From left, Elton John, Lloyd Price, Dr. John, and Leon Russell perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

From left, Elton John, Lloyd Price, Dr. John, and Leon Russell perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

Lloyd Price, singer and early rock influence, dies at 88

The singer fashioned a deep, exuberant sound around the brass and swing of New Orleans jazz and blues

Singer-songwriter Lloyd Price, an early rock ’n roll star and enduring maverick whose hits included such up-tempo favourites as “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Personality” and the semi-forbidden “Stagger Lee,” has died. He was 88.

Price died Monday at a long-term care facility in New Rochelle, New York, of complications from diabetes, his wife, Jacqueline Price, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Lloyd Price, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, was among the last survivors of a post-World War II scene in New Orleans that anticipated the shifts in popular music and culture leading to the rise of rock in the mid-1950s. Along with Fats Domino and David Bartholomew among others, Price fashioned a deep, exuberant sound around the brass and swing of New Orleans jazz and blues that placed high on R&B charts and eventually crossed over to white audiences.

“Very important part of Rock history. He was BEFORE Little Richard!” rock singer and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt said Saturday on Twitter. “Lawdy Miss Clawdy of 1952 has a legit claim as the first Rock hit…. Righteous cat. Enormous talent.”

Price’s nickname was “Mr. Personality,” fitting for a performer with a warm smile and a tenor voice to match. But he was far more than an engaging entertainer. He was unusually independent for his time, running his own record label even before such stars as Frank Sinatra did the same, holding on to his publishing rights, and serving as his own agent and manager. He would often speak of the racial injustices he endured, calling his memoir “sumdumhonkey” and writing on his Facebook page during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that behind his “affable exterior” was “a man who is seething.”

Born in Kenner, Louisiana, one of 11 siblings, Price had been singing in church and playing piano since childhood. He was in his late teens when a local DJ’s favourite catchphrase, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” helped inspire him to write his boundary-breaking first hit, which he worked on in his mother’s fried fish restaurant.

Featuring Domino’s trademark piano trills, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” hit No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1952, sold more than 1 million copies and became a rock standard, covered by Elvis Presley and Little Richard among others. But Price would have mixed feelings about the song’s broad appeal, later remembering how local officials in the Jim Crow South resisted letting both blacks and whites attend his shows.

Price was drafted and spent the mid-1950s in military service in Korea. He began a career restart with the 1957 ballad “Just Because,” and hit the top with the brassy, pop-oriented “Stagger Lee,” one of the catchiest, most celebratory songs ever recorded about a barroom murder.

Written by Price, “Stagger Lee” was based on a 19th century fight between two Black men — Lee Shelton, sometimes known as Stag Lee, and Billy Lyons — that ended with Shelton shooting and killing his rival. Their ever-changing legend was appearing in songs by the 1920s, and has inspired artists ranging from Woody Guthrie and Duke Ellington to Bob Dylan and the Clash.

Price’s version opened with a few spoken words that had the understated tension of a crime novel: “The night was clear, the moon was yellow, and the leaves came tumbling … down.” The band jumps in and Price shouts out the story of Stagger Lee and Billy fighting over a game of dice, concluding with a bullet from Stagger Lee’s 44 passing through Billy and breaking the bartender’s glass. “Go Stagger Lee!” a chorus chants throughout.

The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart early in 1959, but not everyone was entertained. “American Bandstand” host Dick Clark worried the song was too violent for his teen-centred show and pressed Price to revise it: For “Bandstand” watchers and some future listeners, Stagger Lee and Billy peacefully resolve their dispute.

“I had to go make up some lyrics about Stagger Lee and Billy being in some kind of squabble about a girl,” Price told Billboard in 2013. “It didn’t make any sense at all. It was ridiculous.”

Price followed with the top 10 hits “Personality” and “I’m Going To Get Married” and the top 20 songs “Lady Luck” and “Question.” He fared no better than many of his contemporaries once the Beatles arrived in the U.S. in 1964, but he found his way into other professions through a wide range of friends and acquittances. He lived for a time in the same Philadelphia apartment complex as Wilt Chamberlain and Joe Frazier and, along with boxing promoter Don King, helped stage the 1973 “Thrilla in Manila” between Frazier and Muhammad Ali and the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” championship fight between Ali and George Foreman. He was also a home builder, a booking agent, an excellent bowler and the creator of a line of food products.

His career in music continued, sporadically. He and his business partner Harold Logan started a label in the early 1960s, Double L Records, that gave an early break to Wilson Pickett, and they also ran a New York nightclub. But after Logan was murdered, in 1969, Price became so disheartened he eventually moved to Nigeria and didn’t return until the 1980s. He would become a favourite on oldies tours, performing with Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis among others.

He settled in New York with his wife, but was not forgotten back home. A street in Kenner was renamed Lloyd Price Avenue and for years Kenner has celebrated an annual Lloyd Price Day.

Price would credit clean living and steady focus for his endurance.

“I never drank, smoked, used drugs or had bad habits,” he told interviewer Larry Katz in 1998. “I’d drive a taxi cab to get me the food I need to live. I never was starstruck. I had 23 hit records and I never looked for the next record to hit. I never had that need that they had to be somebody. I just wanted to be.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Music

Just Posted

TEASER PHOTO ONLY
‘Stay-at-home mom’ works to raise $25K to help Options build housing in Surrey

Tammy Bourelle boosts ‘Women of Options’ fundraising campaign, which ends June 30

Surrey Libraries will host a series of free contests and programs for teenagers this summer. (Malin Jordan photo)
Surrey Libraries offering series of free summer programs for teens

Writing contests, virtual programs scheduled throughout summer

Emergency crews responded to a large truck fire under the Alex Fraser Bridge around 8:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Christine Tobias/Twitter photo)
Dog dies in truck fire under Alex Fraser Bridge

No people were injured in blaze that consumed two semi-trucks around 8:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 17

Four Surrey students (from left) Charlize Abban from Guildford Park, Mekdim Dereje from North Surrey, Chelsea Michalik from Guildford Park and Sarah Sohail from L.A. Matheson, are some of the latest recipients of $40,000 Cmolik Foundation (Photos: surreyschools.ca)
Four Surrey students receive $40K Cmolik scholarships

Students are from Guildford Park, L.A. Matheson and North Surrey

Surrey City Hall. (File photo)
Surrey ranks eighth in Top-10 list of cities of the future in the Americas

This is according to the Financial Times’ fDi Magazine, a bi-monthly publication out of London, England with a circulation of 15,488

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Seth Rogan’s vibrant orange sculpture was sold for $7,000 above Vancouver Art Gallery’s initial estimation at auction Tuesday. June 15. (Heffel Fine Arts)
Vase made by Seth Rogen sells for $12,000 at Vancouver auction

The B.C.-born comedian has a new pot habit, and it’s one that’s paying off

BC Lions running back John White IV (3) runs with the ball during first quarter CFL football action against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Saturday, September 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
BC Lions file trademark for new logo

Canadian Football League team files for new design on June 1

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Camper van explosion burns Vancouver Island gas station to the ground

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. The website for a Broadway theatre showing "Springsteen on Broadway" said it would only allow guests "fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine" — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
No Springsteen for you: AstraZeneca not good enough to qualify for Broadway ticket

Victoria area mayor among those unable to attend New York entertainment due to COVID-19 restriction

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

Audrey Inouye (right) with her two sons Kiyoshi McMillan (left) and Kaito McMillian drop off her milk to hospital volunteer Sylvia Hendel at a human milk depot on October 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Fraser Health appeals for breast milk after unexplained drop in donations

Give your breast milk and save newborn lives, the health authority is encouraging mothers

The BC Ferries’ website is down for the second time in one week from what they say is likely an overwhelming increase in web traffic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Surging web traffic crashes BC Ferries’ site again

Website down for second time this week

Most Read