Born Vincent Francis Guzzo, Jr., 4 August 1939, Gretna, Louisiana.
One of New Orleans's first genuine white rockers, Frankie Ford will forever be known for his 1959 hit "Sea Cruise". He was born in Gretna, a suburb of New Orleans, the adopted son of Vincent and Anna Guzzo. Bound for a career in show business, he was already taking singing and dancing lessons by the age of 5. Growing up in the New Orleans area, it was not surprising that young Frankie's biggest influences were some of the legendary names in R&B such as Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Ray Charles.
While in high school he joined an R&B group called The Syncopators, as vocalist and piano player. Frankie was introduced to Joe Caronna, Ace Records' distributor in New Orleans. Caronna became his manager and organized his first recording session for Ace in the summer of 1958. Ace's owner Johnny Vincent convinced Frankie to change his professional name from Guzzo to Ford. The session resulted in the single "Cheatin' Woman"/ "Last One To Cry" (Ace 549). The top side was an exuberant rocker with accompaniment from the top session men in New Orleans. As most of the Syncopators had day jobs and didn't want to go on the road, Joe Caronna assembled a new backing group and Frankie started touring to promote the record, but its sales were mainly confined to South Louisiana. But Frankie didn't have to wait long for a hit. Ace's biggest act in 1958 was Huey 'Piano' Smith and the Clowns, who had scored with "Rockin' Pneumonia And the Boogie Woogie Flu" and "Don't You Just Know It" and were currently (December 1958 - January 1959) in the charts with "Don't You Know Yockomo". Huey and his Clowns had cut two sides, "Sea Cruise" and "Loberta", which Johnny Vincent considered to have hit potential, but he felt they needed some improvement. Vincent called Ford to the studio to overdub his voice onto Huey Smith's backing tracks, added overdubbed fog horns and boat bells to "Sea Cruise" and changed the title "Loberta" to "Roberta". At one point it was planned that Frankie would take over as lead vocalist with the Clowns, but Joe Caronna stepped in and said, "Look, Huey's doing fine right now with 'Don't You Know Yockomo', why not release the record on Frankie?"
So was born one of the classic records of the rock n roll era. You had to sit up and take notice. "Sea Cruise" (Ace 554) peaked at # 14 in April 1959 (# 11 R&B) and resulted in six months of touring all across America. In a way, it was a pity that "Roberta" was not held back because it would have made a perfect follow-up to "Sea Cruise". Without a second big hit, Frankie's time at the top was brief. His third and fourth single for Ace, "Alimony" and "Time After Time" (a standard performed in supper-club style) stalled at # 97 and # 75 respectively. Teaming up with two other young white New Orleans hopefuls, Mac Rebennack and Jerry Byrne, Frankie cut the novelty rocker "Morgus the Magnificent" for Ace's Vin subsidiary label. Issued under the pseudonym of Morgus and the Three Ghouls, it paid homage to a local TV host. It was popular around New Orleans, but didn't make much noise elsewhere.
In January 1960, Ace released the album "Let's Take A Sea Cruise With Frankie Ford" (Ace LP 1005), with seven tracks from previous singles and five new tracks. Feeling that Johnny Vincent's royalty statements were unreliable, Ford switched to Imperial (a label with a long history in New Orleans), where his records were produced by Dave Bartholomew. Dave chose "You Talk Too Much" as Frankie's first single for the label. The release of Joe Jones's original version was delayed by a dispute between the Ric and Roulette labels, offering Imperial a chance to get their version out first. Recorded on August 3, 1960 (with exactly the same musicians - but one - who had played on the Joe Jones recording), the Frankie Ford version was already in the shops one week later. Still, it was Joe Jones who scored the big hit (# 3), while Frankie got no higher than # 87. The flip, "If You've Got Troubles", went back to the frantic style of "Cheatin' Woman" (almost an anachronism by 1960) and is one of my personal Frankie Ford favourites.
Five more Imperial singles followed, of wich only a remake of the 1955 Boyd Bennett hit "Seventeen" made any chart impact (# 72). In 1962 Frankie was drafted and, assigned to a division of the Special Services, entertained US troops in Japan, Vietnam and Korea. Returning to civilian life he found the music scene had changed radically. He cut various one-off singles for small labels, but by the early 1970s his days as a recording artist seemed to be over. He embarked on a career as a solo cabaret artist, singing pop standards to his own piano accompaniment to the eager tourists of New Orleans' Bourbon Street. Nevertheless, in 1978 he started retracing his roots by appearing in a cameo role in the film "American Hot Wax". Then he made his long overdue UK debut - and a successful one too - at the November 1981 Caister Festival, backed by Johnny and the Roccos. They teamed up again for a European tour in 1984, during which Ford recorded the LP "New Orleans Dynamo" in London (Ace CH 116). Containing ten New Orleans classics and two originals ("Fine Thang" and - especially good - "That's Right"), this is a surprisingly authentic album, with the British musicians sounding as if they were natives of the Crescent City.
In 1995 things came full circle as Ford returned to Johnny Vincent and his regenerated Ace label for the album "Hot And Lonely", with new recordings, followed by more new CD's for the Avanti and Briarmeade labels. A true ambassador of New Orleans good-time music, Frankie Ford continues to perform until this day and always gives the audience value for money.
Further reading : Jeff Hannusch, "Frankie Ford : Feel Like Jumpin'" in : I Hear You Knockin' : The Sound Of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues (Swallow Publications, 1985), page 307-316.
Official website : http://www.frankieford.com/ff-main1.htm
Discography : http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/frankieford.htm
Recommended CD's :
Acknowledgements : Jeff Hannusch, John Broven, Trevor Cajiao.
Dik, September 2011
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