Saturday, January 7

Lou Rawls: Ever kicking it on Tobacco Road

I knew this day would come -- the day when I'd shed tears because an entertainer had died. It never occured to me that it would be Lou, though. Not Luther, not Rick, but Lou. The death of the incomparable Mr. Lou Rawls wrenches my heart.

Why Lou? Because his phenomenal Tobacco Road was the first jazz song I heard as a child, and it turned me out, practically jacked me by the collar and stopped me in my little tracks. Touched my young soul. I'll never forget that day, hearing that fine as wine baritone voice sort of "preach" atop that sparse, creeping bass line. All wafting ominously from a tinny radio in my friend's mother's pitch black bedroom. I tiptoed past that dark room slowly: I'd never heard music as halting as that and was compelled to consume as much as I could. I suppose that was the moment I was first exposed to something in life called "coolness." Loved it!

Years later, I heard another Lou Rawls hit: Your Good Thing's About to Come to an End. Here again, I was knocked out by that smooth, accessible voice and that earthy passion delivering such a potent message to an unappreciative lover. Not that I was old enough to actually have a "lover." But whenever I got one, thanks to cool Lou, I'd know better than to be a pathetic beggar for unrequited love.

Many many years later, I actually met Mr. Rawls in Los Angeles. I was handling PR for a corporation that supported his "Lou Rawls Parade of Stars," a longstanding telethon benefitting the UNCF. The man felt like a close family friend. Like one of the fun-spirited gentlemen who played Bid Whist with my folks every weekend. Lou's personality was as warm and familiar as butter melting on piping hot toast. I didn't sense one iota of that disdainful "Baby, I'm a star" mentality. I had immense respect for him, for his commitment to helping make all of those scholarships happen for students. You can't name one other celebrity whose very face symbolizes anything so important in the African American community.

By then I was living in Chicago, Lou's hometown, and not very far from that once-bustling avenue in the 'hood he made famous: Tobacco Road. (Officially, it's 47th Street. But around the world, it's affectionately known to jazz and blues lovers as, well you know...) Still haunted by that smokey classic, I purchased Lou Rawls's double CD anthology a few years ago, to listen closely to Tobacco Road. It's a poignant tune about a place Lou hates and loves at once.

From an aural perspective, that cool, creeping sound still magically whisks me away to an undefinable space. But now that I'm older, I can actually identify with Lou's lyrics, his torn sentiments about the humble place that'll always be home. Deep, universal stuff.

Turns out there would be numerous other goodies by Mr. Rawls that would bring me pleasure. Among them are Scotch and Soda, The Blues Is a Woman (in a tight black dress), and St. James Infirmary. Of course, there are many radio hits to his credit, but I'm moreso loving the jewels that you'd never hear on-air today.

Well... job exceptionally done, Mr. Rawls. Tonight I just may hit a neighborhood bar near Tobacco Road and join others in The Chi who're surely celebrating your remarkable life with a little Scotch and Soda.

Clicks to Miles Davis catalog, but explore as you like


Blogger Berry said...

I was going to buy Lou Rawl's Christmas CD for my aunt right before he died and changed my mind because I figured she already had all his music. We were just talking about him on New Years. I didn't realize he was ill. He is smoooooth!

5:20 PM  
Blogger Viqi French said...


i'd heard before Xmas that Lou's estranged wife had gone on record saying he had very little time left. and that he was sort of denying it, urging fans and associates not to count him out yet. as much as i "got" that his wife was giving us a heads-up, i sure hoped that Lou's will power could work it out...

6:25 AM  
Blogger Berry said...

I hadn't heard...apparently Border's did though because they had his CD prominently displayed in the front of the store.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Viqi French said...

poor berry, lol. guess the next time you see an ancient CD by an old timer prominently displayed, you should grow suspicious... lol.

5:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lou Rawls will be sadly missed. A lot of today's entertainers could learn a lot from how to be a class act. For example, Usher, who really does very little to give back to the community.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Viqi French said...

Can't say I know much about Usher, so can't fairly weight-in on that point. But I do agree that Lou was a class act and an outstanding role model for today's entertainers. I know that Nelly, Jay-Z and Luda are making efforts to do something meaningful for today's youth. But to your point, I've heard little about many others walking similar higher ground.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous UDAMAN said...

Rawls:Class....Belafonte:An Ass


11:18 AM  
Blogger Bid Whist Shark said...

Speaking of Bid whist. Check out the Bid whist Players Blog.

1:17 AM  

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