OK, so to start with, I loved a group from the mid to late Fifties from New Orleans called Huey Smith and the Clowns.
Huey was known as one of the best R&B Piano players in New Orleans. They had a lead singer whose name was Bobby Marchan and they had a few minor hits together. Then on one of their recordings, the record company overdubbed a new young “white” singer (in place of Marchan’s voice) and the song became a big hit. But it was Huey Smith and the Clowns, I think, with a 20 year old Frankie Ford as lead. Now, I really loved this song, but I liked the “B” side even better… who knew.
So just to keep it straight, the song was recorded by Huey Smith and the Clowns, but Frankie Ford’s voice was overdubbed and it was released and sold over 1 million, which in 1959 was huge volume.
It’s ironic that some of the greatest New Orleans R&B of the 1950s was sung by a white man. Although he could have passed for a teen idol, Frankie Ford sang with as much grit as anyone of any color in the Crescent City. He recorded some fine singles for the Ace label in the late ’50s, particularly the pounding “Sea Cruise,” which made the Top 20 in 1959 and remains one of the hits most identified with the classic New Orleans R&B sound.
“Sea Cruise” actually began life as a Huey “Piano” Smith song with Bobby Marchan on vocals, but producer Johnny Vincent had the inspired idea of dubbing Ford‘s singing on top of Smith‘s backing track.
“Sea Cruise,” with its bleating foghorn and irresistible piano groove, was an impossible act to follow, and Ford never approached the Top 20 again. But he cut several more gutsy sides for Ace that featured top New Orleans players like Huey Smith and saxophonist Red Tyler; one of the best, “Roberta,” was covered by the Animals in the mid-’60s.
A few of Smith’s singles found him following ill-advised swing jazz and teen idol directions, and he faded from view in the 1960s, although he made a cameo appearance in the film version of Alan Freed‘s life. ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
1. There’s something on your Mind (Pt 2)/ Fire 1022/ July 1960/ #31
A larger-than-life performer best remembered for his 1960 R&B chart-topper “There Is Something on Your Mind,” singer Bobby Marchan was born Oscar James Gibson in Youngstown, OH, on April 30, 1930.
As a child he became fascinated by the female impersonators who appeared on the so-called “chitlin circuit” of black nightclubs, and began singing and performing comedy in drag while in his teens.
In 1953 Marchan organized his own drag troupe, the Powder Box Revue; during a booking at New Orleans’ Dew Drop Inn, he became enamored with the city, making it his home for the remainder of his life. There he accepted a job as MC at the Club Tijuana, where he was discovered by Aladdin Records president Eddie Meisner.
Marchan cut his debut single, “Have Mercy,” for producer Cosimo Matassain 1954, but Aladdin dropped him soon after, and he landed at Dot for the follow-up, “Just a Little Ol’ Wine.”
He then signed to Ace after label head Johnny Vincent caught his drag show, offering Marchan a contract in the mistaken belief he was a woman; 1955’s “Give a Helping Hand” appeared under the alias Bobby Fields, with the Marchan surname restored for his next effort, the regional smash “Chickee Wah-Wah.”
In 1957 he joined Huey “Piano” Smith as the original lead vocalist with Smith‘s legendary band the Clowns — in addition to appearing on classics including “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu,” “Don’t You Just Know It,” “You Don’t Know Yockomo,” and “Havin’ a Good Time” (not to mention popularizing the Smith composition “Sea Cruise,” a hit on wax for singer Frankie Ford), Marchan also continued his solo career, issuing “I’ll Never Let You Go.”
He left the Clowns in early 1959, issuing his final Ace single, “Rockin’ Behind the Iron Curtain,” later that same year. He then returned to the road and resumed his drag career, signing to Fire Records to issue “Snoopin’ and Accusin’.”
With 1960’s reading of the Big Jay McNeely song “There Is Something on Your Mind,” Marchan finally scored the solo hit that had for so long eluded him, reaching #1 on the R&B charts.
A series of Fire singles followed in rapid succession; among them “Booty Green,” “All in My Mind,” “What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You,” and “Yes, It’s Written All Over Your Face,” but none earned much attention on the national charts.
On the recommendation of Otis Redding he was signed to Stax Records in 1963, adopting a more contemporary soul approach and making his label debut with “What Can I Do.”
Within a year Marchan was recording for yet another label, Dial, cutting “Get Down With It,” a hit for British glam icons Sladein 1971.
He spent much of the mid-’60s recording for Cameo, debuting in 1966 with “There’s Something About You, Baby” and returning to the R&B Top 20 with the follow-up, “Shake Your Tambourine.”
Subsequent efforts, including 1967’s “Meet Me in Church” and “You Better Hold On,” received scant attention, however, and after 1968’s “(Ain’t No Reason) For Girls to Be Lonely” — a one-shot for Gamble — Marchan spent nearly a decade without a record deal, returning to his drag roots yet again.
By 1977 he was installed as the MC at New Orleans’ Club Alhambra, resurfacing that same year on Mercury with “I Wanna Bump With the Big Fat Woman,” soon followed by another novelty effort, “Disco Rabbit.”
Around 1983 Marchan founded his own production company, Manicure, to scout and promote up-and-coming hip-hop acts.
In 1987 he recorded his final single, an updated version of “There Is Something on Your Mind,” and later helped found the Cash Money label. After a long battle with liver cancer, he died December 5, 1999, at the age of 69. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi