Influence often subsists in the shadows. Behind every mainstream success there is likely a relative, teacher, local celebrity musician, obscure genre artist, or forgotten one-time star that helped shape their sensibilities. In 1956 a gifted but relatively obscure R&B singer and songwriter from San Diego by way of Oklahoma with a colorful sense of humor named Kent Harris recorded and released one of the more influential 45s of the mid-50’s R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll era. He did so under his equally unsung stage name: Boogaloo and His Gallant Crew. The single’s A-side was only a minor local R&B hit in Los Angeles but the 45 was a hugely influential two-sided record that would inspire Bo Diddley, The Rolling Stones, and, indirectly, The Coasters to record their own versions of the songs.
Harris issued a string of singles as Boogaloo in the 1950’s and developed a decent career as a producer and songwriter for other West Coast R&B, soul and jazz acts. But he was self-admittedly first and foremost a songwriter, a gift that seemed to come to him naturally.
I started doing that when I was just a kid…around the neighborhood where I lived. There were a lot of kids around there, playing around and stuff. And I used to make up songs about ‘em, make up different songs about different ones and the stuff they do. Everybody kind of liked it. It was a fun thing, and I just kept on doing it until I got a break.
The B-side to his fabled 45 is a comical proto-rap called “Cops and Robbers” in which Harris recounts his misadventure in picking up a hitchhiker who in turn pulls a gun on him and forces him to wait in the car while the hitchhiker robs a liquor store. The joke, ultimately, is on the carjacker who in his confusion mistakenly gets into a police car after having robbed the liquor store.
I was driving down the boulevard late one night on my way back home
When I spied this guy on the corner thumbin’ all alone
As I passed on by I heard him holler out, “Hey!”
He said, “By any chance, are you goin’ my way?”
I said, ” Well sure, hop on in buddy and give me a cigarette”
He reached into his pocket and that was the moment that I regret
He hollered, “Reach for the skies!”
And I said but I don’t seem to understand
And then he told me, he said, “Just don’t try no monkey business, ’cause I got this stopper in my hand!”
The song has been covered numerous times; most notably by Continue reading →