Subject: UPDATE: MATT LUCAS
Date: Wed, 11 May 2016 13:55:36 -0400
Matt Lucas is Still Movin’ On
SoulManJan talks with blue-eyed soul recording legend Matt Lucas!
As Facebook followers may know, blue-eyed soul legend and Florida resident. Matt Lucas,
recently underwent and successfully survived a 5 artery heart bypass. He has travelled
far and seen and done much in his life but that was his most difficult and scary journey ever.
But, like a fine brandy, he’s gotten better with age and his life’s experiences are
enough to make your toes curl. So it wouldn’t be a surprise for you to learn that they
planned a book on him. It was so hot (I read the draft manuscript) it almost burned my
hands, but not in the way that Matt managed to burn soul into audiences', black and white,
around the world. So let me allow Matt to tell you in his own words how he got to where
he is, and what obstacles he encountered along the way. Then, you can be the judge of
whether you’d have walked in his shoes and taken that journey or not.
SoulManJan: Matt, let me start by congratulating you on the success of your recent surgery.”
Matt Lucas: Thank you! Recovery has been amazing and it’s been a real eye-opener, but an
experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone else. It really caught me off guard. I was getting
a really bad burning pain and thought it was due to some medication I was on, so I went to
my doctor and he gave me a clean bill of health, but said if it continues to call him
back. So Barb and I went to Hawaii for 18 days where I couldn’t reach my doctor in
Florida, so when I got back I went to see him and he gave me an EKG and told me “Matt,
you’re a dead man walking!” I asked if I should rest and go home and he said “No, no,
I've already called an ambulance, sit there and don’t even MOVE!” When the ambulance came
they put me on a gurney, I blew the nurse a goodbye kiss and they loaded me in the
ambulance. I didn’t really know what was going to happen. They took me to the local
hospital and after further testing, transferred me to Shands University Of Florida
Hospital in Gainesville and I was scared to death again as I had a heart attack while
there and went into surgery. I had wonderful staff there that really looked after me.
What I didn’t know, till afterwards, when I looked it up on the Internet, is that,
instead of the 3- or 4-artery bypass, mine was an almost unheard of 5-artery bypass. One
of the staff asked if he could bring in his son and after I asked why he said “He wants to
ask you some questions, get your autograph and talk to you about music!” Of course I said
“Yes” after all I couldn’t believe I was still alive. It’s not the first heart attack I
had suffered but the staff rebuilt me so I can still perform and write songs. I have
been blessed and now have a new lease on life.
SoulManJan: So how do you feel about this new lease of life and does it reflect on this life you’ve led?
Matt Lucas: Well, you know for the first fifty years of my life I was a wild man and also
a heavy drinker, drugs, and the lifestyle that goes along with being a rock-n-roll
musician. But, then I met Barbara and she changed my life around. Instead of the
earlier years [we’ll get to those momentarily] I got my first lease on life, then. I
started working cruise ships since nightclubs were dying anyway. This was the earliest
days of the contemporary style of cruising which has evolved into a huge entertainment
industry in its own right from the early seventies. I was perfect for cruise ship
passengers because I knew all the old standards, the beautiful songs of the 30’s, 40’s and
war years, that they grew up with. I learned them all playing jazz which is what I played
before rock & roll came on the scene. Many of the cruise passenger’s also covered age
ranges including the early days of rock-n-roll, soul, groups and blues. While I was
cruising I discovered that the passengers loved my blues songs that I would make up on
Original songs to extend my showcase, without singing other people’s material. So I worked
the cruise ships for a long, long time. And then the 90’s came along and that was a tough
time in the music business too I took a job with the only “American” Cruise line, in fact
the oldest and only one – The Delta Queen Steamboat Company. It was an actual steamboat
that went up and down the Mississippi River from New Orleans all the way up to
Minneapolis. It was a giant step backwards, to all the big bands that I heard as a kid
like Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong. So, I thought to myself boy this is like an
underground market but with older guys going back to the days of Cotton Patch music,
before rock-n-roll, and much like the Northern Soul movement in the way that had its own
crowd and supporters. They even had minstrel shows with ‘black-face’ routines on the ships
going up and down the Mississippi River.
SoulManJan: Well that shows us you survived in a music and entertainment industry but how
did you get into the business in the first place. What inspired the young boy Matt Lucas?
Matt Lucas: Well I guess it would be listening to the radio and my favorite radio station
growing up was a black station in Memphis. It was the only all black radio station in the
United States. It was WDIA. Since it came out of Memphis I could get the station all the
way up in Missouri and I always loved boogie woogie. I also loved Jazz because it was
without inhibition. I wanted to be a Drummer.
SoulManJan: So how old were you when all this happened?
Matt Lucas: I was a young kid 11- or 10-years old, and don’t forget I was also adopted. I
was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society which was a crooked organization
that had all the judges on the take and they were selling babies was operated by Georgia
Tann. It’s an unbelievable true story and the babies that brought most value were blonde
and blue eyed. Joan Crawford and June Allyson with husband Dick Powell all used the
Memphis-based home for adopting children. She died in 1950 before she could be brought to
trial, and I knew I was adopted but she was issuing phony birth certificates. My first
name on the birth certificate was of a black male child that died 10 days before I was
born I discovered, Junior Wilson. She got away with anything and they made 4 movies about
her and numerous books, and she changed the adoption laws to suit her purpose. I thought
my mother was a woman 17-years old from Corinth, Mississippi. I’ll never really find out
who my parents were and that always really bothered me so I guess its reflected in my
attitude and then in my music. And when the Memphis scene really exploded with B.B. King,
Rufus Thomas, and the likes of Howlin’ Wolf … I mean Sam Philips had all these acts as I
was growing up. I used to sneak in and watch people like Gene Krupa play drums and man I
wanted to do that. I tried to get out of Poplar Bluff and me and a friend of mine stole a
Cement Mixer truck and after its gas ran out we took another., a 1937 Buick.. The Judge
said I was a juvenile delinquent. I was sent to reform school and that’s where I had time
to write songs. I wrote my fist song when my dog got hit by a car. I was a young boy
about 6 years old. I sang to my dog and rubbed him down with coal oil and my dog got
SoulManJan: So you were almost a star in Hollywood?
Matt Lucas: Yeah in 1953 I took off with the lure of bright lights and stardom to L.A.
with a couple of pals. We had about $30-35 buck between us and was picked up again by cops
watching Bette Davis in a diner – they told us to get out of town [he laughs]. I did get
some acting jobs but mainly photo sessions and sometimes I’d get $10-20 for a modelling
session. I met some jazz legends like Hampton Hawes Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan to name
a few. But Bill Haley and Big Jay McNeely reminded me of where my real interest lay. I
went home to Poplar Bluff but really, after Hollywood and Beverly Hills, I didn’t last
long there! So that’s when I took off to St. Louis, Missouri and played drums behind
strippers and rockabilly bands.
SoulManJan: So how did this affect you attitude to music or inspire you to soul and rnb?
Matt Lucas: Now don’t get me wrong I had a wonderful childhood and wonderful people
adopted me and they took me to churches. Not particularly any one church but to all
different Protestant churches and they weren’t prejudice at all. Those were the days you
didn’t hear word like Polak or Guinea and the ”N” word because it was the south and as I
was raised blacks went to different schools and movies and they weren’t referred to as
black they were called negroes. Later on when I developed black friends and became a
drummer I’d sit in with black groups and then white folks would want to kill me. I never
really got beaten up because I could always out run them rednecks, but later on I’d have
trouble with white and black audiences. White’s couldn’t understand why I was involved
with race music but it just had such a natural feeling to me and later on when I recorded
some songs they told me Matt we can’t pay you sound too much like a “N****R” That’s why I
went to WDIA and they started playing my song, and since I was with a major record label
and I went on promotion just like all the other named stars, Jerry Lee, James Brown and
Elvis. So there you are lip-syncing your record in high school auditoriums and in big
towns like Detroit you might do something for like 5 radio stations all free. It’s so
strange to me now because that’s the way the northern scene seemed to grow in the U.K. to
kids at record hops in effect. No artists I guess initially, but the records were
presented to dance floor music fans. These weekenders they seem to have in England are
just what I grew up on here only they were called record hops, maybe the exact conditions
of why they attended these hops was different but the actual effect and feeling seemed to
be the same. Everybody did these types of hops here even artists like Johnny Mathis and
you got your record played on stations and did these hops here, so the DJ’s actually broke
your record on air and you pushed it. Well the irony is that I see in Northern soul, they
skipped the radio station and the DJ’s broke records at hops. I know that the goal was to
get everyone to buy your record and that in England it was more underground but many soul
records made it to the charts that way as well as others that promoted commercially on
radio for the pop market. Odd phenomenon!”
SoulManJan: How did you meet Ollie McLaughlin?
Matt Lucas: while I was in Detroit doing promos on I'M MOVIN ON, which was a black hit and
a white hit this cat came up to me and said baby you got soul. It was Ollie McLaughlin. He
said I’d love to cut you man and get you into the studio. I was a very unusual commodity.
He came up and shook my hand in fact and explained that he was the guy who discovered Del
Shannon. I remember that back then he had a song on Barbara Lewis “Hello Stranger” on
Ollie’s label and I think he said he leased it to Atlantic and Jerry Wexler. But Ollie
said “Come on man I gotta sign you and record you and get you outta these Chittlin’
joints!” That’s what they were called in the south but he sounded like a New Yorker but he
was born in Carthage Mississippi, yet there was no trace of a Southern accent. He was also
a Disc Jockey and had his own radio show in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is not that far
from Detroit. So, at various sessions I kept running into Ollie and he knew everybody and
was so well respected, knew all the black stations as well as the white radio stations. I
got so fed up of being called a “N*****R-Lover” that I moved to Toronto Canada and all of
a sudden as a landed immigrant I got a lot of air play on “I’m Movin’ On” there too. It
was a No. 1 Record in Belgium and I was being played on radio Luxembourg, and told Ollie
I’d think about it and keep him in mind. Then I went with Dot Records and did a song that
of mine wrote – Chuck Berry, ‘maybellene, his actual first hit. But I cut a matt Lucas
version of it NOT Chuck Berry’s, with ‘Put Me Down’ on the b-side. But I was having
trouble getting my records played again with folks saying Matt your too wild and crazy.
Anyway, Ollie convinced me to write him a dance song about the Motor City and with Alvin
Cash having a hit with “Twine Time” Ollie made me go back and tweak the lyrics to cut “The
MC Twine.” It was cut at United Sound Studios in Detroit. I was getting lots of gigs and
opening for the Temptations and Supremes and Ollie got me in to cut another track with him
that is a collectible now with Northern Soul Fans – “Baby You Better Go Go.” And still I
was having trouble then about sounding too black – it never left me this hounding that I
was white and sang black music and I cut a lot of great blues tunes around that time
SoulManJan: So what was it like to actually work with the Funk Brothers?
Matt Lucas: They were under contract to MoTown man they were the coolest cats. They were
all basically jazz musicians and you know what they’re like rehearsing a lick till it
‘feels’ just right. They were under contract to MoTown but played all over and on a couple
of occasion’s I put down a drum track to indicate what I was looking for and they got it
straight away. Harry Balk and John Rhys were there at the start of the Detroit sound. We
remain good friends till this day. As indeed has Fats Domino who I met in my New Orlean’s
days. But I couldn’t shake off the prejudice so that’s what sent me to Canada.
SoulManJan: You made it big in Canada and weren’t rich still?
Matt Lucas: I hired my buddy Narvel Felts after I'M MOVIN ON became a big hit and although
I had all that success and appearances I still wasn’t making that much money. So after the
Detroit sessions I moved back to Toronto and work almost exclusively out of there. Man
there was a time I was so desperate in Detroit that various musicians and Ollie came by
and brought me a can of beans and diapers for my kid and food for my wife. You never
forget that in your whole life [Matt pauses quietly for a moment]. Now, while in Toronto
I signed with a booking agent called Harold Kudlets who booked all over the United States
and Canada..... (he’s still alive) and he’s 99 years old living in Hamilton Ontario, and I
stayed with him a long time. I began to get steady night club work, 6 nights a week and
had a regular band who’s members stayed with me a long time.
SoulManJan: But you hadn’t finished working with Ollie yet had you?
Well in the 70’s I got the chance to meet with Ollie again and he liked me enough to put
me on a soul album that went big all over Europe and the U.S. While in Canada I cut two
sides on the Quality label – “You Gotta Love” and “ I’m So Thankful” for Ollie. Deon
Jackson was also successful with “You Gotta Love” on Ollie’s Carla label (all his labels
are named after his daughters did you know?). Xaviera Hollander author of the huge
selling book THE HAPPY HOOKER thought she could interest some U.S. publishing companies in
a book that was written about me up until that time. However she moved back to Amsterdam
and the book got forgotten. When disco was about to fade, eventually I was already
working with more blues numbers. I came down to St. Pete Florida and on Blue Jam Records
cut an album titled “The White Blues Wonder.” In 1983 I also cut two other albums and one
of them was titled “The Chicago Session,” which had a Rockabilly sound. I went back to
working cruise ships and large hotel chains. I met my present wife in Pittsburgh at the
International Airport Holiday Inn. I quit drinking and got Barbara a job with the cruise
line and we've been sailing away ever since.
SoulManJan: So you got into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame, how was that?
Matt Lucas: Yes, I was inducted in 2000 and also into the Southern Legends Hall of Fame.
I cut a new CD at the time called “Shockabilly” I was around at the birth of the
Rockabilly sound, got in on the soul scene, rode the Disco bandwagon. So I have been
around the start of a lot of things. I have played so many Rockabilly shows and their fans
are as loyal as Northern Soul fans. I've had some unusual bookings including one singing
on the Mexician National Railway for Tracks To Adventure.
SoulManJan: So what’s on your horizon now?
Matt Lucas: Well as readers know I had a whole stash of original Funk Brothers tracks and
I’ve been writing. A few years back I brought out a couple of pieces like “Shake It” and
“Gimmie Some” And I still have a whole load of new and unreleased songs. With your own
venture at Allsun Records I hope we can bring not only some of those soul cuts out but I
have blues and rockabilly as well as jazz to share with the fans. I know you were working
with another label but I’m glad to see that you have established your own now, geared more
towards the fans of dance music. Hey man, I’m also looking forward to meeting some of your
label colleague’s too, and I hope you let the guys in the magazine know what you have
coming out on me. I really have a great new lease on life and thank God for the real
fortune that’s come my way! By the way, somewhere in my tapes there’s an alternate take
of “Baby, You Better Go Go”. If I ever find it you are the man that will put it out, I
just hope it wasn’t lost in one of my travels.
SoulManJan: So what about any advice to youngsters coming into the music business?
Matt Lucas: Get a day job. There's no more places to learn your craft on the Rd. And 'You
have to Pay your Dues'! Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis asked Elvis a long time
ago, Son, Who do you sound like? Elvis said Mr. Phillips, "I Don't sound like Nobody!"
I don't sound like anyone else ether. Its sad to me now as there will Never be another
Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Elvis or any of the Greats I grew up with...
I’m Hearing Stories 45
Baby Please Don’t Tease Me 45
Come Back Baby 45
Matt Lucas – Travellin’ with the Blues Album