Lee Bates - International Playboy
Funky Funky Nawlins
Ahhh yes…Friday is upon us once again, and so I bring you something juicy for the weekend. I’ve gone on in this space before about my ‘Instant funk’ rule, i.e., records in the Instant records discography with catalog numbers over 3300 are almost guaranteed to be funky (and conversely, records under 3300 are more than likely not). This rule of thumb has served me well over the years (though there is the rare exception...). Higher-numbered Instant 45s are hard to come by, and when I track one down, unless it’s prohibitively priced I like to grab it (whether I’ve heard it or not). It doesn’t help that Instant’s funk sides are woefully under-comped. With powerful stuff like Larry Darnell, some of the later Huey Smith sides, Skip Easterling and Lee Bates, the time is long since passed for a comprehensive compilation. Said formula – as it relates to today’s selection – had the assistance of previous Lee Bates sides already residing in my NOLA crates. Obie Leroy Bates was born in New Orleans in 1941. By the early 60’s the aspiring singer was doing time as Chris Kenner’s valet. He recorded his first 45 ‘Bad Bad Understanding’ for the White Cliffs label in 1967. After White Cliffs went out of business, Kenner brought him to Instant, where he would re-record the tune for his debut 45. Bates vocal style was seriously influenced by the (by then) late Otis Redding, and he tips his hat to Redding in the arrangement to ‘Bad Bad Understanding’ by lifting the horn line from Redding’s ‘Something is Worrying Me’ (the single was produced by Huey Smith). The flip side of that 45, ‘Simon Says’ is a funky dance craze number. Bates would go on to record a total of eight 45s for Instant, one of which – not surprisingly – was a cover of ‘Sitting On The Dock of the Bay’. Its Bates second 45 for Instant that brings us here today. I’ve been digging for NOLA 45s for a long time, and it’s unusual that I grab one and don’t recognize any of the names on the label. This is one of those times…Aside from Bates, the songwriters (Dozeir, Sigler, Broonier & Phillips - maybe Phil Phillips???) and the producer (the almost certainly pseudonymous ‘Alias Ducey’ ) were unknown to me. I’ve since found out that Ducey/Ducie eventually recorded a 45 for Instant with a group celled the New Orleans Poets, ‘Singing La Dee Dah’ (Instant 3326). As to who he actually is, I have no idea and would welcome any info readers might have. ‘International Playboy’ is a rough slice of funk with some great wah-wah guitar, hard drums and a wild vocal by Bates. The lyrics are a hilarious world tour of Bates’ international conquests, including the declaration:
My name is known in old Hong Kong I’m just as famous as Egg Foo Yung!
The flip side is a pretty straight-ahead cover of Melanie's big hit 'Look What They've Done To My Song'.
As far as Bates other 45s go, the only other one I’ve heard is ‘Mean Mistreater’, and it’s excellent. According to Jeff Hannusch in ‘The Soul of New Orleans’ many of Bates Instant 45s were local hits (Hannusch also mentions that Bates’ White Cliffs era band included none other than George Porter and Zigaboo Modeliste).Bates went on to record a number of 45s for local labels (including one for the later incarnation of Sansu records). He continued to perform locally, and recorded at least two LPs in the 90’s, one of which, ‘Stop Leanin’ On The Wall’ was composed almost entirely of Otis Redding tunes.