John Fred

Writer and singer of 'Judy in Disguise'
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The Independent Online

During the psychedelic era, John Fred and the Playboy Band climbed to No 3 on the UK charts with "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)" but no one was sure whether this oddball record was an example of psychedelia or a satiric comment. In truth, the lead singer and songwriter, John Fred Gourrier, loved the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and had just written a pastiche. Ten years later the Rutles would take the same approach with the Beatles' catalogue.

John Fred Gourrier, singer and songwriter: born Baton Rouge 8 May 1941; married (one son); died New Orleans 15 April 2005.

During the psychedelic era, John Fred and the Playboy Band climbed to No 3 on the UK charts with "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)" but no one was sure whether this oddball record was an example of psychedelia or a satiric comment. In truth, the lead singer and songwriter, John Fred Gourrier, loved the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and had just written a pastiche. Ten years later the Rutles would take the same approach with the Beatles' catalogue.

John Fred Gourrier was born into a cajun family in Baton Rouge in May 1941. His father was a professional baseball player, but Gourrier needed little encouragement to play sport at Catholic High School. Growing to six foot five, he became increasingly skilled at basketball and he was awarded an athletic scholarship to a university in Louisiana.

Gourrier became interested in black rhythm and blues after hearing Fats Domino's "Goin' to the River". In 1956 he formed a band with his schoolfriends and at first they called themselves the Redcaps. They then became the Playboys, taking their name from their favourite reading matter, Playboy magazine.

In 1958 Sam Montalbano, who promoted dances in Baton Rouge, was so impressed that he booked time in Cosimo's studio in New Orleans. The band followed Fats Domino, who was recording "Whole Lotta Lovin' ", and some of Domino's band helped out on Gourrier's song "Shirley". The record became a regional hit but Montalbano had poor distribution and put a photograph of the band in a trade paper. When the disc-jockeys realised the band was not black but white, they stopped playing the record. Gourrier returned to his studies.

Around 1964 he established a new group, John Fred and the Playboy Band. Their version of "Boogie Children" combined John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" with Frankie Lee Sims's "Walkin' with Frankie" and was a regional success, as was "Up and Down" and "Agnes English". The international breakthrough came with "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)". The title was inspired by seeing girls in Fort Lauderdale sporting large sunglasses which disguised their features. As well as the obvious nod to the Beatles (for example, "lemonade pies" for "marshmallow skies"), the up-tempo dance number owed something to the bass line from "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass. The record topped the US charts, ironically replacing the Beatles' "Hello Goodbye".

In 1969 Gourrier was introduced to Elvis Presley, who praised "Boogie Children". The Playboy Band made three albums but had no further hit singles, although, in 1982, "Shirley" was recorded by Shakin' Stevens and went into the UK Top Ten.

In subsequent years Gourrier played casinos, produced Irma Thomas, presented local radio and coached basketball.

Spencer Leigh



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