Singer Was a Pioneer Offstage, as Well

Lloyd Price might have had the first rock hit
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 8, 2021 5:15 PM CDT
Updated May 8, 2021 6:26 PM CDT
Singer Was a Pioneer Offstage, as Well
Lloyd Price appears backstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York in 2011.   (AP Photo, File)

Singer-songwriter Lloyd Price, an early rock 'n' roll star and enduring maverick whose hits included such up-tempo favorites as "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," "Personality," and the semi-forbidden "Stagger Lee," has died. He was 88. Price died Monday in New Rochelle, New York, of complications from diabetes, said his wife, Jacqueline Price. Lloyd Price, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, was among the last survivors of a post-World War II scene in New Orleans that anticipated the shifts in popular music and culture leading to the rise of rock in the mid-1950s. Along with Fats Domino, David Bartholomew and others, Price fashioned a deep, exuberant sound around the brass and swing of New Orleans jazz and blues that placed high on R&B charts and eventually crossed over to white audiences. "Very important part of Rock history. He was BEFORE Little Richard!" singer and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt said Saturday on Twitter. "Lawdy Miss Clawdy of 1952 has a legit claim as the first Rock hit. ... Righteous cat. Enormous talent."

Price was more than an engaging entertainer. He was unusually independent for his time, running his own record label before such stars as Frank Sinatra did the same, keeping his publishing rights, and serving as his own agent and manager. He spoke of racial injustices he endured, calling his memoir sumdumhonkey and posting online during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that behind his "affable exterior" was "a man who is seething." Born in Kenner, Louisiana, Price was in his late teens when a DJ's catchphrase, "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," inspired him to write his boundary-breaking first hit, which he worked on in his mother's fried fish restaurant. Featuring Domino's piano trills, "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" hit No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1952, sold more than 1 million copies and became a rock standard, covered by Elvis Presley and others. But Price had mixed feelings about the song's broad appeal, later recalling how local officials in the Jim Crow South resisted letting both blacks and whites attend his shows. Price was drafted and spent the mid-1950s in Korea. He restarted his career with the 1957 ballad "Just Because," and hit the top with his brassy, pop-oriented "Stagger Lee"—one of the catchiest, most celebratory songs ever recorded about a barroom murder.

(More obituary stories.)

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