JOE LUTCHER (By Dave Penny)
Born Joseph Woodman Lutcher, 23 December 1919, Lake Charles, Louisiana. Died 29 October 2006, Whittier, California
For the past 40-odd years Joe Lutcher has remained, if anything, little more than a foot-note in the history of popular music, mainly because he was the catalyst that urged Little Richard to give up rock 'n' roll at the height of his popularity in 1957. Any other achievements have been forgotten, but this is largely the fault of the man himself who has consistently refused to be interviewed about his own glory days. Nevertheless, in the late 1940s Lutcher had fronted a remarkable and popular jump band that enjoyed three national top twenty chart hits and made many other fine recordings for Capitol, Specialty and Modern.
He was born Joseph Woodman Lutcher on 23rd December 1919, one of ten surviving children (out of 15), to Susie and Isaac Lutcher of Lake Charles, Louisiana; a highly musical family that was large enough to boast its own orchestra featuring Father on bass, sister Nellie on piano, brother Isaac Jr. on banjo and little Joe on saxophone. Nellie moved out to California in the mid 1930s and by 1941, Joe followed her out there. He was drafted into the US Navy in 1942, leaving in 1945 to return to Los Angeles and resume his musical aspirations. Offered a job at the prestigious Café Society, Lutcher formed a band which he dubbed "The Society Cats" and it was here in early 1947 that he was discovered by Art Rupe of Specialty Records. Rupe signed Lutcher to his first recording contract, and their venture was rewarded with a Billboard R&B hit in Rockin' Boogie (#14 Sep 1948), however Joe was unhappy with Rupe's demands for more slow blues and he left the label after that first session and two issues. Lutcher's friend, drummer Jesse Price, is said to have introduced him to Capitol's A&R man Dave Dexter during the summer of 1947, but as sister Nellie had also been recording for Capitol for several months by that time, it is a fair assumption that she probably had a hand in Joe's next recording contract with Capitol Records. Nellie, of course, went on to great fame and fortune with Capitol while, despite the early success of his Shuffle Boogie (#10 Mar 1948), Joe left the label during the 1948 recording ban, to sign up with Modern Records once normal recording service was resumed in 1949. The Lutcher band was a tight-knit unit that stayed together for years with very few changes, boasting Karl George on trumpet, Bill Ellis and Leon Beck on saxes, Harold Morrow on piano and drummer Dick "Booker" Hart. Another of the unit's treasures was bass-player Bill Cooper who wrote and sang hip novelties such as Hit The Block and Watch It, Gate! while black actor Cliff Holland was occasionally drafted in to sing romantic tunes such as Walk Into My Heart and I Knew You When. At Modern, Lutcher had his final national hit record with the influential Mardi Gras (#13 Sep 1949) - a number that would be reshaped and reinvented by Professor Longhair, whose cover quickly usurped Lutcher's original as the definitive version. After Modern, Joe returned home to Lake Charles for a short period and recorded a one-off release for Peacock Records in Houston on his way back to L.A. in 1950. He also recorded singles for US London (including a recut of Mardi Gras) and the tiny Masters Music label and the trade papers reported that he had signed to Derby Records in April 1951, but no releases followed for the New York based independent. Disillusioned by his personal and professional fortunes, his last hit four years behind him, Lutcher left the secular world of show business in 1953 to discover God and joined the Seventh Day Adventist Church, where he would later encounter, and share bible studies with Little Richard. Since the late 1950s, Lutcher has owned a gospel record shop and a record label, called Jordan Records, on which he issued an LP and sporadic singles by himself and by The Gospelaires and The Jordan Gospel Singers.
Recommended listening: Classics 5075 "Joe Lutcher 1947" (2003) - The complete Specialty and Capitol recordings Ace CDCHD 753 "Jumpin' At The Mardi Gras" (2000) - The complete Modern recordings
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