Bobby Charles was born Robert Charles Guidry on 21st February 1938 in Abbeville, Louisiana. A native Cajun
himself, he recalled that his life “changed for ever” when he re-tuned his parents’ radio set from a local Cajun station to one playing records by Fats Domino. Most successful as a songwriter, he is regarded as one of the founding fathers of swamp pop. His own vocal style was laidback and drawling. His biggest successes were songs other artists covered, such as ‘See You Later Alligator’ by Bill Haley & His Comets; ‘Walking To New Orleans’ by Fats Domino – with whom he recorded a duet of the same song in the 1990s – and
‘(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do’ by Clarence “Frogman” Henry. It allowed him to live off the songwriting royalties for the rest of his life! Two other well-known compositions are ‘The Jealous Kind’, recorded by Joe Cocker, and ‘Tennessee Blues’ which Kris Kristofferson committed to record.
Disenchanted with the music business, Bobby disappeared from the music scene in the mid-1960s but returned in 1972 with a self-titled album on the Bearsville label on which he was accompanied by Rick Danko and several other members of the Band and Dr John. Bobby later made a rare live appearance as a guest singer on stage at The Last Waltz, the 1976 farewell concert of the Band, although his contribution was cut from Martin Scorsese’s film of the event.
Bobby Charles returned to the studio in later years, recording a European-only album called Clean Water in 1987.
In September 2007, he was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Bobby Charles lived for some years in quiet seclusion at Holly Beach on the Gulf of Mexico and became a local environmental activist. After his house was destroy ed by Hurricane Rita in 2005, he returned to Abbeville. He collapsed in his home near Abbeville and died on 14th January 2010. (Robin Dunn & Chrissie van Varik)
Around 1986, Bobby recorded enough songs for an album with the aforementioned Nelson and Young and members of their bands. One band member, Ben Keith
“…asked me if I had any new songs. I said that I did and I sang him a couple of ’em and he said, ‘Man, let’s go in the studio and do ’em right now’. So we went in, we got some time and we started doin’ some songs and before we knew it we were on our way to finishing another complete album and I just felt really good about this. This is the record that I’ve always dreamed of making. This is the first time I get to make MY record the way that I wanted to make it, from cover to cover.”
The album in question was released in 1987. Produced by Bobby’s own Rice ‘n’ Gravy company (so-called after Bobby’s favourite Cajun dish), it was entitled ‘Clean Water’ and was issued in Germany by Zensor. It included a version of ‘But I Do’, performed in a very different manner to Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, plus nine more Charles compositions, many of which were well worth a place in any record collection. The title track reflected Bobby’s interest in ecology: “I’m trying to clean all the waters of the world. It’s a big project but I think we can do it”. Three years later when he autographed the sleeve of my copy of the album he wrote “Smile – Better Days are coming”. These sentiments are particularly ironic in view of the recent BP oil leakage into the Gulf of Mexico and the disastrous consequences. It is difficult to understand why airplay was so difficult to come by in Louisiana at the time when four singles were released, even though the album was not originally issued in the States.
“They play Cajun in Berlin, Germany before they play it in Lafayette, Louisiana which is the Cajun capital of the world and that’s embarrassing to me, it really is.”
Joe Allen (bass)
Bobby Charles (vocals)
Charles Cockran (piano)
Bessyl Duhon (accordion)
Mike Elliot (guitar, synth drums programing)
Karl Himmel (synth drums programing)
Jim Horn (horns)
Wayne Jackson (horns)
Ben Keith (bass, steel guitar, background vocals)
Doanner Kupper (background vocals)
Wade Benson Landry (fiddle)
Kenny Malone (percussion)
Larry Marshall (piano)
Terry McMillan (percussion, harp)
Joey Miskulin (accordion)
Tracy Nelson (background vocals)
Hrgus Robbins (piano)
Jackie Street (bass)
Bob Wilson (piano)
01. Lil’ Cajun 3.04
02. Secrets 3.27
03. Love In The Worse Degree 3.22
04. Cowboys And Indians 2.59
05. But I Do 4.26
06. Clean Water 3.10
07. Lil’ Sister 3.07
08. Party Town 3.56
09. Le Champs Elysee! 3.39
All songs written by Bobby Charles
Robert Charles Guidry (February 21, 1938 – January 14, 2010)