Gary James' Interview With
Clarence "Frogman" Henry
He's best known for his hit record "Ain't Got No Home", which earned him the nickname "Frogman". He followed that record up with two other hits, "(I Don't Know Why) But I Do" and "You Always Hurt The One You Love". In 1964 he opened 18 concerts for The Beatles throughout the U.S. and Canada.
It's a real honor to present this interview with Mr. Clarence "Frogman" Henry.
Q - I don't know if you realize it, but we're both in this new book The Last Photographs Of The Beatles by Larry Marion. (IT Books / Harper Collins Books) Are you aware of that book?
A - No.
Q - The book showcases the photos of The Beatles late road manager Bob Bonis.
A - I don't know him.
Q - He was The Beatles American road manager from 1964 to 1966.
A - I was with 'em in '64, when they first came over.
Q - I know that, and there's a black and white photograph of you performing onstage. In this book there's also my interview with Bob Bonis. The world has never seen these photos before.
A - Right. Is Jackie De Shannon in there and Bill Black Combo?
Q - I saw Jackie De Shannon. I can't say off-hand about Bill Black.
A - We were on the tour together.
Q - How did you get that gig, opening for The Beatles in 1964? Did you have the same agent?
A - Right. GAC (General Artists Corporation). My manager, Bob Aster, brought The Beatles over. He put me on the show with The Beatles.
Q - Bob Aster was with GAC?
A - Right.
Q - Did you get to spend a lot of time with The Beatles?
A - Yeah. Mostly Paul. Paul and I and the singer with the Bill Black Combo. We was real good friends. We spent a lot of time together.
Q - The Beatles were touring at that point on a private plane. Did you ride on that plane?
A - Yeah. Right. We all flew together. It was a DC-3.
Q - How many opening acts were there on that tour?
A - There was me, Jackie De Shannon and Bill Black Combo.
Q - Did you travel with your own band?
A - No. Bill Black Combo backed us up, Jackie De Shannon and myself. We had three days off in Key West, Florida.
Q - What did you do in those three days?
A - We relaxed there. We had a jam session down there.
Q - What would you and Paul McCartney talk about, music?
A - Yeah. We talked music. Paul and I and the singer from Bill Black's Combo; Paul wanted to know different things about us. We hung out together, Paul, the singer and I. Ringo, he wanted to know different things about me.
Q - What did he want to know?
A - How I started singing. Whatever. I forgot through the years, but he questioned me.
Q - How about John and George?
A - Well, I take the Fifth on that one. I don't want to get involved with them two.
Q - You don't want to say anything about them?
A - No. I'd rather not. I'd rather not publicize anything about those two. John and George, we didn't have any association with those two. Paul was the friendly one. We hung out together and talked together. Ringo just asked me questions about myself and my career. But I had no dealing with John or George.
Q - I've had other people tell me Paul was the P.R. guy in the group.
A - Paul was the greatest. I called him a Soul Brother. He was down home. He was friendly. We couldn't go to The Beatles' room. We had to get Paul to bring us there. That's how tight the security was. We didn't hang out with Ringo and the others. The only one was Paul. If we wanted to go to their room, we would call Paul and he would bring us up to their room.
Q - Did you spend time with Brian Epstein?
A - We talked a little. But he was real nice. Brian was alright. In the airport he and I would talk. He was a gentleman.
Q - Did you ever approach Brian Epstein about managing you?
A - No. I didn't know The Beatles were gonna be as big as they were. I'm a type of entertainer, I don't get excited over entertainers. The only one I got excited over, and I wasn't too excited, was Fats Domino. That was my idol. But The Beatles were just like another group. I didn't know they was gonna be as big as they were.
Q - You're talking about 1964?
A - Right. I didn't know they was gonna be real popular. Even I had a gift they had given me, like a money clip and pictures, different things that maybe I could have had that was real valuable. I think I even give the money clip to someone. You know what I'm talking about?
Q - I hear you.
A - I didn't know that even the money clip would've been a lot of money or whatever, you know.
Q - That's strange because you probably saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan in February of 1964.
A - Right.
Q - When they started their American tour, I believe they were performing before big crowds.
A - Oh, they were tremendous crowds. I had never seen anything like it. Ambulances and nurses and doctors was at the performance. Security was so tight. I never had that done before then.
Q - You probably thought The Beatles would be a flash in the pan.
A - Truthfully, I didn't know they were gonna be as big as they were.
Q - When did you think they had some staying power, the following year, 1965?
A - No. Later on through the years.
Q - The guy who started you off on your recording career was Paul Gayten?
A - Yeah. That's the one that gave me my first recording with Chess. Paul Gayten was in New Orleans. He and Dave Bartholomew was A&R men for different companies in New Orleans. They was real big. His wife just died a couple of weeks ago.
Q - How did he hear about you?
A - What happened was his wife was teaching at the school I go to, in West New Orleans. I was relieving Paul on his off night, on a Monday night. I was playing the same club. I wrote "Ain't Got No Home" in Gretna, Louisiana at the old Joy Lounge. When I let Paul hear the song and he played it for Leonard Chess, Leonard came down and told Paul to take me in the studio and record "Ain't Got No Home".
Q - What inspired you to write that song?
A - Eddie Smith was the bandleader at the time. We were playing the old Joy Lounge and we had played about eight hours or so or more. I was getting tired. The place was packed. It was a little place, maybe twelve by twelve or so and the people didn't want to go home. So, I just hit a riff on the piano that You Ain't Got No Home. I kept it. It stayed in mind. I wrote the words to it and Chess told Paul to take me into the studio and break it down and record it. It was a sleeper.
Q - When you sang it the first time 'live', was that the same way you recorded it?
A - Right. It was the same thing.
Q - You recorded that song in 1956.
A - Right. What happened, Shirley And Lee had a song, "Let The Good Times Roll", and we didn't have a female to sing in the band. That's why I switched my voice like Shirley. I'd been doing the Frog in high school 'cause alligators are nothing but frogs. You know a lot of insects.
Q - Beatles were insects too.
A - We used to catch beetles and tie a string to 'em and let 'em fly around in the '40s. We go lookin' for 'em in trees when we were kids. It was fun. It was a hobby.
Q - It didn't hurt the beetles, did it?
A - No. It didn't hurt the beetles.
Q - How far up the charts did "Ain't Got No Home" go?
A - It went to number one. It stayed in the charts for six weeks or more.
Q - What happened when "Ain't Got No Home" became a hit?
A - That's when Bob Astor came down to New Orleans and he came down to the old Joy Lounge to get me and go on the road. The first place I played was The Apollo Theatre with Roy Hamilton and The Crickets.
Q - Buddy Holly And The Crickets?
A - Buddy Holly and them. And The Hearbeats, Shep And The Limelites. You know, that bunch and a bunch of other ones.
Q - Did you ever tour with Elvis?
A - No, I had never met Elvis. I went on tour with Dick Clark tour with Paul Anka and a bunch of other ones. The Shirelles.
Q - Did you go on the Ed Sullivan TV show?
A - No. I never been on The Ed Sullivan Show, but I've done a lot of TV shows in England. I've done the BBC show over there in England. Different places. New Zealand.
Q - Was there a follow-up to "Ain't Got No Home"?
A - Oh, yeah. Well, when you made a song, you had to get a back-up. "Ain't Got No Home", then "I Found A Home", but they was very small. "I Found A Home" and different ones. Then in 1960, Leonard Chess came to New Orleans. I was playin' in the French Quarter down on Bourbon Street and he told 'em to take me in the studio. So, Bobby Charles and Paul Gayten and I got together and we came out with "But I Do", and it was a big hit. (#4)
Q - And so what did that do for your career?
A - That did pretty good for me. Then "You Always Hurt The One You Love". (#12) I was gettin' ready to do a dub of "I'm A Fool To Care" and Joe Berry came out with it. So, we had to hurry up and get another number. So, we picked out The Ink Spots number, "You Always Hurt The One You Love" and we recorded in Chicago. Allen Toussaint was the A&R man then.
Q - Besides the Dick Clark tours, did you also play the Supper Clubs?
A - I worked on Bourbon Street for twenty-one years, for a gentleman named Frank Geraci and Nick Conno. They had clubs on Bourbon Street; The 500 Club, The Backstage, La Strada, 544, Big Daddy, Opera House.
Q - Who else did you tour with?
A - Ray Charles. Brenda Lee. The Shirelles. The Clovers. The Drifters. Dale Hawkins. There's so many. A lot of big stars. Clyde McPhatter. Jimmy Reed. You name all the old ones, I've been with them. But I never played with Elvis. I played with Dion.
Q - You did cross paths with the greats.
A - Ray Charles and I were good friends.
Q - Do you still perform today?
A - Well, I slowed down. I do special occasions. I've been doing the New Orleans Jazz Fest for years. In Chicago I did a lot, the Howard Theatre. The Royal Theatre.
Q - You don't do those package tours any more, do you?
A - I did a package in New York with Jerry Butler and a group up there. Then I went back in New Jersey and I did another package there with Frankie Ford and some different guys.
Q - How do you feel about Rush Limbaugh using your song on his radio show?
A - Oh, I love him. I was here in New Orleans and a guy by the name of Steve told me, "Hey man, did you know there's a guy playing your song and does a talk show?" I had never heard of Rush. So he said "I'm gonna bring you and introduce you to him." So, Rush and I met each other at the New Orleans Fairgrounds where they race horses. So we talked and he asked me if I would do a video with him. And I told him "yeah." But just like a lot of guys tell you to do things, it would go through one ear and out the other. I thought it was out the other one. So what happened is, Rush called and I wasn't home. He left his number and things and I called him back and he wasn't in, so I told him I'd take the job. So he flew my band and I up to Sacramento, California. We had the best limousine. We had two limousines. The best hotel. I think it was a Hilton or something. He introduced us, and I couldn't even pronounce it at the time, to Dom Perigone. We had a nice time. We did a video with him in Sacramento. Then after that, he asked me if I would do a cruise with him. I told him yeah and we did an eight day cruise with him in the Caribbean. That's when they had that war in Saudi Arabia and he left the cruise and went back to his radio show. But I never forgot Rush. Rush helped me great with my career, 'cause my royalties were down and by him playing "Ain't Got No Home", everybody started knowing about Frogman with Rush. It brought my royalties back up. I tell you, he hasn't done me any harm. I have nothing against Rush. You know there's two sides to everybody. People don't know the story, but I heard the story of Rush. I have nothing against Rush. But Rush haven't done me anything. All he did was good for me and I respect him. I give him a lot of respect.
Q - Did Hurricane Katrina damage your home?
A - It did, about a third of my house. It was roof damage. It wasn't flood. It destroyed my twin bedroom tremendously. In my living room it did about a third. The piano I had since I was 15 years old, for over 57 years, it destroyed the piano. The water got inside of it. I was hoping maybe someday I would get it fixed for me, 'cause I still got it in the house. My Mama made me pay for it. $610. It did about a third to my music room.
Q - You were able to get your home repaired, weren't you?
A - Right.
Q - Did you lose any personal possessions, like photos?
A - Out of all the photos I had in my house, I lost two. I even forgot what they were. On the wall, I only lost two photos with the water damage. It didn't do anything to the Beatles picture.
Q - You had a photo taken with all four Beatles?
A - Right. All four Beatles.
Q - Must be Bob Bonis that took a picture of you and The Beatles?
A - I know someone took a picture of me and The Beatles and Brian Epstein in the airport. I got a picture of that one.
Q - Maybe it's time for you to write a book?
A - I had a guy call me and say his son writes books and so he wanted his son to write a book about me, Ain't Got No Home. That's the way he wanted to title it. So, I got to look up the name and get me a book. I can write ten books about my life. (laughs)