As often happens while writing this column, one discovery leads to the next, and last month’s exploration of the recording scene in mid-century New Orleans led me to uncover the name of another unsung hero: Peter “Chuck” Badie.
Badie was born in New Orleans in 1925, and no doubt caught the music bug from his father who played saxophone with several local bands. After a stint in the Navy, Badie used the G.I. Bill to pay his way through the Grunewald School of Music, graduating in 1949. He joined the Buccaneers, a band that played joints around New Orleans, including the celebrated Dew Drop Inn, where he had the chance to meet singer Roy Brown. Brown had scored major R&B hits with “Good Rockin’ Tonight” in 1948 and “Rockin’ at Midnite” in ’49, and in 1951 he was looking to put together a new band. Badie got hired and toured with Brown for about a year, recording the sides “Rock a Bye Baby” and “Answer to Big Town” in Cincinnati. On “Rock a Bye,” Badie can be heard swinging his way through the blues progression with a stout and punchy acoustic bass tone, though on “Answer” he seems barely present in the mix. In 1952, Badie found himself back in the Crescent City, playing with Paul Gayten’s group, and applying his skills to a new instrument: the Fender Precision Bass. A fill-in gig with bandleader Dave Bartholomew, opening up for famed jazz artist Lionel Hampton, led to a stint with Hamp from 1953–56. An interesting footnote: Hampton was one of the earliest supporters of the electric bass; in fact, he bought a P-Bass in 1951 for his band and made his bassists play the newfangled thing on the road. Badie’s predecessor Monk Montgomery (brother of jazz guitar legend Wes) is credited as being perhaps the first ever to record with the Fender bass, and certainly the first to do so in jazz. Badie toured Europe extensively with Hamp and recorded several sides, including Apollo Hall Concert 1954 and Live in Vienna. When his father became ill in 1956, Badie came home again and worked locally, including gigs with Ellis Marsalis’ American Jazz Quintet.
In 1960, Badie was playing at the Dew Drop Inn again when he was approached by legendary producer/arranger/pianist/artist Allen Toussaint to do session work for Minit and Instant Records, two labels that produced many of the classic New Orleans R&B hits. It should be noted that despite his ability on electric bass, Badie recorded most of his tracks on upright bass. Several of these tunes fall into a category I refer to as “New Orleans Twist grooves,” a beat somewhat similar to “The Twist” (examined in April ’16), as performed by Hank Ballard and Chubby Checker. Where the latter Twist featured steady quarter-note bass lines, the New Orleans version finds the bass playing more of a two-beat feel with funky embellishments, leaving space in the groove for the snare drum. A classic example of this is Barbara George’s 1961 hit “I Know You Don’t Love Me No More,” recorded for AFO (All For One), the city’s first all-blackowned record label—a collective in which Badie was a partner. Example 1 is similar to Badie’s line on the intro, which establishes the basic groove for the track, and features the ubiquitous I–IV–I–V cadence in bars 3 and 4, played with a syncopated rhythm that has become a signature of the genre.
Another classic track Badie anchored is a Carnival favorite, 1960’s “Ooo Poo Pa Doo” by Jessie Hill. This 12-bar N.O. Twist in E creates a nonstop party whenever it gets played, and I have personally performed this song for over 30 minutes while backing the late, great New Orleans singing star Johnny Adams. While Badie alters his line throughout the track, Ex. 2 is a good representation of his sparser approach. In 1962, Badie played on Benny Spellman’s “Lipstick Traces,” a song that peaked at #28 on Billboard’s R&B charts, but has become one of the genre’s defining tunes. Example 3 shows how Badie locks in with Toussaint’s left hand to play a parade-style rhythm that hits three strong downbeats followed by a funky syncopation that propels the groove forward.
While best known for Otis Redding’s raved-up version, the song “Land of 1,000 Dances” was written and recorded first by Chris Kenner, a New Orleans longshoreman who had several influential hits in the early ’60s. Kenner’s version features a slow, funky, tango-like beat under a one-chord vamp that finds Badie playing roots and 5ths to establish the groove, then adding a variety of rhythms to end the two-bar phrase. Listening with modern ears, it’s easy to miss the innovativeness of this groove, but in ’62 this stuff was as fresh as it gets. Example 4 shows a few variations that Badie employed through the track.
In 1961, Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother in Law” hit #1 on both the Billboard Top 100 and R&B charts, and this Toussaint composition and production got the whole world grooving to the New Orleans beat, with Chuck Badie supplying the thump. Example 5 shows how he funks up the basic pulse with syncopated rhythms. By the way, that’s Benny Spellman singing the lowpitched “mother-in-law” that became the vocal hook for the tune, and Jessie Hill is heard answering the phrase in a higher register.
Badie’s catalog of classic New Orleans tracks also includes Irma Thomas’ “It’s Raining” and Chris Kenner’s “Something You Got,” but in 1963, Badie moved his family to Los Angeles in hope of greater financial opportunities. While the move did not prove permanent, he managed to connect with R&B/soul star Sam Cooke for a ten-month stint that found the bassist playing on and contributing the intro to Cooke’s masterpiece civil rights anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” With Cooke’s untimely death, Badie moved home and continued playing. Now 91 years old, Badie is retired and still living in New Orleans.
One of the things I love most about writing this column is discovering who played on songs that have been a part of my own musical development. As a long-time fan, student, and performer of classic R&B, it’s exciting to learn about the heroes behind the scenes, and it’s an honor to share their stories. Although I knew his work intimately, Peter “Chuck” Badie was one of those players whose name was a mystery—until I started digging for R&B Gold.
Ed Friedland is currently touring with Grammy Award winners the Mavericks, and living outside of Nashville, Tennessee.