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'Mr. Personality' Lloyd Price Dead At 88

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Before Little Richard, there was Lloyd Price, a pioneer of rock 'n' roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERSONALITY")

LLOYD PRICE: (Singing) 'Cause you've got - walk - talk - smile...

KELLY: Singer Lloyd Price died in New Rochelle, N.Y., last week. He was 88. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: His nickname was Mr. Personality, a tenor who owned his own music, was his own agent and manager and more at a time when such independence was extremely rare, especially for a young Black man. When he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Price talked about growing up in Kenner, La., one of 11 children. As a teen, he listened to a Black radio deejay named Okey Dokey Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRICE: He would come on - Lawdy Miss Clawdy, eat your mother's homemade pie.

DEL BARCO: Price said he was noodling around with that catch phrase on the piano at his mother's sandwich shop when a New Orleans big band leader stopped by.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRICE: He said, you know what? There's a record producer - a guy owns a record company - from California coming in to New Orleans. They're looking for young talent to record.

DEL BARCO: So in 1952, when he was 17, Price recorded his song for $50. The record company added Fats Domino on boogie-woogie piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAWDY MISS CLAWDY")

PRICE: (Singing) Well now lawdy, lawdy, lawdy, Miss Clawdy. Girl, you sure look good to me. Well, please don't excite me baby. No, it can't be me.

DEL BARCO: "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" was a hit on the R&B charts in 1952 and was performed by Little Richard, Elvis Presley and others. The song attracted Black and white audiences. Price told CUNY TV host Michael Stoller in 2012 that crossover didn't sit so well in the Jim Crow South.

(SOUNDBITE OF CUNY TV BROADCAST)

PRICE: The draft board called me in and said that the chairman of the Armed Service (ph) Committee said I had to go in the army. I had to go in the military. And it was because of my music. I was integrating the South. So they took me on in the army and thought that that'd knocked me off, I guess. But I managed to survive that.

DEL BARCO: When he returned from Korea, Price began recording again, including the hit song "Stagger Lee" about a barroom shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAGGER LEE")

PRICE: (Singing) Stagger Lee shot Billy. Oh, he shot that poor boy so bad till the bullet came through Billy, and it broke the bar tender's glass. Look out, snake (ph). Come on.

DEL BARCO: In the 1960s, Price started his own music labels and owned a New York nightclub. And later, he co-promoted prizefights for Muhammad Ali.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAWDY MISS CLAWDY")

PRICE: (Singing) Well now lawdy, lawdy, lawdy Miss Clawdy... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.