For nearly 50 years, Lafayette's Carol Fran has been
one of Louisiana'smost precious "albeit obscure " musical resources.
While none of her many singles reached the national charts, she has
recorded an enviable body of work, one that R&B aficionados have raved
about for years. The release of Fran-Tastic" now adds to Fran's legacy.
Born October 23, 1933, Fran was one of seven children. Fran's mother
played piano and she followed in her footsteps. However, rather than
play classicalmusic like her mom, Fran taught herself to play along with
blues and R&B records by Louis Jordan
and Dinah Washington.
At the age of 15, Fran was by Lake Charles saxophonist Joe Lutcher
after she won the $25 first prize in a talent show held at a Lafayette
night club. "I had to run away from home to join the band," laughed
Fran. "Joe had a big record out at the time, 'Go See the Mardi Gras,'
and he was touring Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. I was the
piano player and the female vocalist. Joe wanted me to go to California
with him but I was homesick and wanted to go back to Lafayette. When I
got back, I started working for Joe's brother, Bubba. Bubba was a
booking agent that had a popular band that played around Lake Charles."
By the late 1950s, Fran was working as a cabaret singer on Bourbon
Street in New Orleans and working around Lafayette with drummer Clarence
"Jockey" Etienne. Etienne played on sessions recorded at the nearby
Crowley Studio owned by J. D. Miller, the legendary talent scout and
producer who leased material to Excello. Etienne suggested auditioning
for Miller and Fran took his advice.
"Miller liked my singing and playing," said Fran. "He asked me if I had
any original songs and I did. One of them was called 'Emmit Lee.' That
was my introduction to the record business. I cut that with Guitar Gable
and Jockey. Jockey didn't play drums, he played on a box." Despite the
primitiveness of the session, Excello leased "Emmit Lee." And the
emotional swamp pop ballad became a modest best seller in Louisiana and
across the South. In 1958, Fran signed on with a booking agent who
arranged 45 consecutive one-nighters at $90 per date, but when she
returned to Lafayette, she only received $285. So much for hit records!
That same year she joined Guitar Slim's revue which toured from coast to
coast On the recording front, Fran continued to work with Miller on
three more singles including "Knock Knock," "I Quit My Knockin'" and the
inevitable "Emmit Lee Came Back." With each release Fran's voice got
more powerful. Fran also got a chance to back several of Millers other
artists in the studio including Slim Harpo, Lonesome Sundown and Lazy
Lester. Fran split
with Miller though in 1962 and signed with the Lake Charles based Lyric
label. There she waxed the torrid "The Great Pretender, " and "Just
Because Your Mine." That same year she was frequently working the Dew
Drop in New Orleans and at Thibodaux's Sugar Bowl. While working at
these venues she often crossed paths with the likes of Danny White, Earl
King, Lee Dorsey and Patsy Vidalia. Fran next recorded in 1964, when
Thibodaux band leader/producer Reynauld Richard took her to New York to
record for Port Records. Several fine singles were recorded, the best
perhaps being the smoldering "Crying In the Chapel." The single was
leased by Josie and beginning to sell quite well. Unfortunately though,
the rug got pulled out from under Fran when RCA issued a version of the
song by Elvis Presley.
(Presley actually apologized to Fran when they crossed paths in Las
Vegas.) There was one more single on Roulette in 1967, "So Close," but
it failed to cause much of a stir. By the late 1960s, Fran was on the
road with the Joe Tex Revue where she served as a warmup act and played
keyboards with the band.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Fran had settled in settled in Miami
where she worked as a single in several night clubs and resorts.
However, by the end of the decade Fran had relocated to Houston in order
to be closer to her family. Work was scarce though in the Lone Star
State and she could only secure infrequent work. Her luck changed though
when she reconnected with guitarist Clarence Holliman they'd met 25
years earlier at the Dew Drop when Holliman was playing with Charles
Brown. The two became a romantic and
professional duo and they began working at some of small clubs around
Their persistence and hard work paid off when they began getting
invitations to appear at music festivals around the country and in
Europe. In 1992, Fran and Holliman cut their first album together, "Soul
Sensation," for Black Top. That was followed by "See There" in 1994. The
duo wouldn't return to the studio though until 2000 when "It's About
Time" was released on JSP. Tragically, Hollimon died suddenly that same
year, an event which devastated Fran. She's continued playing solo and
with a new band visiting Europe
twice but admits it's been a tough couple of years. On top of that, her
mother died in November 2001. At that point she decided to move back to
Lafayette to be with her older sister.
"Emotionally I really needed to do this CD," said Fran. "It helped me
release some of the pain I've been carrying around with me since
Clarence and my mother passed. I felt kind of lost and that's not a good
feeling. At first I didn't even want to play piano on the CD but my
producer Gary Edwards, and guitar player Selwyn Cooper convinced me to,
and I got more confident as I worked.
"I like to refer to music we cut as 'Do You Remember Music.' It's a lot
of old stuff I been playing for years with a few new things added in.
I've always liked 'I'm Going Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter'
and I did my version of 'Sick and Tired.' 'Cold Cold Heart' is a
country tune but I did it like Dinah Washington. 'Went Up On the
Mountain' I kind of borrowed from Patsy (Vidalia) she used to sing that
in the Dew Drop all the time. I'd have to say 'You Don't Know Me' is my
favorite because I used to do that every night with Clarence. It's my
tribute to him. "I was pleased with what we recorded. I think Selwyn's
playing sort of keeps Clarence's memory alive and the band was great.
I'm too old to have hit record now so there's no Top 40 numbers. This is
the kind of music people from my era like to hear at a night club to
have a few drinks and dance. It's real mellow blues."