Among the rash of musical deaths recently, one threatened to be overlooked. Bobby Charles, the Louisiana songwriter and singer, passed away on Thursday the 14th after collapsing at his home.
Even the few obituaries that appeared said more about the great songs he wrote for Fats Domino and Bill Haley rather than his own recordings -- which, admittedly, were few. Standing head and shoulders above the rest is his self-titled album from 1972. It's a roots-rock classic, leading off with a loose-limbed funky joint called "Street People" that the Band would have appreciated. (They actually did appreciate it; both Rick Danko and Music from Big Pink producer John Simon worked on the record.)
Unlike most early-R&B songwriters, Charles had changed with the times since the '50s, writing gritty, world-wise songs that were much more closely drawn portraits of life than "See You Later, Alligator." "Street People" begins like this: "Hangin' out with the street people, driftin' from town to town," then channels more than just a little of Randy Newman's dry wit with the finisher -- "Some people would rather work. We need people like that."
Most of the rest of the songs are just as subtle, with Charles observing everything around him and usually finding a great rhyme for it, whether it's "Long Face" ("You've got a long face, you're head's in the wrong place") or "Small Town Talk" (a fine miniature of small-town aspirations) or "I Must Be in a Good Place Now" (which finds Charles in a languid, down-South-dreaming mood).
Rhino reissued Bobby Charles not long ago, making this easy to pick up. Hear the samples below...
"I Must Be in a Good Place Now"
"Small Town Talk"