May 11, 2012

Bobby Charles – Save Me Jesus (1972)

I’ve always liked these kind of “world has gone to shit” songs with lyrics that take on everything at once, scattershot style. Bob Dylan had a good one with “Everything Is Broken”. This one doesn’t go totally into that category – it’s more like a stoned “Masters Of War” but with a chorus like “Save me Jesus, from this God-forsaken place”, ol’ Bobby is clearly throwing up his hands at the whole goddamn mess, like Randy Newman does on a lot of his records.

Every member of The Band played on at least one song on this album and Rick Danko co-produced it, which is apt because Danko was clearly influenced by Bobby Charles’ singing at some early formative stage. There are moments on this record where you can close your eyes and pretend it’s Danko singing, but on this particular track, Charles is phrasing his words in a way that clearly influenced Randy Newman as well.

While Newman was already established by the time this record came out, he would have certainly heard Charles’ early recordings which were a strange combination of rock and roll, New Orleans R & B and pure Billboard Chart pop. It took me a while to understand where Charles was coming from. When you see a white guy on Chess Records, you expect something harder, but his laidback approach took me off guard and I didn’t find it exciting at first. But I kept hearing the Chess Masters record of his stuff almost incidentally, like when the album before it on your Itunes runs out and this one starts and you’re too lazy to change it. Then I started playing it on purpose and found I wanted to put my feet up and have a beer or two and just listen to it front to end. Something about his voice – he has a full, thick tone but he doesn’t put any weight behind it – begins to hypnotize you after 2 or 3 numbers.

Charles wasn’t a steady touring performer but he wrote a ton of great songs that other people performed – he wrote “Walking To New Orleans” that Fats Domino made a classic out of. “See You Later, Alligator”, “Why Are People Like That” (which Muddy Waters played in the 70’s on a record with Levon Helm drumming … small world). Bobby Charles stands right up there with his Louisiana peers like Dr. John, Allen Toussaint and Professor Longhair. Charles died in 2010.

Here's a quick shot of early Charles from the Chess days - Take It Easy Greasy (1956):

One more for the road - the Bobby Charles penned "Walking To New Orleans" by Fats Domino (1960):

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