John Fred - from film presented 4-14-2007 at Legends Of Louisiana
In 1956, before the term “blue eyed soul” was ever coined to describe the Righteous Brothers’ music, John Fred
formed his first band with classmates at Baton Rouge’s Catholic High. Sam Montalbano, knowing a good thing when he
saw it, booked the band at local dances as well as the band’s first recording session on September 23, 1958.
Only sixteen at the time, he found himself in Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio in New Orleans for his first session and it
must have left him awestruck to have Fats Domino’s band backing him for the session. Domino had recorded
Whole Lotta Lovin’ just before John Fred was scheduled to record, so his band stayed for Fred’s session.
Also featured in that session was band member Ike Clanton, Jimmy’s brother.
The success of Shirley, co-written by John Fred and Tommy Bryan, was enough to get John Fred an appearance on
Alan Freed’s radio show in New York City. While there he met Clyde McPhatter. He was asked by Dick Clark to
appear on American Bandstand, but Fred was a member of the Catholic High basketball team, which would go on to
win a state championship. He declined Clark’s offer in order to play in a game for the Bears. Shirley reached number 82
on Billboard’s Hot 100 and might have done better on R&B stations had black deejays not discovered that Fred was white.
Born John Fred Gourrier on May 8, 1941, he appeared to be on a path to follow in the footsteps of his father,
who played pro baseball in the Detroit Tigers’ organization. An outstanding athlete, Fred attended Southeastern Louisiana
University in Hammond, about an hour east of Baton Rouge, where he excelled in both basketball and baseball.
By 1964, the British Invasion had breached America’s shores and many U.S. artists and bands soon dropped
off the charts, displaced by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Animals, Peter and
Gordon, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, Chad and Jeremy, and even Petula Clark.
John Fred knew he had to change his approach and his sound in order to be heard over the transatlantic din.
It started with a song called Boogie Chillen, a remake of an old John Lee Hooker song,
on Stan Lewis’s Jewel Record label in Shreveport.
That was followed by a pair of singles, Up And Down and Agnes English, which
were big regional hits, reaching number one in New Orleans for eight weeks each. The two songs were preludes of
better things to come. Up And Down was recorded in Tyler, Texas, where Fred teamed up with his idol Dale
Hawkins of Susie Q fame. Even though Up And Down was released on Jewel, Stan Lewis’s predominantly
R&B label, Fred’s chances of getting black deejays to play the song was once again doomed when Lewis
took out a full page add in Billboard Magazine, revealing the singer’s white identity.
During the summer of 1967, Fred was lolling around on a beach in the Florida panhandle, aka the
“Redneck Riviera,” and thinking about his next song. The Beatles had just had a hit with Lucy in the Sky
(With Diamonds) and the song kept running through his mind. As the lyrics repeated themselves in his brain,
another song began to take shape and soon he was back in the studio recording Judy in Disguise
(with Glasses), a parody of the Beatles’ hit. The success of the song, instantly identifiable by its rapid-fire bass
guitar intro, was immediate and dramatic. By January of 1968, it was the number one song in the country,
bumping, ironically, The Beatles’ Hello, Goodbye. It remained number one for two weeks and stayed on the
charts for sixteen weeks, but it went far beyond those mere statistics. To date, the song has sold more than five
million copies, has been featured in as many as twenty movies, appeared on nearly forty hit record compilations,
and turned up on a half-dozen television commercials. It also became a number-one hit for Elton John when
he recorded the song in 1974.
The worldwide smash hit led to tours and television appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand
and on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show but the zenith of his career came in August of 1969 when he met Elvis at the
International Hotel in Las Vegas. When Fred’s buddy Wayne Cochran said, “Elvis, I’d like you to meet John Fred,”
Elvis spun around, stuck out his hand, and said, “John Fred, Boogie Chillen!”
It turned out that Elvis knew all about Fred and had heard him late one night while listening to the legendary
deejay Wolfman Jack. Fred and Elvis talked about Louisiana music for a couple of hours before Elvis’s show
and The King gave Fred front-row tickets. They met again in late 1973 at Graceland and the two played pool,
and talked. Elvis wanted to know all about Slim Harpo, the Baton Rouge blues artist who died in 1970.
The scene was repeated when Fred met the Beatles: John Lennon, too, wanted
to learn about Harpo.
Following his success with Judy in Disguise, Fred left Paula Records and signed on with the
Los-Angeles-based Uni Records, which also boasted Elton John and Neil Diamond among its stable of stars,
but Fred never repeated the success of Judy. In 1979, he turned to producing other artists and one of his first efforts
was the critically-acclaimed Irma Thomas comeback album, Safe with Me. He also wrote, performed, and produced
jingles for Greyhound Bus Lines, Decker Hot Dogs, and Ban Deodorant advertisements and wrote and recorded
the song Baseball at the Box for the Louisiana State University baseball team.
With royalties from Judy continuing to pour in, Fred was able to indulge his first love. He worked as a
volunteer baseball coach at his alma mater, Catholic High School of Baton Rouge. After a stint as vice president of
Cyril Vetter’s Record Company of the South, he returned to performing in 1983. In 1992, he teamed with
Joe Stampley and G.G. Shinn to form the Louisiana Boys.
John Fred Gourrier died in Tulane Hospital in New Orleans on April 15, 2005, following a kidney transplant.
In February 2006, at the Spanish Town Mardi Gras Ball in Baton Rouge, LA, The Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame
unofficially inducted John Fred with the premiere of an edited "In Memoriam" video presentation of John Fred in live
performance from shortly before his passing.
On April 14, 2007, John Fred became the first Inductee into The Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame, the offical induction
was at the LMHOF "Legends Of Louisiana Celebration & Inductions" in Mandeville, Louisiana.
To learn and experience more, please visit John Fred's Inductees (Photo & Memorabalia) Gallery and his
Inductees Video Gallery under "GALLERIES MUSIQUE" on this site.
*Bio courtesy of Tom Aswell - Author of "Louisiana Rocks - The True Genesis OF Rock And Roll"
Be sure to visit the John Fred website at www.johnfredandhisplayboyband.com .
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