Anyone with an interest in New Orleans music has undoubtedly heard Chuck Badie, but probably never realized it. Badie’s string bass provided the bottom on several significant New Orleans hits including Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-In-Law,” Barbara George’s “I Know,” and Chris Kenner’s “I Like It Like That.”
Badie, who looks considerably younger than his 74 years, enjoys dispensing advice to younger musicians, talking about New Orleans music, but above all playing his bass, which he still does several nights a week at the Palm Court.
Peter “Chuck” Badie, Jr,. was born in New Orleans on May 17, 1925, the son of Myrtle and Peter Badie, Sr. He was raised in the Carrollton section of the city and attended McDonogh 24.
Badie’s father played alto Saxophone with Percy and Willie Humprey’s Dixieland band, but he was never inclined to pick up his father’s instrument. After Badie finished school, he began working as a carpenter. When World War II began, he was drafted into the Navy and served overseas. After returning home, like many future great New Orleans musicians, he enrolled at Grunewald’s Music School on Baronne. Street under the G.I. Bill.
“Back in 1940 and 1941 I used to go to dances at the Rhythm Club on the corner of Jackson and Derbigny,” recalled Badie. “A lot of big bands played there like Lucky Millander, Tiny Bradshaw, Erskine Hawkins and Billy Eckstine. They would park Badie bottoms out.
their big buses with their names on the side in front of the club. I remember the musicians pouring talcum powder inside their shirts before they got on the bandstand because they were probably wearing the only white shirt they had left and couldn’t get it to the cleaners.
“I really enjoyed listening to the way the bass fit into the band. At the time, I started listening to Jimmy Blanton and Junior Raglan; they played on Duke Ellington’s records.
They made the double bass into a solo instrument when before it was just a rhythm instrument. When I enrolled at Grunewald’s, I wanted to play the bass. I was lucky and had a great teacher, Otto Fink, who was a trained classical musician.”
Badie graduated Grunewald’s in 1949 and joined a band called the Buccaneers that included Earl Anderson on trumpet, Eddie Smith and Joe Tillman on tenor, Oliver “Snow” Berry on drums, and a piano player Badie recalls named “August.” The Buccaneers played several local clubs including the Dew Drop Inn. Many singers and musicians dropped by the La Salle Street club, including hit-maker Roy Brown who was looking to put together a new band in 1951.
“I heard Roy was having auditions at Foster’s Hotel,” said Badie. “I went down to check it out and got hired. That’s when I went on the road for the first time. I played nearly a year with Roy and did some recording with him in Cincinnati. Roy wasn’t a bad guy to work for, but there were cliques in the band. He hung out with certain guys and ignored everyone else. I didn’t fit in with his pals so I finally quit his band in Little Rock and took a bus back to New Orleans. The first night back in town, I went to a club in the Ninth Ward where Paul Gayten was playing and he hired me on the spot. Paul had a regular gig at the Brass Rail on Canal Street. I started playing the electric bass then. The first night I played it in the Brass Rail, the owner ran in and told Paul, ‘I don’t want two guitars in my place.’ Paul said, That’s not a guitar, man, it’s new instrument called the electric bass.” Badie worked primarily with Gayten’s group but he took spot jobs with other bands when his schedule allowed it. One night Dave Bartholomew needed a bass player at the last minute for an engagement at the Municipal Auditorium, opening for Lionel Hampton. After the show, Badie was approached by Hampton who needed a replacement for his bassist who had just turned in his notice. “Lionel asked me if I could travel,” laughed Badie. “I told him, ‘Can a fish swim?’ The next night we played in Houston and then headed west. After that we spent a lot on time playing in Europe. I was pulling down a bill and a quarter every night.
I was in Europe so much that I felt I could speak like the people over there after a while. I loved working with Lionel, but my father got sick in October of 1956 and wanted to be with him. I quit then and came home.”
Once back in New Orleans, Badie continued to do spot gigs and play regularly with Ellis Marsalis’ Modern Jazz Quartet. Around 1960, Badie was playing at the Dew Drop when Allen Toussaint approached him about playing on some of the sessions he was producing for Minit and Instant Records.
“Toussaint admired my playing and I said, ‘Sure,”’ said Badie. “Back then there were only a few clubs around to play at. You only got a chance to play two maybe three nights a week at most. Recording sessions then paid $4150. If you did one or two a week, it was like having a day job. I remember Nat Perrilliat [a tenor sax player on several Toussaint-produced sessions] calling me and say, ‘Man, I wish Saint would call, I need the bread.’ [Guitarist] Roy Montrell called Toussaint ‘Two Cents.’ After we made all those hits, I told him [Toussant], ‘Man you ain’t Two Cents anymore, you’re a nickel now!'”
In 1961, Badie became one of the original members of the A.F.O. Executives, New Orleans’ first exclusively black owned and operated record label. “It was a wonderful organization and I was proud to be a part of it,” said Badie. “We did something that at the time had to be done. Until then, it was companies from out of town that came here and made most of the records. We got paid for playing on the sessions, but those companies made the real money. When Harold [Battiste] called and said what kind of label he wanted to start I said, ‘Count me in.’
“With Harold Battiste and Red Tyler we had two guys that had been A&R guys for labels so they had some expertise. Melvin Lastie and Roy Montrell had played on a lot of sessions, so he had a lot of experience too. John Boudreaux, Ellis Marsalis, Tami Lynn and myself weren’t amateurs either. We were lucky and had a big hit with Barbara George right away, but we had some unfortunate business dealings. Eventually we realized A.F.O. wasn’t going to be successful in New Orleans. It just wasn’t happening here.”
Badie and the other Executives still believed in A.F.O., but they felt the only place they could succeed was on the West Coast. In 1963, Badie and his family piled into Battiste’s station wagon and headed for what he thought were greener pastures. Once in Los Angeles, Badie picked up session work with Sam Cooke, and a few spot gigs, but he eventually came to the conclusion Los Angeles wasn’t the promised land.
“With Sam I cut ‘A Change Is Going To Come’ and ‘Tennessee Waltz,”’ said Badie. “It was my idea to speed up Tennessee Waltz’ and play it in 4/4 rather than 3/4 time. It was a pretty good little hit. I made a few gigs with Sam including a week in New York. King Curtis’s 10-piece band was on that gig. I heard him tell his band, ‘Listen to that New Orleans cat play that second note on the bass.
That’s the only place where they play like that.”
“But L.A. was too tough. There wasn’t much work and what work there was did didn’t pay enough money to raise a family decently.
After about a year I came back to New Orleans. I was going to make a living as a carpenter but I wound up playing with Snooks Eaglin and Smokey Johnson at Rip’s Playhouse on Orleans Avenue. A week after I came home, Red came back too. Right after that we heard Sam had got killed.”
Badie later joined Tyler and June Gardner (also back from Los Angeles) to play with Ed Frank’s jazz group which played weekends at the Forest Inn and the Haven. “I didn’t get any calls for sessions after I got back from L.A.,” said Badie. “There wasn’t much recording going on then because there weren’t many labels left here.”
In 1967, Edward Frank’s band got hired to work at the newly opened Mason’s V.I.P. Club on South Clairborne Avenue. “We opened Mason’s,” said Badie. “We played there six nights a week. Nobody believed a black club could hire a band six nights but we kept that place busy. I left Mason’s in 1969 and went to Vernon’s Steak House on Louisiana Avenue where I had my own band. They booked a lot of jazz artists that we backed including John Coltrane. I went back to Mason’s in 1971 and played with Red’s group until 1974. After that I quit and put the bass down. There wasn’t enough money in playing music anymore. I got a job waiting tables at the Royal Sonesta. I did that for 15 years and retired from there in 1988.”
Around that time, bandleader Emory Thompson called Badie and asked him if he was still playing music. “I told him ‘I am now,'” said Badie. “I went over to Walter Payton’s house and borrowed a set of strings for my bass. The job with Emory was on the Creole Queen and my old buddies David Lastie and Justin Adams came by to see me. It was just like old times. After the gig my fingers were killing me, but everybody said I sounded just like I did 20 years ago.
“The next thing I knew, Teddy Riley called and said he had seven gigs he wanted me to play with his band. I said, ‘Teddy, maybe I’ll take two. I’m just getting started again.’ Then Danny Barker started calling me because he had a lot of work. Man, the phone still hasn’t stopped ringing.”
Badie has since recorded with Doc Cheatham, Sammy Remington and Butch Thompson. Looking back on a his career, Badie, one of the greatest and most influential bassists New Orleans has ever produced, feels that the key to being a great bassist comes from within and from above.
“I believe it’s gift from God but you have to take advantage of that gift and put it to use,” said Badie. ‘There are guys that woodshed all day, but if they can’t play in meter, they ain’t gonna cut it. I’m just lucky that I was blessed with the talent to play the bass as well as I do.”