(Colorado Springs Independent) – The word “white” shows up in Lloyd Price’s new memoir, sumdumhonky, more than 450 times. The word “black,” more than 400.
It’s no surprise that race plays such a key role in Price’s story, which includes growing up on the outskirts of New Orleans a decade before the Civil Rights Movement; writing and recording a hit single — the million-selling, stride-piano-driven “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” — at the age of 19; and becoming the sixth son in his family to be drafted during the Korean War.
“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 tells me from his home in Westchester County, New York.
Price was stationed in Tokyo for two years, during which time Little Richard took over his role as Specialty Records’ biggest star. But the musician started over again, using the proceeds from further hits like “Stagger Lee” and “Personality” to fund his own label while cementing his legacy as a pioneer of Southern soul and rock ‘n’ roll.
And while portions of sumdumhonky may seem strident, Price’s worldview is more generous and colorful than you might expect from the black-and-white realities he describes. In the following conversation, the 80-year-old music legend discusses Dick Clark and discrimination, chasing “foxes” with Muhammad Ali, and missed opportunities to get hooked on drugs and drinking.
Indy: Your new book is as much a meditation on race as it is an autobiography. Was that because you’d already written an autobiography, or were there other things going on that made this seem like the right time for a book like this?
Lloyd Price: Well, a book called The True King of the 50’s, which came out a few years ago, was almost an autobiography, but not quite. I haven’t really got there yet. But this book here, sumdumhonky, I think the time for it is absolutely now. Because I’m seeing the same problems, not as bad, but almost as much, as it was when I was a young teenager in the ’50s.
After so many years, are you surprised to be hearing the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” something that seems like it should have been settled back in the ’60s?
Absolutely. There are lots of things I never thought I’d see, but I’m seeing them. I went back and forth to Africa for 20 years, and in country after country, the minority is always the low guy on the totem pole. And what brought all of us together was the music of the ’50s. The first song I wrote, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” was the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll, which started the youth movements in this country.
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” included the line, “You like to ball every morning.” Was that in the radio version? Or maybe I’m just hearing the lyric wrong?
No, you hearin’ it right. You know, we just made up words, like what kids today call rapping and hip-hop. We used to just stand on the corner and make up words all day long, until we got called in to go to bed at night.
And where I got “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” was from hearing the first black disc jockey on the radio. His name was Okey Dokey Smith, from Laurel, Mississippi, and he came on the new station WBOK in New Orleans. He said, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy, eat Mother’s Homemade Pies and drink Maxwell House instant coffee!” And that’s where I first heard that saying, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” was in a coffee commercial. So I just took it and kept making up words around it, and it became the first million-selling record ever.
Read the entire interview here.