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Clarence "Frogman" Henry

Frogman Henry, at his home in the Algiers area of New Orleans, at the piano he purchased with his own money at the age of fifteen.

"My daddy was a big-time musician. Never had a lesson, never played professionally. But my daddy played everything-the piano, harmonica, and literally any string instrument, my daddy played," says Frogman Henry. 

Frogman has fond memories of his father sitting in bed at night, playing the guitar, and singing to his mother laying beside him.

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LITTLE RICHARD AND THE SOUND HEARD AROUND THE WORLD —"For centuries, everything in human history churned slowly towards Cosimo Matassa’s tiny recording studio in New Orleans on that fateful day.” —David Kirby, author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “It was all his fault really.” —George Harrison, pointing to Little Richard upon accepting the Beatles’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

J&M Recording Studio, New Orleans, LA.
When Richard Penniman, a little-known singer from Macon, Georgia, whose stage name was Little Richard, walked into Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio on the corner of North Rampart and Dumaine Streets for the first time in 1955, he was somewhat in awe. By the mid-1950’s Cosimo’s J&M Recording Studio located on the outskirts of New Orleans’ French Quarter had become legendary-a hit factory, with some of the best studio musicians in the world producing what had become known as the ”Cosimo Sound.” Richard had just secured a recording contract with Specialty Records, which produced “race records” on the rhythm & blues charts. Richard’s recording contract came after months of persistent phone calls from Richard to the owner of Specialty, Art Rupe, who finally relented and agreed to give Richard a try. Rupe and Richard both agreed that the place to record was Cosimo’s studio. (The studio had already produced a million seller for Specialty, Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” with Fats Domino accompanying his fellow New Orleanian on the piano.) Specialty had booked the studio for two days, but the tracts produced in the first day and a half did not live up to producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell’s expectations. Blackwell had heard that Little Richard’s live act was really wild, but in the studio, he was very inhibited. Finally, a frustrated Blackwell decided to take Richard for a lunch break at a rhythm and blues club called the Dew Drop Inn on LaSalle Street. During the lunch break, Richard got on the club’s piano and started singing a risque’ song he had written and performed on the road called “Tutti Frutti.” This was what Blackwell had been looking for—this was a hit! But the lyrics started with “A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop, a-good goddamn, Tutti Frutti, good booty,” and from there, things got worse. A record with words like that would never get any radio airplay! Blackwell immediately called a New Orleans songwriter, Dorothy LaBostrie, to come and fix the lyrics. Back at the studio that afternoon, Richard continued to work on other tracts while Labostrie worked on toning down the dirty lyrics to “Tutti Frutti.” With fifteen minutes left to go in the session, LaBostrie handed the new lyrics to Richard. Three takes and fifteen minutes later, Little Richard and the studio band had what everyone was looking for. “Tutti Frutti” became a rock classic, reaching #2 on the R&B chart and “crossing-over” to the pop (white) chart at #17. In 2007, when a panel of recording artists compiled a list of “100 Records that Changed the World” for MOJO magazine, “Tutti Frutti” took the top spot. MOJO’s editors hailed it as “the biggest bang in the history of pop music.” Richard would also record his hits “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip it Up,” “Ready Teddy,” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” in Cosimo’s studio. Little Richard was one of the Beatles’ idols. When the Fab Four had the opportunity to be an opening act for Richard early in their career, they were “almost paralyzed with adoration” according to John Lennon. Paul McCartney, early on, had perfected an impressive Little Richard imitation, especially the high-pitched “WOOOO!” in “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally.” That “WOOOO!” would later appear in the Beatles’ own recording of “Long Tall Sally” as well as John and Paul’s composition “She Loves You.” During their first American tour in 1964, the Beatles would always end their concerts with “Long Tall Sally,” including their show at New Orleans’ City Park Stadium. It would be the last song they would perform at their final concert in San Francisco in August of 1966. RIP Little Richard. Not a bad life for a poor boy from Macon, Georgia.
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New Orleans Mayor Vic Shiro had no children of his own, and when his last term in office expired, he gave the original "Beatles Day in New Orleans" Proclamation, autographed by all four Beatles, to one of his aides. The Proclamation has since made its way across the U.S. as part of a traveling Beatles Grammy Museum exhibit and has been seen by fans as far away as Osaka, Japan.

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"The Bach of Rock"
Photo by Michel P. Smith, copyright The Historic New Orleans Collection

Henry Roeland "Roy" Byrd, a/k/a Professor Longhair, best known for his Mardi Gras anthem, "Go to the Mardi Gras," learned how to play piano on old, broken down pianos thrown out with the trash. His idiosyncratic, of-the-wall piano playing can best be heard on such classics as "Red Beans," "Big Chief," "Mess Around," and "How Long Has That Train Been Gone." In 1975, when long-time Longhair admirer Paul McCartney was in New Orleans to record his album "Venus & Mars," Paul struck up a friendship with the Professor, although "Fess" reportedly didn't know who the Beatles were, and referred to McCartney as "McCarthy."

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Photographer Ted Rozumalski was in New Orleans in 1964 to cover the Beatles for the Houston Chronicle. Ted was a talented photographer-he had already been recognized as press photographer of the year for his work in 1963, an honor he would again receive for his 1964 photos. His photographs appeared in National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Life, and Sports Illustrated. Eighteen of the 147 photos he took in New Orleans that day are included in Beatles Day in New Orleans, some of which have never been previously published.

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Mayor Schiro and the Beatles

At the Beatles press conference, Mayor Vic Schiro had the Beatles sign his Proclamation declaring September 16, 1964 "Beatles Day in New Orleans." He later announced that he would give a copy of the autographed Proclamation to any young fan who wrote him requesting one. He was soon deluged with thousands of requests.

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Clarence "Frogman" Henry

Had a great crowd for my talk at the Jefferson Parish Regional Library in Metairie last week. No photos were taken, but here's something better, Myra with Frogman Henry.

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WWL TV Interview

I was interviewed on WWL TV in New Orleans on Monday. I was lucky to get Eric Paulsen, who was a good friend of Fats Domino, doing the interview. He liked the book a lot and gave it a great review. Here is the link to the interview:


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The Teen Reporters

The Beatles were not taken seriously by the adult world in 1964. Their "music" was noise, they were a fad, and nobody would know who they were in a year (1965). This opened the door for four teenagers to be appointed as special correspondents to cover the Beatles in New Orleans by newspapers in Baton Rouge & Jackson Mississippi, including the brother and sister team of Florence and Stan Hughes, shown in this photo. In Beatles Day in New Orleans all four "teen reporters" recount how they finagled their way into the press conference and concert, what it was like to meet the Fab Four, and the chaos, bedlam, and hysteria of Beatlemania.

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Clarence "Frogman" Henry: A Man of Many Frogs

Clarence "Frogman" Henry, an opening act for the Beatles 1964 American Tour, has lived in the same home in the Algiers section of New Orleans since 1961. Also occupying his home are lots and lots of frogs—hundreds of stuffed frogs and other forms of the amphibious croakers, covering his grand piano and every shelf and nook of his house—gifts from fans and fellow performers.

I asked Frogman if he ever turned down a frog.

"Never!" he emphatically replied.

My hunt to find a frog that would be unique to his collection resulted in the croaker he holds in this photo.

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