Lloyd Price, pioneer of rock in the early Fifties who had a UK hit with Personality – obituary

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Lloyd Price at the 26th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, New York, March 2011 - Gregory Pace/BEI/Shutterstock
Lloyd Price at the 26th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, New York, March 2011 - Gregory Pace/BEI/Shutterstock

Lloyd Price, who has died aged 88, was a blues singer who came to be regarded as a pioneer of rock’n’roll.

When Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Price’s debut single, was released in 1952 it topped the US R&B charts and laid a foundation with its pumping piano and swaggering blues vocal style for what would soon be known as rock music.

Lawdy Miss Clawdy: topped the R&B charts
Lawdy Miss Clawdy: topped the R&B charts

At the time, the 19-year-old Price had no idea of future developments but, after his career was interrupted by compulsory military service in 1954, he would return in 1956 and quickly remodel his sound to achieve huge popular appeal.

Lloyd Price was born in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans, on March 9 1933, the eighth of 11 children of Louis Price, a labourer, and his wife Beatrice, who ran a fried fish stall.

Price grew up singing gospel in church and listening to blues. He wrote his first songs at school and formed a band, the Blue Boys, with his brother Leo on drums, to play in local bars.

After leaving school aged 16, he worked in construction and delivered blocks of ice to local businesses but was determined to escape work he found “back breaking”. In 1952 Art Rupe, owner of Specialty Records, a Californian independent, arrived in New Orleans. With Dave Bartholomew – the city’s leading producer and talent scout – he auditioned Price, who sang his own song Lawdy Miss Clawdy.

Rupe recognised the youth’s potential and, with Bartholomew producing and Fats Domino guesting on piano, recorded the song. Released a month later it topped the US R&B charts for seven weeks.

Drafted into the US army at the start of 1954, Price spent two years entertaining troops in Korea and Japan. By the time he was discharged in 1956 rock’n’roll was taking the nation by storm and Price launched his own KRC label. When his blues ballad Just Because began attracting radio play, he signed with ABC-Paramount so ensuring major label support.

ABC teamed Price with pop producer Don Costa and the resulting sound was a slick, infectious pop-R&B hybrid. In 1958 Price topped the US R&B and Pop charts with Stagger Lee, an adaption of a folk song about a murderous poker game. It reached No 7 in the British charts in February 1959 and, in June he would reach No 9 in Britain with Personality (also topping the charts in the US).

Personality reached No 9 in the UK
Personality reached No 9 in the UK

Price faded from the charts after 1960 but he continued to record and often sang on US television shows. In 1969 his business partner Harold Logan was murdered, leading Price to shift to Lagos, Nigeria. Here he pursued various business ventures including promoting Muhammad Ali’s matches against George Foreman (in Kinshasa) and Joe Frazier (in Manila,) with the boxing promoter Don King.

Returning to live in the US in 1983, Price invested in construction and food businesses, rarely performing until a successful European tour with Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard in 1993 convinced him to join the Oldies circuit.

Not that Price needed to work – Elvis Presley, Little Richard and the Beatles all had recorded Lawdy Miss Clawdy while Stagger Lee and Personality feature regularly on film and television soundtracks.

Price credited his mother’s business acumen with ensuring he owned his music. In 1995 New Orleans named the street Price was born on Lloyd Price Avenue and in 1998 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Price published his autobiography Lawdy Miss Clawdy: The True King of the 50s in 2009, while Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical is set to debut in the US in 2022.

He is survived by his second wife, Jacqueline Battle, and five children.

Lloyd Price, born March 9 1933, died May 3 2021

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