May 8, 2021
Lloyd Price, an R&B singer from New Orleans whose scorching 1950s recordings “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and “Stagger Lee” became crossover hits seminal to the development of rock music, and whose later endeavors included owning record labels and promoting boxing matches, died May 3 at a care facility in New Rochelle, N.Y. He was 88.
The death was confirmed by his manager, Tom Trapani. He had complications from diabetes.
Mr. Price gravitated to music in childhood, as he sought an escape from backbreaking work carting blocks of ice. He took up piano and later fronted a band in high school. At 19, he had an audition with Fats Domino’s arranger and music producer, Dave Bartholomew, who was floored by Mr. Price’s charisma — he was later dubbed “Mr. Personality” — and the upbeat, yet plaintive, blues number he brought into the studio.
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” whose title came from an advertising catchphrase of a local DJ, Okey Dokey Smith, was released as a single in 1952. The song featured the distinctive piano trills and triplet rhythm of Domino on backup as Mr. Price wailed, “Lawdy, Lawdy, Lawdy, Miss Clawdy. Girl, you sure look good to me.” It topped the R&B charts for seven weeks, attracted a huge White audience (Mr. Price was Black) and over decades became a standard covered by dozens of performers, including Elvis Presley, Little Richard and — in their 1970 concert film “Let It Be” — the Beatles.
In 1954, at the peak of his success with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” Mr. Price saw his career interrupted by the draft. His music, he often said, was a threat to segregated society because Black and White kids alike were dancing to it.
“Truly, that’s one of the reasons why I got drafted in the service,” he told the New York Times decades later. “It was a revolution underground that nobody could stop. The lady at the draft board said Washington wanted me in the Army. Their children were dancing to ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy.’ ”
He returned to civilian life nearly two years later to find himself supplanted in popularity by Little Richard, the pompadoured singer whose career Mr. Price had helped boost after spotting him in a club.
At the beginning of his career, Mr. Price had the foresight to retain ownership of the copyrights and future royalties of his music. In 1956, he bought out his old record contract and went into business for himself, moving to Washington and launching the independent KRC record label with his band director, Bill Boskent. He signed with ABC-Paramount in 1958.
He bobbed along in the R&B and pop charts of the late 1950s and early 1960s with songs such as “I’m Gonna Get Married,” “Lady Luck,” “Have You Ever Had the Blues” and “Where Were You On Our Wedding Day?” — brassy hits that paired his impassioned delivery with sunny big band and choral arrangements. “Personality” topped the R&B charts for weeks and was a No. 2 pop hit.
His most notable success was “Stagger Lee” (1958), a punchy shuffle adapted from a Black folk song that flew to No. 1 on the R&B charts and reached No. 1 on Billboard’s pop chart in February 1959. (The original ballad, alternately called “Stag-O-Lee” and “Stack-O-Lee,” had been recorded innumerable times since the 1920s. It recounted the 1895 shooting of St. Louis gambler Billy Lyons by a pimp, Lee “Stack Lee” Shelton, in a fight over a Stetson hat and a dice game.)
In Mr. Price’s version, Stagger Lee “shot that poor boy so bad till the bullet came through Billy and it broke the bartender’s glass.”
‘Mr. Personality’ Lloyd Price Dead at 88
May 10, 20214
Singer Lloyd Price, best known for the hits “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and “Stagger Lee,” died in New Rochelle, N.Y., last week at the age of 88.