How Lloyd Price changed the world
With his first song, Louisiana’s Lloyd Price changed the world – and that was just the start...
In 1952, teenage singer Lloyd Price recorded his debut 45. Lawdy Miss Clawdy, a rambunctious slice of R&B that patterned the New Orleans sound, was issued on Art Rupe’s Specialty label and hit the US R&B No.1 spot, eventually selling a million copies. Not only was it musically significant, but its social and cultural impact was huge too.
"What it did was bring about a crucial chain of events," says Lloyd Price today from his New York home, where he's lived since 1959. "Before that record, if a bunch of black kids and a bunch of white kids were walking down the same side of the road, the black kids would have to cross the road to the other side: you didn’t talk to each other, you didn’t look at one another, you lived separate lives. That’s how it was.
“After Lawdy Miss Clawdy, suddenly black kids and white kids were coming together through music. White kids were buying the record, dancing to the record, and that was the catalyst for the first youth movement.
“Four years after Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Ms Rosa Parks sat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Where did that come from? Six years later, Martin Luther King marched in Washington with nearly 300,000 people. That could not have possibly happened if the young black kids and the young white kids hadn’t got together and started having music in common. Those young kids of the 1950s, they are now the grandparents of the kids who voted in President Obama.
This music played such an important role, not just in the US but around the world. This record caused the bell to ring for civil rights. People heard the call through the beat of the music.” Lloyd Price first heard the beat of the music on the jukebox in his mother Beatrice Price’s Fish ’n’ Fry. Born in Kenner, Louisiana on March 9, 1933, he sang and danced along to the songs being played on it from an early age.
“When I was seven, I saw an aeroplane in the sky and I said to my mother that I wanted to fly aeroplanes,” Price says. “My mother said coloured people don’t do that, so then I said I wanted to be a musician. ‘Now that you can do – you can sing and you can dance and you can make music.’
“Well, there was a jukebox in the Fish ’n’ Fry. There were only 10 records on it – that meant 20 songs with the A and B sides, and it cost five cents to play a side. Customers would put records on, I’d sing and dance to them and they would throw quarters to see me do it. I remember to this day the records on that jukebox: Louis Jordan, now he was the king; then there was Amos Milburn, Charles Brown, Lucky Millinder, Rosco Gordon. There was Nat King Cole too. That’s where it all started for me, with that jukebox.”
Price took up the piano, his touchstones being Professor Longhair and Fats Domino. “Fats Domino had had a hit with The Fat Man – that was the hottest record in town and I wanted to play that kind of music. One time I was playing and my younger brother Leo joined in on a beer case, using it as a drum, and from that moment we were a band and we spent all our time playing – at home, at school on lunch break.”
After school, Price worked at the airport, loading food onto planes. It was there he met Mr Morgan, a co-worker who ran a club in Kenner.
“He said he’d heard of our band and did we want to try out for a slot playing Friday and Saturday nights at Morgan’s. I couldn’t believe it. I got some friends from school to join me and my brother and we started practising. We got the gig.”