Larry Bright

“Bright” wasn’t exactly a descriptive of this pioneer of “white-trash blues.” Bright wasn’t exactly raised “white trash” either, but he easily fell into the lifestyle. A native of Norfolk, VA, and navy brat, Bright moved around a lot as a child, but mostly grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Larry led a sort of “charmed” early life, complete with a Mammy. Bright is quoted in a recent interview as saying “My Mammy loved me, she used to call me as her li’l white bastard.” Bright’s Mammy gave him his first mojo (a monkey’s paw, worn for good luck, which he wore all the time). Raised on a diet of Southern Texas Blues, his dream was to make it on the “Chitlin circuit” alongside Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf. He did finally sit in with Bo Diddley once in a New Orleans jam session.

Bright moved to Southern California after a brief stint in the Navy. There he jammed local clubs for free beer and exposure. He quickly established a reputation as both a dynamic guitarist and a performer with a penchant for odd behavior.

In 1959, he was invited by session producer Joe Saraceno to do some tracks at Western Recorders. Among the session musicians were some future legends, including Earl Palmer, Red Callender, and Billy Pitman. Saraceno described Bright as “talented, but unfocused.” Bright had heard Muddy Waters doing a “mojo song,” but didn’t recall how it went, so he made up his own. They changed it around a little, and ended up with “Mojo Workout.” Tide Records, which Bright refers to as a “black” label, picked it up. It received heavy airplay on KGFJ, the major R&B station in L.A. It peaked at number 16 on the local charts, and went on to hit #1 on Billboard’s Black Music charts in 1960. It turned out to be Tide’s only release to chart nationally.

While riding a wave of success, Bright was offered a chance to play on Dick Clark’s show. He asked Tide records for an advance to buy a new suit. They denied his request, so Larry did what any self-respecting rocker would do. He went out, got drunk, and shopped himself to other labels. He eventually walked into Rendezvous Records office and said “I’ve got a hit record, but no money.” He was given $1,000 and signed another contract.

Bright, in an attempt to influence a local DJ to play his records, wrote a song titled “Twinkie Lee,” named after the DJ’s daughter’s cat. He thought this would be a clever way of getting airplay. It ended up being a disaster. One of the session players on the “Twinkie Lee” recording was Dorsey Burnette, who later sued Bright, and proved that “Twinkie Lee” was a rip-off of Burnette’s own 1958 recording “Bertha Lou.” Dorsey won co-songwriting credit. Tide found out what Bright had done and sued Rendezvous, and retrieved the master tapes. He continued to record for Tide and released several singles, including “Bloodhound,” “One Ugly Child,” and “I’m a Mojo Man.” The label didn’t really promote him very well, and later leased his contract to Del-Fi, who was already handling national distribution for the label.

Del-Fi impresario Bob Keane took Bright under his wing and attempted to have him cash in on the Surf Music craze of 1963, which Keane’s label was known for at the time. In his tenure at Del-Fi, he recorded a Goffin-King penned record, became a fixture on the Sunset Strip scene, and toured as the only white blues performer on an otherwise all-black tour headlined by Chuck Berry.

Bright later worked several gigs with Lou Rawls and Roy Clark, and was offered a high paying gig with Don Ho, which he refused (it wasn’t his style). He also sabotaged himself on several other occasions. He claims that he lost a lucrative session job with James Brown after calling the Godfather of Soul “a monkey.” He also developed a bizarre friendship with Elvis. Elvis and Larry partied for years, often dating the same women. Elvis respected Larry as a guitarist, but declined to offer him a job because of his nonstop drinking. In 1970, Elvis offered to buy Larry a Mercedes as a gift for Bright’s newborn son. Thinking Elvis was joking, Larry politely declined, only to discover later that Elvis bought nearly everyone in his “circle” a new Mercedes that day. Their on-again, off-again friendship lasted until Elvis’s death in 1977.

Although Bright held a reputation as a hot performer and a musician’s musician, he remains an unknown due to disastrous business deals, legal problems, and alcohol-fueled madness. He trusted everyone, drank a lot, and signed everything. He claims to “still have trouble sitting down.” Bob Keane said “I’m not sure that `Mojo’ of his worked too well. In fact, I looked at it real close one time, and it looked to me like the damned thing was just a rabbit’s foot dipped in Shinola.”

Today Bright lives in Carson City, Nevada where he still writes music and is anxious to make a comeback… once he gets his guitar out of hock. This release covers most all of his early singles, as well as a couple of unreleased, “made up on the spot” jams that he did in the studio. Del-Fi Records, P.O. Box 69188, Los Angeles, CA 90069; http://www.del-fi.com

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