For nearly 50 years, Lafayette's Carol Fran has been one of Louisiana's most precious "albeit obscure " musical resources. While none of her many singles reached the national charts, she has recorded an enviable body of work, one that R&B aficionados have raved about for years. The release of Fran-Tastic" now adds to Fran's legacy. Born October 23, 1933, Fran was one of seven children. Fran's mother played piano and she followed in her footsteps. However, rather than play classical music like her mom, Fran taught herself to play along with blues and R&B records by Louis Jordan and Dinah Washington. At the age of 15, Fran was by Lake Charles saxophonist Joe Lutcher after she won the $25 first prize in a talent show held at a Lafayette night club. "I had to run away from home to join the band," laughed Fran. "Joe had a big record out at the time, 'Go See the Mardi Gras,' and he was touring Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. I was the piano player and the female vocalist. Joe wanted me to go to California with him but I was homesick and wanted to go back to Lafayette. When I got back, I started working for Joe's brother, Bubba. Bubba was a booking agent that had a popular band that played around Lake Charles."
By the late 1950s, Fran was working as a cabaret singer on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and working around Lafayette with drummer Clarence "Jockey" Etienne. Etienne played on sessions recorded at the nearby Crowley Studio owned by J. D. Miller, the legendary talent scout and producer who leased material to Excello. Etienne suggested auditioning for Miller and Fran took his advice.
"Miller liked my singing and playing," said Fran. "He asked me if I had any original songs and I did. One of them was called 'Emmit Lee.' That was my introduction to the record business. I cut that with Guitar Gable and Jockey. Jockey didn't play drums, he played on a box." Despite the primitiveness of the session, Excello leased "Emmit Lee." And the emotional swamp pop ballad became a modest best seller in Louisiana and across the South. In 1958, Fran signed on with a booking agent who arranged 45 consecutive one-nighters at $90 per date, but when she returned to Lafayette, she only received $285. So much for hit records! That same year she joined Guitar Slim's revue which toured from coast to coast On the recording front, Fran continued to work with Miller on three more singles including "Knock Knock," "I Quit My Knockin'" and the inevitable "Emmit Lee Came Back." With each release Fran's voice got more powerful. Fran also got a chance to back several of Millers other artists in the studio including Slim Harpo, Lonesome Sundown and Lazy Lester. Fran split with Miller though in 1962 and signed with the Lake Charles based Lyric label. There she waxed the torrid "The Great Pretender, " and "Just Because Your Mine." That same year she was frequently working the Dew Drop in New Orleans and at Thibodaux's Sugar Bowl. While working at these venues she often crossed paths with the likes of Danny White, Earl King, Lee Dorsey and Patsy Vidalia. Fran next recorded in 1964, when Thibodaux band leader/producer Reynauld Richard took her to New York to record for Port Records. Several fine singles were recorded, the best perhaps being the smoldering "Crying In the Chapel." The single was leased by Josie and beginning to sell quite well. Unfortunately though, the rug got pulled out from under Fran when RCA issued a version of the song by Elvis Presley. (Presley actually apologized to Fran when they crossed paths in Las Vegas.) There was one more single on Roulette in 1967, "So Close," but it failed to cause much of a stir. By the late 1960s, Fran was on the road with the Joe Tex Revue where she served as a warm-up act and played keyboards with the band.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Fran had settled in settled in Miami where she worked as a single in several night clubs and resorts. However, by the end of the decade Fran had relocated to Houston in order to be closer to her family. Work was scarce though in the Lone Star State and she could only secure infrequent work. Her luck changed though when she reconnected with guitarist Clarence Holliman they'd met 25 years earlier at the Dew Drop when Holliman was playing with Charles Brown. The two became a romantic and professional duo and they began working at some of small clubs around Houston. Their persistence and hard work paid off when they began getting invitations to appear at music festivals around the country and in Europe. In 1992, Fran and Holliman cut their first album together, "Soul Sensation," for Black Top. That was followed by "See There" in 1994. The duo wouldn't return to the studio though until 2000 when "It's About Time" was released on JSP. Tragically, Holliman died suddenly that same year, an event which devastated Fran. She's continued playing solo and with a new band visiting Europe twice but admits it's been a tough couple of years. On top of that, her mother died in November 2001. At that point she decided to move back to Lafayette to be with her older sister.
"Emotionally I really needed to do this CD," said Fran. "It helped me release some of the pain I've been carrying around with me since Clarence and my mother passed. I felt kind of lost and that's not a good feeling. At first I didn't even want to play piano on the CD but my producer Gary Edwards, and guitar player Selwyn Cooper convinced me to, and I got more confident as I worked.
"I like to refer to music we cut as 'Do You Remember Music.' It's a lot of old stuff I been playing for years with a few new things added in. I've always liked 'I'm Going Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter' and I did my version of 'Sick and Tired.' 'Cold Cold Heart' is a country tune but I did it like Dinah Washington. 'Went Up On the Mountain' I kind of borrowed from Patsy (Vidalia) she used to sing that in the Dew Drop all the time. I'd have to say 'You Don't Know Me' is my favorite because I used to do that every night with Clarence. It's my tribute to him. "I was pleased with what we recorded. I think Selwyn's playing sort of keeps Clarence's memory alive and the band was great. I'm too old to have hit record now so there's no Top 40 numbers. This is the kind of music people from my era like to hear at a night club to have a few drinks and dance. It's real mellow blues."
Jeff Hannusch -New Orleans, March 2002
(Jeff is the author of "I Hear You Knockin'" and "The Soul of New Orleans.")
1 Don't Deceive Me
2 Write Myself A Letter
3 You're Nobody Until Somebody Loves You
4 You Don't Know Me
5. Ain't Misbehaving
6 I Know
7 I Love You So
8 Cold Cold Heart
9 Don't You Want To Go
10 Went Up On The Mountain
11 Looking For Love
12 Take My Husband
13 Sick And Tired
Carol Fran: Piano & Vocal
Selwyn Cooper: Guitar
Harry Ravain: Drums
Robert Wilson: Bass
Gary Edwards: Bass- Tracks 7 & 9
Recorded October, 2001
Produced, engineered, mixed by Gary Edwards
Sound Of New Orleans Studio
Mastered by Joe Doherty, Factory Masters, New Orleans, LA
Photographs: Rick Olivier
Website: George L. Artigues 3D
Original Package design: Greens Graphics, New Orleans, LA
New Cover Art by Jennifer Romanick
© 2015 SoundOfNewOrleans.com - Updated 11/15/2015 GLA3D