A powerful case could be made for New Orleans as the true birthplace of rock & roll. As insular and self-sufficient as its music scene has always been, its reach is incredible. Not just Elvis, the Beatles and the Stones, but Cheap Trick, Heart and Devo have all had hits with NOLA music. Here’s a roundup of the New Orleans artists whose works have echoed across the globe:
Roy Brown: “Good Rocking Tonight” (Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Pat Boone, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Paul McCartney), “Rockin’ at Midnight” (Honeydrippers): Elvis supposedly once wrote the struggling performer a check on a brown paper bag.
Smiley Lewis: “One Night” (Elvis Presley, Fats Domino), “I Hear You Knocking” (Gale Storm, Fats Domino, Dave Edmunds), “Blue Monday” (Fats Domino, Buddy Holly): Born Overton Lemons, Lewis puckered up as others made lemonade of his songs. Yet he remains a giant of New Orleans R&B.
Fats Domino: “I’m Walkin'” (Ricky Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, Hank Williams Jr., Los Lobos), “Ain’t That a Shame” (Pat Boone, Ike and Tina Turner, Four Seasons, John Lennon, Cheap Trick), “I’m in Love Again” (Little Richard, Animals), “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday” (Little Richard, Animals): His sixty-five million singles sold make him one of the all-time numbers kings.
Dave Bartholomew: “That’s How You Got Killed Before” (Elvis Costello), “My Ding-a-Ling” (Chuck Berry): Domino’s right-hand man also wrote or co-wrote a gaggle of New Orleans classics, including Smiley Lewis’s “One Night” and Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired.”
Lloyd Price: “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Beatles), “Just Because” (Larry Williams, John Lennon), “Stagger Lee” (The Clash, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave): Price’s remake of the traditional folk-blues had been recorded before him under various titles by Ma Rainey, Mississippi John Hurt, New Orleans pianist Archibald and many others.
Larry Williams: “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Bad Boy,” “Slow Down” (Beatles), “Bony Moronie” (John Lennon): Williams, a wildman in the Little Richard mold, wasn’t so successful — he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980.
Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns: “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” (Johnny Rivers): Rivers, born in New York but raised in Baton Rouge, cut his first record in 1957 at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M studio as Johnny Ramistella and the Spades.
Phil Phillips: “Sea of Love” (Del Shannon, Honeydrippers): The Lake Charles, Louisiana, native had his only hit, a Number Two in 1959, backed by the aptly named Twilights. A benchmark of eerie swamp pop.
Dale Hawkins: “Suzie-Q” (Rolling Stones, Everly Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sir Douglas Quintet, Bobby McFerrin): Likewise, a swamp classic from this rockabilly cat from Goldmine, Louisiana, whose original version featured blues legend Roy Buchanan on guitar.
Guitar Slim: “The Things That I Used to Do” (Joe Turner, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan), “Feelin’ Sad” (Ray Charles): Late father of New Orleans’ own Guitar Slim Jr.
Slim Harpo: “I’m a King Bee,” “Shake Your Hips” (Rolling Stones), “Got Love If You Want It” (Yardbirds, Kinks), “Don’t Start Cryin’ Now” (Them), “Rainin’ in My Heart” (Pretty Things): The archetypal Louisiana bluesman — he was never in a hurry.
Irma Thomas: “Time Is on My Side” (Rolling Stones): The “Soul Queen of New Orleans” also inspired Otis Redding’s “Pain in My Heart” with her single “Ruler of My Heart.”
Benny Spellman: “Fortune Teller” (Rolling Stones, Who, Hollies, Iguanas), “Lipstick Traces” (O’Jays, Delbert McClinton): Sang the baritone part on Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law”; they reportedly came to blows over Spellman’s uncredited role.
Ernie K-Doe: “A Certain Girl” (Yardbirds, Warren Zevon): Born Ernest Kador Jr., the originator of the No. 1 hit “Mother-in-Law” had stints with the Moonglows and the Flamingos before embarking on his own solo career.
Chris Kenner: “I Like It Like That” (Dave Clark Five), “Something You Got” (Wilson Pickett, Righteous Brothers, Moody Blues, Them), “Land of 1000 Dances” (Wilson Pickett, Young Rascals, Tom Jones, Etta James, J. Geils, Roy Orbison, Ted Nugent, Patti Smith), “Sick and Tired” (Fats Domino, Grateful Dead, Boz Scaggs, Alex Chilton): Another native of Kenner, Louisiana, his was another ill-fated career — he was convicted of statutory rape in 1968, and died of a heart attack at age forty-six in 1976.
The Dixie Cups: “Iko Iko” (Dr. John, Grateful Dead, Zachary Richard, Cyndi Lauper, Aaron Carter): This N’Awlins staple was adapted from Sugar Boy Crawford’s “Jock-A-Mo,” recorded at J&M in 1953.
Aaron Neville: “Tell It Like It Is” (Andy Williams, Freddy Fender, Etta James, Heart): Backed by the Meters, the original was a Number Two hit (Number One R&B) for the sweet-voiced Neville in 1966.
Earl King: “Come On” (Jimi Hendrix): Prolific writer who supplied hits for Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Lee Dorsey was once on the verge of signing a writing contract with Motown.
Lee Dorsey: “Ya Ya” (John Lennon), “Working in the Coal Mine” (Devo): Ex-boxer inspired the Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can Can,” made a guest appearance on Southside Johnny’s debut album and was a tour opener for the Clash in 1980.
The Meters: “Africa” (Red Hot Chili Peppers): The Chili Peppers — whose name apes Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers — renamed the song “Hollywood.”