I’m talkin’ about ’59! That was a lot of money then.”
The Lollipops’ second session, which took place in 1964, yielded a re-working of Dee Clark’s “Nobody But You” and an infectious alcohol-soaked anthem entitled “I Got Loaded.” With a backbeat and horn line that sounded almost Jamaican in origin, “I Got Loaded” was groove-filled enough to dance to on a Saturday night, mellow enough to nurse a hangover to on a Sunday afternoon, and carefree enough to make you want to start drinking all over again.
“We were all drunk on our way to work when we put that thing together,” remembers Bob. “My guitar player, Lefty Richard, he started a little rhythm on the bus. He had the riff and that’s how it started. When we got up on the bandstand I just put those words to it.”
Recorded by everyone from Van Broussard and the Boogie Kings to Robert Cray and Los Lobos, and even used in the movie Bull Durham, it’s hard to say which musical cult appreciated “I Got Loaded” the most: Preppy teenagers doing the Shag on the beaches of the Carolinas, former Mods in the North of England doing back flips at soul all-nighters or New Orleanians knocking back bottles of Jax after a Mardi Gras parade. The appeal, it seems, was universal.
The song’s success coincided with Bob shifting from the drum stool to the front of the band. “On July 7, 1966 I fell and cut my tendon,” he explains. “I played crippled for a long time but then I had to hire a drummer.” The job went to Nat Jolivette, already a veteran of both Little Buck and the Top Cats and Jewel and the Rubies.
“Bob needed a drummer until he could get well,” says Jolivette, “but he got accustomed to singing out front so that gave me a gig with the best band around. I was the young cat in the group and I was very fortunate to be playing with them, I learned a lot from Bob.
“The Lollipops and the Boogie Kings were the two most popular bands in the state at the time. As far as groups that really had their thing together as a business Bob is one of the best that I’ve ever witnessed. They were very organized and polished. The attire was suits; you did not come on the bandstand without a suit, you could go home, that’s just not how it was done. And that’s on every gig. We had quite a few uniforms and every one matching, even down to the patent leather shoes. At the end of the week everything was put in the cleaners, there was no such thing as one gonna come up there looking good and the other all wrinkled. No, you didn’t have that, not in Bob’s band. Money was put aside for that. When I got married I got a week’s paid vacation and the band played my wedding dance. That was real cool!
“We had a hell of a band. That’s when we had the bus. [Saxophonist] John Hart was always curious and he was a hell of a mechanic. We went to rehearsal one day and John was insisting that he could drive the bus. Wallace, the trumpet player, was egging John on and coaxed him into doing it. John tried to drive the bus and drove it right into a ditch. Oh, Bob was furious! If I remember correctly, we had to have a big 18-wheeler come and pull us out of there.”
Such was the magic of the Lollipops’ music that it seems they could impress anyone with ears, relates Jolivette. “We did a gig one time for the Ku Klux Klan, now that was a trip. That has freaked me out through the years. What happened, was we used to play at a club called the Roof Garden on Wednesday nights and there was this salesmen who came through there and hired the band to play up in North Louisiana. So Bob took the gig and we got up there, it was around Ruston. The place we had to go, they’d given us a little map and it was up in the hills down a one lane road in the woods. We must have drove about 20 minutes down that road when we got to this place where there was a whole bunch of people, like you’d see at a picnic. They had kids there, they had women and they had these guys. So the guys told us where to set up and that they had a meeting and that after the meeting that they was gonna come for the dance. So we set up and got ready to play, waiting for them to come back. And when they came back they were in full dress with white hoods. Man. I’ll tell you what, I remember telling Gable King, who was playing tenor, ‘Man, we’re not gonna make it out of this.’
“The reason I remember this so well is that nobody said anything to anyone to make them feel uncomfortable, in fact everybody was really nice. Some of them took off the robes and some of them didn’t, but they were having a great time. Nobody was mean to us or anything, in fact everybody was really nice. It was like a regular gig except it was for them. Nobody was rude to anybody in the band, they treated everybody with the utmost respect. I couldn’t figure that out. I could never understand it. We played this gig and I actually ended up having a good time. And I could never put that together. I didn’t really know as much then as I know about the Klansmen now but I still couldn’t understand how that happened. Why would you hire a black band when that’s what you hate the most? What was really happening there? The guys liked the music I guess.”
Although Bob describes his current status as retired, anyone who’s seen him perform in the past few years knows that’s hardly the case. And when he hits the stage, more often than not Nat is usually behind the drum kit laying down that unmistakable beat.
“I just wanted to get my mama and papa out of that field, man,” Bob says of his singing career. “That’s what it was all about. I just wanted to make a living, man. And I made a good one, thank God.”