There is a video of John Boutté, one of the great voices of contemporary New Orleans music doing a terrific rendition of “Withcraft,” a song originally recorded by New Orleans’ greatest vocal group, “The Spiders.” Lead vocalist of The Spiders was one Chuck Carbo, who after the dissolution of The Spiders took on a solo career. Carbo was regarded as one of the best voices in New Orleans along with Aaron Neville and the late Johnny Adams. Probably outside of the New Orleans area, many became familiar with Chuck Carbo when Rounder, under the auspices of Scott Billington, did their impressive series of New Orleans recordings in the 1990s. Alas, Rounder has seem to have abandoned blues and most New Orleans music these days (Irma Thomas being a notable exception), so looking back at some of these recordings reminds us of this fertile time for the label and this important talent. My review of Chuck Carbo’s Drawer’s Trouble, the first of two albums he recorded for Rounder, originally appeared in the September 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 184).
New Orleans was never a city known for vocal groups. The best known of its groups during the heyday of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues was The Spiders, whose Imperial recordings often broke the stereotype of the doo-wop groups in part because of Dave Bartholomew’s rocking studio bands. The Spiders were an outgrowth of a gospel group, The Delta Southernaires, and while having certain success, the group dissolved in the late fifties with Chuck Carbo taking on a solo career.
While Carbo has recorded for a variety of labels over the years with some local hits, his name is less familiar to those outside of the Big Easy than his contemporaries like Johnny Adams, Ernie K-Doe and Aaron Neville. The release of his new Rounder album, Drawers Trouble, will remedy this. Backed by a tight New Orleans band that includes pianist Edward Frank with Dr. John guesting on piano, organ and guitar, it is a set of mostly original songs, many by Carbo, and a few by Dr. John and the late Doc Pomus.
The material ranges from some strong Crescent City flavored blues to some tough R&B that recalls the glory days of Instant and Minit records. There is a solid reading of Jeannie and Jimmie Cheatham’s Meet Me With Your Black Dress On, (wrongly credited to Doc Cheatham), the classic R&B sound of Average Kind of Guy, and Hurt Coming On, as well as Dr. John’s and Doc Pomus’ recitation of the sleazier side of the Big Apple, New York City Blues. Carbo is a wonderful singer with a rich baritone. He possesses a marvelous sense of time and a knack for a phrase, and the backing he gets is first rate. This is likely to be on this listener’s top albums of the year.
Carbo had one more Rounder album, The Barber Blues, and after recording for Rounder, Carbo did one last album with Edward Frank’s New Orleans R&B Band, Life’s Ups & Downs on 504 Records. The latter is a nice record with a band that perhaps was a bit looser than on the Rounder sessions. It has nice versions of The Spiders classics “Witchcraft” and “You’re The One;” the classic Smiley Lewis recording “Blue Monday;” Carbo's take on “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On;” the torch song associated with Frankie Lane, “That’s My Desire;” and his contemporary Mardi Gras tune, “Second Line on Monday.” The late pianist Edward Frank, was one of the regulars of the the New Orleans scene in the fifties, and revered as a pianist and composer. This did not change even when a stroke made him a one-handed pianist. For a period he lived in Houston and the late saxophonist Don Wilkerson recorded some of his compositions.
Carbo's Rounder recordings are available today on cd-r reissues today, and the music as downloads. The 504 album is available from the Louisiana Music Factory, www.louisianamusicfactory.com. I likely received a review copy of Drawers Trouble from Rounder in 1993, and I purchased the 504 album in 2009.