Sam Theard (aka Lovin' Sam Theard) served most of his lengthy professional existence as an actor and a comedian in theaters, movies, and television. Those who study and specialize in old-time hokum, dirty blues, and novelty swing records associate his name with delectable ditties like "She Skuffles That Ruff," "You Can't Get That Stuff No More," "Rubbin' on That Darned Old Thing," and "I Wonder Who's Boogiein' My Woogie Now." Here in the glorious information glut of the 21st century, Sam Theard is likely to be remembered and referenced now and then as the man who wrote "(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You," a rambunctious number made famous by Louis Armstrong. Most importantly, any search engine armed with his name will uncover multiple references to his magnum opus, "Let the Good Times Roll," which was one of Louis Jordan's major hits as well as a primary staple of rhythm & blues and early rock & roll.
Born in New Orleans, LA on October 10, 1904, he began working with a circus in 1923 and spent many years on the road, performing in theaters and nightclubs. Most of his recordings were made in or near Chicago. In 1929 and 1930 he recorded as Lovin' Sam from Down in 'Bam for the Brunswick record company under the supervision of A&R director Mayo Williams. Focusing almost exclusively upon human sexuality, Theard sang bawdily humorous songs backed by guitarist Tampa Red and pianists Cow Cow Davenport and H. Benton Overstreet. After a brief dalliance with the Gennett label in 1930 using the name Sam Tarpley, Theard engaged in a bit of label hopping. He cut records for Decca in 1934 (backed by pianist Albert Ammons), for Vocalion in 1937 and Victor's budget line Bluebird series in 1938. His voice can also be heard on records issued under the names of pianist Tiny Parham and trumpeter Hot Lips Page.
Theard was busy as a comedian in Harlem during the 1930s and '40s, regularly treading the boards at the Apollo Theater alongside Dusty Fletcher, Pigmeat Markham, and Jackie "Moms" Mabley. It was during this period that he began calling himself Spo-Dee-O-Dee. While gigging in Chicago in 1942 he and one Fleecie Moore came up with a ditty called "Let the Good Times Roll" and shared it with singing saxophonist Louis Jordan who scored a massive hit with his Tympany Five recording of it in 1946. Theard, who can also be seen in Jordan's film Caldonia, had a bit of a minor comeback towards the end of his life after landing in Hollywood in 1976, sometimes reverting to his old stage name Spo-Dee-O-Dee. He goofed with Redd Fox on the set of Sanford & Son, teamed up with Foxx and Pearl Bailey in Norman, Is That You?, and appeared in Little House on the Prairie. Theard's face became marginally familiar to audiences who had no idea who he was or what his past accomplishments amounted to. He appeared as Cripple in Richard Pryor's Which Way is Up? and as the Wino in an all-black remake of Cinderella called Cindy; as Old Second with Jackie Gleason and Karl Malden in The Sting II, and as the Left Hand of God in Motown's biographical salute to Scott Joplin. Accomplished, versatile, and influential but never accorded the kind of recognition that he deserved, Sam Theard passed away at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles, California on December 7, 1982.