There’s no single genre that truly captures the quiet genius of Bobby Charles. Born on February 21st, 1938 in Vermillion Parish, Lousiana, the Cajun Charles grew up naturally inclined to the music of the region before becoming severely inspired (and who among us has not?) by the great Fats Domino. As the legend goes, when a teenage Bobby Charles met him backstage after a show, Fats was legitimately embarrassed not to have a copy of his latest record to sign for his biggest fan. He invited Charles to visit him at home in the Crescent City to which Bobby replied, “Well, I don’t have a car, so I guess I’ll be walkin’ to New Orleans,” before ultimately penning one of the greatest songs of the 20th Century for his hero.
Bobby Charles infuses rock n’ roll heart with soul glory and country blues honesty, and once distilled, the results are like nothing created before– or since. Bobby’s songs have been recorded by Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Delbert McClinton, Joe Cocker, Lou Rawls, Kris Kristofferson, and Etta James to name only a few, and he’s been recognized by Bob Dylan as one of the finest writers and singers of all time. On what would have been his 85th birthday, we pay tribute to the singular Bobby Charles with a selection of tunes that’ll leave you in a good place now!
1. “Later Alligator” (1955)
Bobby Charles (real name Robert Charles Guidry) cut this pumpin’ nigh-novelty for Chess Records in 1955. Bill Haley and his Comets cracked the Top Ten with their version (“See You Later Alligator”) in 1956, and Charles himself made it to #14 on the R&B charts.
2. “I Hope” (1964)
Released in 1964, “I Hope” is a gorgeous transition from first gen rock n’ roll to the heavyweight songwriting and emotive style that would come to define Bobby Charles. This is the slow dance you pray lasts forever.
3. “Small Town Talk” (1972)
An underrated classic of the highest order (out of print and begging for a vinyl reissue), this self-titled diamond (also released as Small Town Talk) teams Charles up with The Band’s Rick Danko for a collection of songs rich as fresh cream and warm enough to beat the winter in upstate New York. The album features some of Bobby’s best-known tunes including “I Must Be In A Good Place Now”, “Tennessee Blues”, and this mildly funky treatise on minding your own business.
4. “I Don’t Want To Know” (1998)
Sonny Landreth weaves the slide guitar between Bobby’s aching vocals on this spiritual sequel to “Walking To New Orleans” from 1998’s all-star Secrets Of The Heart.
5. “The Truth Will Set You Free (Promises, Promises)”
This version of Bobby’s immortal protest anthem (co-written with Willie Nelson) appears on his final studio album, 2008’s Homemade Songs. On January 14th, 2010, Bobby Charles collapsed and died at home in Abbeville, Louisiana. He was the perfect songwriter.