Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


PRICE, Lloyd

(b 9 March 1933, Kenner LA; d 3 May 2021, New Rochelle NY) Singer-songwriter, a major voice in early rock'n'roll via New Orleans R&B. Listening to Okey Dokey Smith on the radio, one of the first black disk jockeys, he heard the phrase 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' in a coffee commercial and, still a teenager, turned it into a no. 1 R&B hit '52, its New Orleans studio sound by Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino on piano. He had three more top ten R&B hits on Specialty, but 'Lawdy', the big one, was covered by Elvis Presley '56 (and by Gary Stites '60, the Buckinghams '69 for top 50 hits).

Price was then drafted, and was stationed in Tokyo for two years. 'I never was supposed to go because I was my family's sole supporter, and it was against the law to take more than four boys from the same family,' he said in an interview with Bill Forman in the Colorado Springs Independent in 2015. Actually, this isn't true; legislation was passed after the five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo, Iowa were killed during the battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, but the law prevented the drafting only of boys with siblings who had already been killed. Nevertheless Price was the last of six siblings drafted during the Korean War, and believes that enforced military service like theirs happened because black culture was emerging and was perceived as a threat.

When he got back to New Orleans Little Richard had taken over his position at Specialty Records, but he is still grateful to Art Rupe at Specialty for giving him his start, and he is still receiving royaties on the Specialty hits. He started all over again with his own record company, recording 'Just Because' and leasing it to ABC for a no. 4 R&B, top 20 pop hit; signed directly to ABC he had a no. 1 both R&B and pop with 'Stagger Lee' (reworking of the traditional 'Stagolee'), turned more towards a big studio pop sound with 'Personality', one of the most delightful hits of '59, then 'I'm Gonna Get Married', both no. 1 R&B, top three pop. There were several more hits through '60; then he operated a club called the Turntable, labels Double L and Turntable, and had a few more minor hits; there was an album called To The Roots And Back '72 on GSF, and CD compilations on Curb/Warner, MCA and Specialty.

Price became a close friend of Muhammad Ali, got involved in promoting boxing and other successful businesses. He never smoked or drank or used any drugs; he says he wanted to and tried to, but just didn't like it. He published something called The True King of the 50's at some point ('almost an autobiography, but not quite'), then sumdumhonky in 2015, 'Because I'm seeing the same problems, not as bad, but almost as much, as as it was when I was a young teenager in the '50s.' Race plays a big role in the book, but as Foreman points out, 'Price's worldview is more generous and colorful than you might expect from the black and white realities he describes.'