fans of New Orleans R&B and Soul, the name Alvin Robinson looms large.
Though his hit-making period lasted but a few short years in the
mid-60's, the records he made of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Tiger /
Blue Cat / Red Bird family of labels are legendary.
Alvin Robinson was born in 1937. By the late 50's he was working as a
session guitarist in New Orleans, even serving for a time as guitar
teacher to Shorty Long of 'Here Comes The Judge' fame. In 1964, the
legendary Leiber and Stoller started the Tiger and Daisy record labels.
These would evolve into Blue Cat, and Red Bird which would be home to a
large number of R&B and soul hits, among them classics by The
Shangri-Las, The Dixie Cups, Evie Sands, the Ad-Libs and Bessie Banks.
Alvin Robinson was one of the first artists recorded for Tiger, and his
first 45, a cover of Chris Kenner's 'Something You Got' and the
Coasters' 'Searchin' made it to #8 R&B and #52 pop in June of 1964.
'Something You Got' was a slightly slower take on Kenner's tune, that
featured Robinson's fantastically bluesy growl. The fact that such a
memorable singer wasn't able to record more prolifically is a
disappointment. He certainly had plenty of role models in New Orleans
(especially Kenner who's sound is echoed heavily in Robinson's), but was
also a distinctive stylist. His rocking take on 'Searchin' was also
Tiger (and it's counterpart Daisy) soon evolved into Blue Cat and Red
Bird (with the 'Something You Got' 45 reappearing as BC104), and
Robinson would record three more singles for these labels. Two of them
were bona fide classics.
The first was September 1964's 'Down Home Girl' b/w 'Fever' (Red Bird
010, his only disc for that particular label). 'Down Home Girl'
(previously recorded by The Coasters) is Robinson's masterpiece. Not
only are the lyrics amazing ('Lawd I swear the perfume you wear is made
out of turnip greens, and every time I kiss your lips it tastes like
pork and beans"), but Robinson's delivery makes it into a genuine soul
classic. The way he stretches out the words 'Downnnnnnnn hooooome
girrrrrrrrlllllllll' is brilliant example of phrasing, and the heavy
back beat pushes the record into the realm of proto-funk. Robinson's
version was soon covered by the Rolling Stones, and much later by
Nazareth. The flip-side is a gritty take on the Little Willie John
Next up was 'How Can I Get Over You' b/w 'I'm Gonna Put Some Hurt On
You' (BC108) in March of 1965. While a nice showcase for Robinson's
voice, 'How Can I Get Over You' is perhaps the weakest tune in his
catalogue. 'I'm Gonna Put Some Hurt On You' is a cover of the New
Orleans classic originally written and recorded by Raymond Lewis on
His last 45 with the Leiber & Stoller associated labels, was "Let The
Good Times Roll' b/w 'Bottom of My Soul' (BC113). Let The Good Times
Roll' is better know as 'Come On Pt1' which was written and recorded by
Earl King (born Earl Johnson, thus the writing credit). 'Let The Good
Times Roll' is a hard charging, raunchy blues, highlighted by Robinson's
powerful vocal and distorted guitar. It was recorded in New Orleans,
with Wardell Quezerque arranging (and co-writing the b-side). 'Bottom Of
My Soul' works the soul side of the street, and is a great mid-tempo
number that should have made a dent in the charts.
After Leiber and Stoller lost control of their labels in 1966, Robinson
returned to studio work, recording the odd single here and there.
Among those were sessions for Joe Jones records, Atco and Pulsar.
The Atco sides include a smoking version of Marvin Gaye's 'Baby Don't
You Do It'.
In 1969 he made his way to Los Angeles, hooking up with New Orleans
expatriate (and big-time producer) Harold Battiste. He would record a
number of bluesy singles for Batiste's re-incarnated A.F.O. label, and
Pulsar. The Pulsar sides (Pulsar was an LA Based label with heavy
involvement by Harold Battiste), where he is billed as 'Al' Robinson
include the funky 'Sho' Bout To Drive Me Wild', a veritable all-star New
Orleans session co-written by Harold Battiste, Dr. John, King Floyd and
Robinnson spent much of the 70's and 80's working in the studios on
albums like Dr. John's 'Gumbo', Carly Simon's 'Playing Possum' and Ringo
Starr's 'Goodnight Vienna'.
He returned to New Orleans in 1985, and passed away in 1989.
Much of his best work can be found on compilations of New Orleans R&B