Searching for Bobby Charles

Though I see and understand the enormous benefits of the Internet, I have never liked using it to search for CDs to buy. I feel it’s too “easy” that way. I have always felt whatever music I have stumbled upon in a store (whether I have searched off and on for it for years or not) is somehow destined for me to find on that day, in that place. Sort of like the way some people (okay, maybe just me) will find a book on a bench or something and feel compelled to read it just because it is somehow there for YOU.

So, I guess the powers of the universe wanted me to listen to some Bobby Charles this weekend and I couldn’t be happier. I found the elusive songwriter’s self-released CD Last Train To Memphis in a used music store this past weekend and was excited as hell about it. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face and I am sure the confused clerk was only too happy to get my creepy ass out of the store.

First, a little info: Bobby Charles was a staff songwriter/recording artist for Chess Records and is the songwriter who gave the world songs like See You Later, Alligator and Small Town Talk as well as a host of other classics recorded by everyone from Bill Haley to Delbert McClinton. As a performer, he struggled, not getting anywhere despite constantly touring for his ’50’s and ’60’s Chess singles. He ended up being taken to school a bunch of times: being cheated out of song royalties, having a then-prominent indie label stolen from him (He helped form Jewel/Paula records after leaving Chess), and was just generally being mismanaged. He wound up near Woodstock NY in the early ’70’s and ended up cutting a almost-perfect self-titled record for Bearsville with members of the Band which sadly ended up getting neglected after management problems developed between Charles and Albert Grossman. The follow-up, an even better record (and if you hear how good the self-titled one is, you’d have a hard time believing anything could better it) was never released.

Since then, Charles has recorded sporadically, content to live on the Gulf Coast and write songs whenever the spirit moves him. Every once in a while, he emerges from the shadows to give the world a taste of what it could have had on a regular basis if only the world would have cared back when Charles did. The album I picked up this weekend is a 2 CD special edition of an album he released back in 2003 on his own label, Rice N’ Gravy records. It is pretty much a compilation of tracks he’s recorded over the years in various studios, with various people. The star power on here is a testament to how many music legends love Charles’ songs. People like Willie Nelson, Dann Penn, Sonny Landreth, Neil Young, Ben Keith and many others make contributions to this CD.

And it’s fantastic. The star power never outshines Charles’ ability to write a simple song that resonates like an earthquake. Like his compatriot Gulf Coaster Tony Joe White (he of Polk Salad Annie and Steamy Windows fame) Charles moves to his own drummer and I am just glad to be allowed to live on this earth at the same time Charles does. I will probably never meet him, see him, or interview him but his music has touched my life and made it better in ways only few have.

If you can, search out this man’s simple music (Stony Plain Records out of Canada is a good place to start – Google them) and see if it doesn’t move you the same way. It’s out there and may be hard to find but the best things in life are never easy to acquire.

Get working.

The Music Nerd knows…..