Lil' Alfred

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Swamp pop legend Lil' Alfred was a fixture of the rich southern Louisiana music culture for close to half a century. Best known for his stint fronting hitmakers Cookie & the Cupcakes, he scored his…
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Swamp pop legend Lil' Alfred was a fixture of the rich southern Louisiana music culture for close to half a century. Best known for his stint fronting hitmakers Cookie & the Cupcakes, he scored his biggest single at age 16 with "Walking Down the Aisle," and although his subsequent recorded output is slim, his electrifying live act more than made up the difference. According to Larry Benicewicz's profile at the Blues World website, Alfred Babino was born January 5, 1944, in Lake Charles, LA. Blessed with an inimitably ethereal tenor, he was a natural fit for his local church choir, and also played saxophone in his high school band. At just 13 Babino began playing professionally behind Lake Charles circuit veteran Joe Weldon. Though primarily hired as a saxophonist, he occasionally took a vocal turn as well, and after a scorching medley of Little Richard covers earned the sobriquet "Lil' Alfred" from Oklahoma City radio personality Jim Eckwith. Eventually the teen captured the attention of local record producer George Khoury, and with parental consent form in hand, Lil' Alfred entered Houston's Longhorn Studios to cut his debut effort, "Walking Down the Aisle." Issued on the Khoury's Records label in 1960, the single proved a smash throughout the Gulf Coast region, and was ultimately licensed for national distribution via Shreveport-based Jewel. "Walking Down the Aisle" nevertheless fell just shy of the Hot 100, and Khoury quickly ushered Lil' Alfred back to the studio, this time with local R&B phenom Cookie & the Cupcakes as his backing band, to record a follow-up, "It Don't Hurt No More."

Lil' Alfred never again scored anything more than a regional hit, but his subsequent Khoury's efforts are still excellent. Recorded at producer Bill Hall's Beaumont, TX, studio, singles like "The Mashed Potatoes [sic] Back Again" and "Charged with Cheating" capture in full the feverish emotion and raucous energy of the swamp pop sound. Poor sales nevertheless spelled the end of Lil' Alfred's relationship with Khoury in 1965, by which time the singer had taken the reins of Cookie & the Cupcakes from former frontman Huey Thierry. The dynamic brass band featured saxophonists Shelton Dunaway and Sidney "Hot Rod" Reynaud alongside keyboardist Ernest Jacobs, whose droning piano was such an essential component of the Phil Phillips smash "Sea of Love." With his theatrical, animated stage presence, Lil' Alfred proved the perfect complement to Cookie & the Cupcakes' high-intensity live shows, and their performances became the stuff of local legend. Concurrently, he also cut a handful of solo sides for Eddie Shuler's Goldband label that remain unreleased. Circa 1966 Lil' Alfred began supplementing his Cupcakes duties by singing with the blue-eyed soul combo the Boogie Kings. A year later, the group convinced him to sign on full-time for their upcoming West Coast tour, signaling his break from the Cupcakes lineup. While in Los Angeles, Lil' Alfred & the Boogie Kings cut a rare single for A&M, "Can You Dig It," issued under the alias American Soul Train. It would prove his final recorded effort for more than a quarter century.

Following a 1969 East Coast tour, Lil' Afred split with the Boogie Kings to resume his solo career, becoming a fixture at local venues including Lake Charles' Bamboo Club. In 1972 he relocated to Chicago, playing South Side blues joints while moonlighting with the National Soul Revue, a large R&B band that specialized in playing military bases across the U.S. When his mother fell ill, Lil' Alfred returned to Lake Charles in 1978, and remained in Louisiana after her death. With fellow swamp pop great Charles Mann, he established a Sunday night residency at the Layfayette nightclub C'est Tout, attracting a new generation of fans over the decade that followed. In 1995 Lil' Alfred joined a reconstituted Cookie & the Cupcakes for a performance at the Netherlands' annual Blues Estafette event. Their appearance was so well received that upon returning to Lake Charles, the singer signed with Floyd Soileau's JIN label to record Dealin' with the Feelin', the first full-length studio LP of his long career. Lil' Alfred spent the remainder of the decade headlining Lake Charles' Triangle Club three nights a week. Each Sunday, he also performed at Lafayette's Back to Back, often in the company of fellow swamp pop legend Warren Storm. Shortly after compiling and self-releasing the anthology Lil' Alfred: 1960-2003, Babino suffered a stroke, and although he returned to the stage within two weeks, health problems dogged him in the years to come. Lil' Alfred died in Lake Charles on November 15, 2006, at the age of 62.