Sunday, January 08, 2012

Whop Frazier - How Bluesy Can You Get

Word came out towards the end of 2011 that William ‘Whop’ Frazier had passed. I had known Whop for about two decades, although I cannot remember when I first saw him, but he played with about everybody playing blues and classic R&B around the Washington DC area. After working as a side man he joined a gospel group and later joined the Bad Influence Band, with whom he recorded his and their first album.

Whop then started his own band, Whop Frazier and Friends By Choice which played throughout the region over the past couple decades. It was always a solid band that would mix in a few R&B chestnuts along with classic and original blues. If Whop played with everybody, pretty much everyone played with Whop at times. Jesse Yawn often sang with Whop and tenor saxophonist Ron Holloway (formerly with Dizzy Gillespie and now touring with Warren Haynes) was a not infrequent guest in Whop’s band over the years. Drummer Earl Ivey and Washington keyboard legend Jackie Hairston were regulars in his group over the years although for specific gigs personnel could change.
Whop Frazier and Friends By Choice Summer 2008 at Wilson Plaza in Washington DC.
From left to right - Jackie Hairston, Whop Frazier, Earl Ivey and (I believe) Tom Newman.
Whop had a warm smile for everyone and it was felt when he sang. He reworked How Blue Can You Get, singing ‘bluesy’ instead of blues and made you feel so good. And he knew how to get the dance floor filled with renditions of Mustang Sally, and other classic R&B numbers like Some Kind of Wonderful or Turn Back The Hands Of Time. Guitarists Michael Tash and Bobby Thompson were among those who developed their chops playing with Whop while Tom Newman or Harold Flood was his featured guitarist over the past few years.

Whop was born August 31, 1943 in Washington DC. In an interview with Felix McLairen published in the December 2008 issue of the DC Blues Society’s newsletter, Capital Blues Messenger, Whop talked about his career and life noting that he “lived and grew up around 14th & U Streets. I hung out a lot and spent time around the Howard Theater just a few blocks from where I lived.”

“I became interested in music ‘cause I was hanging around musicians all the time. I was a young teenager when I started trying to play guitar and got tips from “Skip” Pitts. He was the guitarist who did the wah-wah thing for Isaac Hayes. He said my fingers were too long for the guitar and suggestedI take up electric bass. … I was gigging by the time I was about 14. I played at the Spa Club on 14th and T Streets. I also played the Coach Lounge where Billy Stewart sometime played. In fact, I dated Billy’s cousin for a while. I also played with Bill Harris at clubs on U Street.” Billy Stewart had a number of hits for Chess Records and Bill Harris was an original member of The Clovers as well as a pioneering jazz and blues guitarist.

He first went on the road at the age of 17 with Dee Clark. Locally he “played with Jesse Yawn, Eddie Daye & the 4 Bars. When I was in my early twenties I gigged with Little Royal, Wilson Pickett, and Pookie Hudson. … I started playing Top 40, jukebox tunes. I got into the Blues mostly when I got with Bobby Parker. Bobby was in his twenties and playing with a lot of [local and national] big names, like B.B. King. Later on I also did shows with Blues musicians like Junior Wells, James Cotton, and Bobby Blue Bland.” He stayed with Bobby for ten or so years playing the chitlin’ circuit and credited Bobby for getting him to sing.

Whop explained how he got his nickname, “Well, it came about for a couple reasons. I started out using a pick on the bass that made a whopping sound. But as a teenager I also was known for exaggerating. The guys laughed and talked about me telling whoppers of tales. One of ‘em suggested they call me Whop. The name stuck.”

Memphis Gold, Harold Flood, Tom Principato and Whop Frazier at 2006 Columbia Pike Blues Festival
Whop recorded at several albums that gave a sense of what he was like to hear live. They may not have been innovative, but full of his solid, heartfelt and ebullient blues and soul. His first album was with Bad Influence and then two self-released studio albums, Bathtub Blues and Here I Go Again. A performance at the Bluebird Blues Festival is available at itunes and amazon as a download. On this latter album harmonica player Roger Edsall joins the band with Harold Flood on guitar. Whop could be relied on for solidly played and always entertaining music. Even when not performing, he was there to attend and support other local bluesman. It was always great to see him, whether catching him perform or simply chatting with him. I am among the countless many who will miss him.

He died at the age of 68 on December 22, 2011 of complications from lung and bone cancer. He is survived by his loving wife, Dolores “DeDe” Frazier, four daughters, Amber M. Frazier, Shula Payton, Lisa Frazier, and Cynthia Brooks; three sons, William Frazier Jr., David Frazier, and Isaac Calhoun. He is also survived by 9 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.

Here is a youtube video Whop used for promotional purposes from 2010 with Jackie Hairston, Earl Ivey and Harold Flood on guitar.

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