Obituary: Bobby Marchan

THE NEW Orleans rock'n'roll music of the mid-1950s was simple, infectious and total fun. Little Richard, Fats Domino and Lloyd Price sounded like they were holding parties in the studio, and the sheer joie de vivre of New Orleans' music can be heard in Bobby Marchan's various recordings, the most significant being as lead vocalist with Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns.

Marchan was born Oscar James Gibson in Youngstown, Ohio in 1930, and grew up with adolescent loves of blues music and men in drag. By 1953, he was working in a troupe of female impersonators known as the Powder Box Revue, who came to New Orleans to perform at the Dew Drop Inn. He liked the city's liberal attitude and decided to stay. Marchan became the MC at the Tiajuana Club, where he discussed make-up with Little Richard.

He made two records in 1954 ("Just A Little Walk" for Aladdin and "You Made A Fool Out Of Me" for Dot), but they made little impact. The New Orleans pianist Huey Smith took Johnny Vincent of Ace Records to see Marchan at the Tiajuana. Vincent gave him $200 and a record contract, thinking that he had signed a female vocalist.

In 1956, Marchan's recording of Smith's novelty song "Little Chickee Wah-Wah" sold reasonably well and he appeared at the Apollo Club in Harlem and at the Brooklyn Paramount. He and Smith decided to work together by forming a group, Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns. Smith would write, arrange, record and play piano while Marchan would sing.

Dr John wrote in his autobiography, Under A Hoodoo Moon (1994), "I remember the first time I met Bobby Marchan: he was in drag, and Huey Smith introduced him to me as Roberta. Later I met him as Bobby and I had no idea it was the same person."

Johnny Vincent liked a phrase in Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven", "I got the rockin' pneumonia", and he asked Smith to write a song around it. Smith responded with "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu". The record sold well and is regarded as a rock'n'roll classic.

The Clowns were well named, as they fooled around both on and off stage. Although Marchan did not wear drag for their shows, the Clowns made camp gestures, and their backing vocalist, Gerri Hall, maintained that she was more man than the rest of the Clowns put together.

In 1958 Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns released one of the greatest double-sided singles in rock'n'roll - "High Blood Pressure" and "Don't You Just Know It". The latter, with its call and response chorus, was written around a phrase used by their coach driver. The single climbed to No 9 in the US charts. Their album, Having A Good Time, shows that Smith knew how to write for Marchan's soaring high-pitched vocals, but Marchan was not happy at seeing only Smith's face on the cover. The Clowns, who included such colourful characters as Scarface Williams, Peg Leg Martin and Eugene Francis, who had green hair, may not have been photogenic enough.

As a result of Marchan's dissatisfaction, two singles were issued under the name Bobby Marchan and the Clowns - "Rockin' Behind the Iron Curtain" is a nonsensical look at Communism, while "Would You Believe It (I Have A Cold)" was based on a commercial. Marchan had hoped for exposure on Dick Clark's show American Bandstand, but Clark thought the reference to "drinking Tequila all day" in the latter song might corrupt teenagers.

Smith recorded his best song, "Sea Cruise", with Marchan, but Johnny Vincent thought it would suit a new white vocalist, Frankie Ford. He removed Marchan's vocal and added Ford's, doing the same with another track, "Roberta". Ford's record became extremely successful and meant that Marchan was bound to leave Ace Records.

Unfortunately, when he made his first recording for Fire Records, they did not appreciate that he was still under contract to Ace. His fecklessness almost jeopardised his epic version of Big Joe McNeely's "There Is Something On Your Mind". Ace tried to prevent the record reaching the shops, but it became very popular, especially its Part 2, in which Marchan narrates with increasing passion what he is going to do to his woman. The record made the US Top Forty, but its follow-up, a dance song, "Booty Green", was less interesting.

In 1964 Marchan toured with Otis Redding, who recommended him to Stax, where he cut two singles, "What Can I Do" and "Mary's Little Lamb". He moved from label to label and recorded the original version of what later became Slade's first hit, "Get Down and Get With It". By the mid-1970s Marchan had returned to work as a female impersonator, although he regularly played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He was also working as a talent scout, looking for rap acts for Manicure Productions.

In recent years, Marchan developed cancer and had a kidney removed. He worked when he could and Westside Records had rush- released a Bobby Marchan CD, Clown Jewels - the Masters 1956-75, so that he could see it before he died.

Marchan was proud of his music, saying "I thought we made records that were different from everyone else in the 1950s."

Oscar James Gibson (Bobby Marchan), singer: born Youngstown, Ohio 30 April 1930; died New Orleans, Louisiana 5 December 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game