Monday, August 01, 2011

Larry Raspberry ~ Juking And Jiving

Rock N' Soul icon Larry Raspberry is a cross between DJ Dewey Phillips, Mick Jagger and The Energizer Bunny. A splendid combination of Juking and Jiving. Photo (c) from 1968 - Story by Phillip Rauls. All rights reserved.

This is the conclusion of 2-Part posting on entertainer Larry Raspberry

The seventies decade brought a groundswell of welcomed changes to pop culture. That particular term, pop culture, hadn't even been invented at this stage as it was coined years later in association the lifestyles of baby boomers. And guess who was riding in the midst of that cultural wave heading into mainstream? Larry Raspberry. By all accounts and considering recent career circumstances (see previous posting), Larry was now an accomplished vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, band leader, song writer and record producer. That pretty much covers the entire gamut in the music world. Except Larry was far from finished. His newly formed band, "Larry Raspberry and The Highsteppers" was packing'em like sardines at the local night clubs and performance venues. Yet, despite these noteworthy achievements, Raspberry was without a current record deal to further his career.

The band was the hottest ticket item in the entire Mid-South playing from the venues of The High Cotton to Solomon Alfred's to Trader Dick's and beyond. (L-R) Jerry McKinney, Bill Marshall, Larry Raspberry, Carol Ferrante Raspberry, Rocky Berretta, Joe Mulherin, Greg "Fingers" Taylor.

Meanwhile in early 1972 the planetary stars begin to align in Raspberry's favor. As a charter member of the original Larry Raspberry posse dating back to the mid-60's, I had since relocated to Miami, Florida while on assignment for Atlantic Records. In the days before the Internet, I had kept-up with newspaper and magazine articles keeping me informed of the status of Larry Raspberry. Plus, we had shared occasional phone calls yet I was buried in a workload of my own with new found company tasks. During that period a frequent visitor to Miami was none-other-than STAX Records President Jim Stewart. On a summer evening while attending a dinner with Stewart at his favorite restaurant, Benihana's in Ft. Lauderdale, he told me of his desire to sign Larry Raspberry and his band to STAX's new pop music expansion program. With strong inside support coming from two of Stewart's key lieutenants, STAX attorney Craig Benson and in-house producer, Don Nix, Jim Stewart stated that the label's expansion program was a perfect match for the likes of Larry Raspberry. Wow! What an outstanding idea. Aside from being in absolute and total agreement with Stewart's claim, I admired the sound of Larry Raspberry being on a Memphis-based pop label.

A short period later while on a business trip to Memphis to gather radio airplay for artists I represented, local disk jockey Ron Michaels informed me of a Larry Raspberry performance that night in the Overton Square district at Lafayette's Music Room. Without letting anyone know I was in town on business, that evening I managed to attend the popular night spot. But upon arriving, the room was packed and I was subject to waiting impatiently outside for entrance. But listen to this; Once inside, I shuffled around an array of excited fans and settled-in the open space at the rear of the club. About that time I glanced around the room when my eyes just about popped-out of my head. I could not believe what I was seeing. There sitting front and center of the night club was my very own mother while sitting beside Larry Raspberry's very own mother, Mrs. Raspberry. No lie! Both of our dear mothers were sitting there together and attending this concert by Larry Raspberry. It was all I could do but run up to them and hug their necks while thanking them for their support to a great band. There had to be a hidden message there by their presence at this show. And indeed there was.

As expected, in 1974 Raspberry would go on to sign with the new STAX expansion program and record a fine album at Ardent Recording Studio with production support from Don Nix and Vince Alfonso. The album would be released on STAX's avant-garde division, Enterprise Records, a label known for its advancements into the popular music arena. A newly formed STAX pop music promotion team would also be created to spearhead the project. The album title was "Highsteppin' and Fancy Dancin'" and received considerable nationwide airplay on the album radio format. With the launching of ground-breaking successes combined with conflicting priorities from the record label and joined with bone-headed mistakes originating from the distribution company, the band would go on to tour middle America and the Western states under the banner of the "Don Nix-Larry Raspberry & The Highsteppers Review". The tour sent a lightning bolt through the CBS Records distribution system and can be referenced in the above link while previously appearing in a related story.

Larry Raspberry would hit his artistic stride with his three albums released in the 1970's. Rarely has there been an artist whose music emulates such pure raw energy and good time lyrics. His music could be considered as a good pill for a bad day while literally putting a bounce in your step and grin on your face.

The Enterprise Record (STAX) album featured the hard-hitting, get-outta-your-seat songs like; "Rock & Roll Warning", "Baby Get Out of Bed", "Dixie Diner", "Jive Assp" plus the mellow tune, "Fool In Sheep's Clothing." This is truly an underrated album and had it not been for STAX Records decline this album was destined for gold.

The "In The Pink" album was everything that it implied. And more! Produced by the same team from the previous outing and mixed by Ardent's John Fry and Ron Capone, the album featured soul-busting songs like; "Let Me Rock You", "Let My Fancy Flow" and cover songs such as "Hyway 61/Good Rockin' Tonight" plus James Brown's "Think."

Released on Mercury Records, the "No Accident" album was released to high acclaim and new found fame. This time critics defined his music as coming from a 'Funk-Punk-Soul-Rocker' artist. Songs like; "Older Woman", "Hard Way Out" and "Ain't Enough of Your Lovin" were convincing enough to propel him to these new definitive heights.

As the music world became saturated with rock star wannabes, Larry Raspberry had already entered into the video world with his debut on film. Supported by a loyal fan base, a noted film company had taken notice and approached Larry on the making an authentic rock documentary on The Highsteppers. Being an ideal opportunity Raspberry was anxious to begin filming. The title of the movie was coined from a song written by Raspberry titled "Jiveassp" and performed nightly as a highlight from their stage show. The movie remains a rock classic for Larry Raspberry fans and music lovers alike while still being available for purchase through his website.

Still another chapter into the life of Larry Raspberry was when he gainfully explored the rich debts of the acting field. Often not content with his own status quo, Raspberry eagerly pushed for higher ground by signing-on to play the lead role of 'Frank N. Furter' in the local production of "The Rock Horror Picture Show". Dressed in nylon hose, a colored wig and make-up, Raspberry would strut his stuff down the runway to his adoring fans. Yet that unforgiving role would lead to another acting gig as in 1981 he landed a key role in the Marius Penczner film production of "I Was A Zombie For The FBI". Except this time Raspberry's acting skills would actually make it to the cable TV circuit as the movie became a cult favorite. It appeared that something actually might be taking place here when Raspberry would score still another acting roll. This time he would play Disk Jockey Dewey Phillips in the TV Docu-Drama titled, "This Is Elvis."

With these distinct career advancements, it was only a matter of time while in 1983 Larry Raspberry and his family would pack-up their bags and move to sunny Los Angeles. Seeking to further his pursuit and bring himself closer to the entertainment mecca, it was the perfect course for advancement. By this time several of Raspberry's friends had already moved to California including Booker T. & The MG's guitarist Steve Cropper and the band's legendary bass player, Donald "Duck" Dunn. While Larry was getting settled into the community he would stay with friends including Duck Dunn and keyboardist Jay Spell while seeking a permanent residence. But the transition didn't take long as within months Larry would seek to extend his stage accomplishments by enrolling into acting school. Plus, with his songwriting background already well established Larry would sign-on as a staff writer with noted music publisher, Screen Gems.

The West coast was a perfect fit for Raspberry as upon relocating he kept-up a healthy performance schedule within the region. Pictured here in Portland, Oregon in 1989, Raspberry cast a bright stage presence as he headlines the bill. (L-R) Larry Raspberry-piano, Greg Morrow-drums, Tommy Cathy-bass and George Bradfute-guitar.

Still another feather in Raspberry's cap was when his publishing affiliation with Screen Gems and later Chrysalis Music would land his songs being recorded by artist such as; The Everly Brothers, Carley Simon, Carl Perkins and Jimmy Buffett. Plus, when not performing with his own band, Raspberry would make personal appearances with various members of the hitmaker community in a new group they formed called "The Rock For Real Revue". The band consisted of former chartbusters who each sang their own hit tunes while the spotlight shifted from song to song. Raspberry would go on to release several albums on his own record label that are a must for music lovers.

Pictured together in 1994 are friends since youth and former business associates Phillip Rauls and Larry Raspberry as they take a moment to visit at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California.

Editor's Summary; First and foremost, Larry Raspberry is a great performer. Better still, he is an even better person. I've never known him to harbor ill to anybody. He came from a strong family foundation and he's in a longstanding and wonderful relationship with his wife. That tells me he knows something about the game of life. I can tell you first hand as over the years I've seen a few of his performances. Larry is a one man show. He doesn't just go through the motions. He fires everyone up - the band - the audience - the bartenders - the waitresses and security guards parked a half block away. He's a first class guy who always plays by the golden rule. When things don't go so swell he is always accountable for his performances. Many artists will lay blame on the sound man or an equipment malfunction. If the stage is too small with inferior lighting, Raspberry will light-up his audience with a larger than life presence while taking advantage of any shortcomings. He loves to perform and will drive miles to entertain an audience. I suspect that Larry's idea of a little rest and relaxation is entertaining his next door neighbor over the back yard fence. To find and nurture talent can be an exhausting challenge. Trust me, I know stardom behind the microphone when I see it and Larry has that stage swagger. Of course he doesn't have the elements of today's flashy rock star that draws football stadium size crowds. His amplifiers aren't the size of Volkswagens. No stage outfits that dress like the homeless. No profanity. No vulgarity. Just good old rock songs that tell stories we can all associate with. That's not too shabby for an artist who admittedly would offer that his heyday was probably with the previous generation. But still, his shows are for all ages and draw smiles from even the youngsters. In conclusion, we hope this has been fascinating reading for all because Larry Raspberry is no less than a fascinating person.

Copyright (c) Rauls Media LLC - All rights reserved

Larry Raspberry website:

This posting is dedicated to the loving memory of; Ms. Billie Ruth (Sam) Parker, Jay Spell and Rocky Berretta. All former Highsteppers. RIP

Highsteppers b/w press photo by Fred Toma