I noted yesterday that Marty played for years with singer Lotsa Poppa. Mostly at Blind Willie’s but also at such clubs as the venerated Royal Peacock, and the Libra Ballroom, on the same bill as people lilke Bobby “Blue” Bland. I used to have the greatest rainbow-colored posters of those dates but one day had taken them down off the wall and a cat of ours sprayed them. Ah, you don’t know how it pained me to lose all those posters.
Lotsa Poppa has been quite ill the past couple of years. But he was a great singer and in 2001 the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution honoring him.
A couple of pics of Lotsa Poppa are here and a link to an article Creative Loafing did on him a few years ago.
The below resolution gives the impression that the name of the Down to Earth Blues Band backing Poppa was dissolved completely when he moved back to Atlanta from Philadelphia but, in fact, that name was retained for years with a group of musicians he’d pulled together here, which included Marty. There were occasional shifts in who was playing as most everyone at some time or another was on the road with other bands, sometimes at length, and sometimes players just move on.
The early Atlanta Down to Earth Blues Band was Van Miller on bass, T. K. Lively on drums (who left soon thereafter to go back to Wet Willie and was replaced with Bobby Pridgen), Felix Reyes on guitar and Marty Kearns (Martin Kearns) on keys. That shifted over the years to Mike Lorenz (Creative Loafing obit link), Rick Hinkle and Tommy Knight playing guitar at different times, and Bill Stewart and Tom Staley on drums. Roger Gregory played bass for a while. And Billy Burke too on bass. There were others but those were the longest term members I believe, talking with Marty about it. The later band was Atlanta Heat (also concurrent for a time, but I don’t know for how long), which had a different line-up and had his son, Greg, playing guitar–also a great bass player but he didn’t play bass with the band. The Down to Earth Blues Band was the one that played Blind Willie’s backing Poppa.
Marty played with Lotsa Poppa off and on from about 1989 to about 1998. After Mike died in July of 2001, Poppa asked him to come back and help hold the band together until they could regroup, and so he played another three months in 2001.
I’ve grabbed a couple of photos of the band off the Lotsa Poppa website. The band there is misidentified as The Shadows because Roger Gregory played in The Shadows, but Roger Gregory is nowhere in site in the below pic.
Photo frrom Lotsa Poppa’s website maintained by J.T. Blues.
The photo is of Lotsa Poppa at Blind Willie’s and is from the middle years (the photos at the site aren’t very good and wouldn’t I like to get a decent one and do a painting of him). Marty Kearns (Martin Kearns) is on keys. Tom Staley on drums. Mike Lorenz is on guitar (during his Telecaster period, Marty says, after his Jazz Master was stolen and before he found it at a pawn shop and got it back) and Billy Burke on bass.
Tom Staley was with NRBQ from 1968 to 1974, and if you don’t know NRBQ then I’ve got not much use for you. One of my favorite records of all time is NRBQ’s collaboration with Carl Perkins, Boppin the Blues, I listened to it nearly nonstop on a couple of road trips, so needless to say I was more than a little excited when Marty eventually played with Tom for a year. Marty’s fuzzy on what’s going on in the picture as he and Tom were both in the Excello’s and Down to Earth Blues Band at the same time, but it’s probably the Down to Earth Blues Band playing as Billy is on bass and Roger Dukes was on bass in the Excello’s. Lorenz was on guitar in both bands.
Gets confusing, doesn’t it? Pretty incestuous here in Atlanta.
Anyway it does my heart some kind of good to be able to mention NRBQ, Carl Perkins and Martin Kearns and me in the same paragraph (since I’m attached by way of being attached to Martin who played with Tom who played with NRBQ and Carl Perkins). And to show just how fucked the public is, here’s a link to the no-longer-existent album at Amazon with only two fuckin’ reviews and the first one is by an idiot who’s talking about the panning being different from the stage set-up. This is a vital piece of rockabilly history! Why are there are only two fuckin’ reviews, and one of them is a total geek review?
Poppa certainly did know how to work a crowd, and when he wanted to Poppa could sing the best R&B of anyone, delivering an Otis Redding tune second only to Otis. The audience wanted and went for side accoutrements which were only tossed in because otherwise they’d no idea they were listening to music, and I guess that’s why there’s showmanship. Poppa could give a profound performance that would fall flat if they didn’t have the bells and whistles as a Pavlovian prod. I remember nights sitting in the audience flabbergasted and disheartened by a crowd shunning a soulful rendition for the following flash. Which can be bittering.
Poppa is a sweet, gentle guy. Marty encourages me to note “once you got to know him, which could take a while” because he does have a bit of a reputation. Which I didn’t know anything about because Poppa was never anything but wonderful with me and liked to chat it up a little on the phone when he’d call for Marty. He was warm and welcoming whenever I showed up and after H.o.p. was born he never failed to ask about him and always sounded like he cared.
Poppa had been beat up by a nasty, hard business.
I would like to say something about a grueling schedule that most people don’t know about. They walk into a club and sit and I don’t know what they think the performers do for a living because it ain’t off a single club gig that they’re feeding themselves and family. Poppa, like everyone else, was traveling all the time, week and weekends. He had a 6 day a week schedule, sometimes playing a couple of gigs a day, and would get up to the stage and do two and two-and-a-half hour sets if he had a good, responsive audience. Poppa always had at least two bands and would use pick-up bands on the traveling gigs. So a person goes in and sits down and they look at the band and they think this is what they do, where they make their living, when it’s enough living for a little bread-and-butter and for the rest of the pieces of your bread-and-butter you’re out playing with other bands here, there and everywhere. Poppa would often be playing two clubs on the same night where he’d finish up a set and drive to the other club, do a set and drive back. Rugged.
I say he “got up to the stage” as at Blind Willie’s he was worried about the steps to the stage and wouldn’t climb them. You’ll notice in the photo he’s standing in front of the stage. Plus he was once a pro football player and that had busted up his knees. When he couldn’t play ball any longer he went into singing.
“He had the best scream of anyone I’ve ever heard, outside of James Brown,” Marty says.
With whom Marty had the pleasure of playing in Augusta. James Brown. In the early 80’s, he used to come into the club where Marty was playing and sit in two or three nights a week. The club was owned by the guy who gave James his first job singing, as a matter of fact. I never was fortunate to be there when James was. The band was all that was left of the only white band that had ever toured with James Brown. He did sing his own material but he didn’t want to do his own material. Wanted to do Willie Nelson and Lynard Skynard. He wanted to do a southern rock record but the label wasn’t buying that idea.
Poppa was mentioned in the book Sweet Soul Music. A funny/not-so-funny story about his losing all his money in a poker game to Sam Cooke? Poppa won the money the night before and Sam told him to send the money home. But Poppa didn’t and Sam won it back the following night. Poppa would go to the dog track in Birmingham and had it timed so he’d walk into the club right when he was to be called up to the stage. Because the band would do a set first. And sometimes it was nerve-wracking.
The Creative Loafing article states Poppa did some early recordings but I don’t see anything else about them on the internet. Marty says he did some CDs of live recordings fromBlind Willie’s, but all those were when Marty was out on the road. I don’t see anything on the internet. Just sold it off the stage. Anyway, we need to get a few recordings so H.o.p. will have them so he can hear the Lotsa Poppa part of what his dad was doing before he was born. There are tapes that exist of Marty playing with him.
Frank Edwards, who died in 2002 at the age of 93, would come in every Monday night to hear Lotsa Poppa and the band. He was an old blues one man band guy. Played guitar, drums, high-hat and harmonica. He would have a cup of coffee with whipped cream and a cherry and always sat at the end of the bar closest to the stage. It was his seat.
What luck. Fortunately at the Lotsa Poppa website is also a photo showing Frank Edwards. Didn’t know that when I was writing my initial draft of this. Then went deeper into the website to look at the slide show.
Photo frrom Lotsa Poppa’s website maintained by J.T. Blues.
Again it’s Lotsa Poppa at Blind Willie’s. Marty on keys at left, Tom Staley, Billy Burke on bass and Mike Lorenz on guitar. And there is Frank Edwards seated on the far right with the hat on, at the end of the bar.
And this is what you saw from the stage at Blind Willie’s.
Photo frrom Lotsa Poppa’s website maintained by J.T. Blues.
Marty says the above set-up would have been a Shadow’s set up as it’s Bob Page’s keyboard in the corner.
It was Blind Willie’s that I had in my mind for the latter chapters of UNENDING WONDERS OF S UBATOMIC WORLD. No, not it literally, a fiction, but it was Blind Willie’s I was picturing, picked up and transplanted to Utah.
Marty says it’s odd to him that he’ll never again hear Lotsa Poppa say, “Slow blues. Lotsa guitar. Marty play that Leslie.”
Georgia General Assembly
02 LC 18 1757
Senate Resolution 824
By: Senator James of the 35th
Commending Julius “Lotsa Poppa” High, Jr.; and for other purposes.
WHEREAS, Julius “Lotsa Poppa” High, Jr., was born to Reverend and Mrs. Julius “Lotsa Poppa” High, Sr., in Atlanta, Georgia, and attended David T. Howard High School; and
WHEREAS, his early musical influences included such renowned artists as Bobby “Blue” Bland and Sam Cook as well as his own love of gospel music and he began his distinguished musical career in 1960 as the lead singer for The Royals; and
WHEREAS, he formed his own professional singing group called Lee Moses and The Show Stoppers which performed every weekend at the Royal Peacock known as the “Apollo Theater” of the South and his group played with musical greats that included Sam Cook, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Arthur Prysock, and Brook Benton; and
WHEREAS, he has also performed with legendary blues artists such as Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Johnny Taylor and also performed with popular performers including Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Little Willie John, and Ruth Bound; and
WHEREAS, he relocated to Philadelphia where he performed at the Uptown and Apollo Theaters and he also formed a new group called the Down to Earth Blues Band in Boston which toured Canada, upstate New York, and Detroit and after 11 years´ performing and touring in and around Boston he returned to Atlanta, Georgia; and
WHEREAS, he played at the Lithonia Country Club with blues greats such as Sonny Boy Williams, Howling Wolf, Elmo James, Gatemouth Brown, Sugar Pie Disanto, and Faye Adams and enjoyed an extended engagement at one of Atlanta´s premier nightclubs, Blind Willie´s and currently is performing with the quartet called Atlanta´s Heat Blues Review; and
WHEREAS, it is abundantly fitting and proper that the extraordinary career of this stellar musician be recognized appropriately.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE that the members of this body commend Julius “Lotsa Poppa” High, Jr., for his many decades of outstanding contributions to the world of music and extend to him their best wishes for continued success in the future.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Secretary of the Senate is authorized and directed to transmit an appropriate copy of this resolution to Julius “Lotsa Poppa” High, Jr.