Origin: Memphis, Tennessee, USA - London, Ontario
Matt Lucas (born July 19, 1935) is an American Rock & Roll, Soul and Blues singer, drummer, and songwriter. He is best known for his crazy rocked-up 1963 version of the Hank Snow country classic "I'm Movin" On". He was inducted into The Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 1999, The International Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2004 and The Southern Legends Entertainment & Performing Arts Hall of Fame in 2005.
Born on July 19, 1935 in the General Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, he grew up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. At the age of seven he discovered he was adopted when he found his adoption papers and a letter dated September 6, 1935 signed by the Assistant Superintendent Tennessee Children's Home Society Shelby County Branch.
His father worked for a theater chain in Poplar Bluff, which had three theaters; The Criterion, The Jewel, The Strand and later The Rogers Theater. This gave him an opportunity to go to the movies for free and watching the great MGM musicals along with attending church services turned him on to music.
At Mark Twain School he played maracas in The Mark Twain Rhythm Band and soon drums became his passion. One of his favorite musicians at the time was Gene Krupa who he greatly admired for his solos and showmanship.
The first band he played with was the Ray Chilton Band which featured five saxophones, an upright bass, a piano and drums and included four members of the Chilton family; Don (Chan), Glenn, Ray and Bill.
At night he listened to the big bands from New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago on the radio and pictured himself in those fancy places with the people all dressed up and listening to good music. Several times he tried to run away from Poplar Bluff to pursue his dreams of becoming a great jazz musician and at age 14 he got into serious trouble when he took a cement mixer truck to run away from home. He was declared a juvenile delinquent and sentenced to a term in the Missouri Reformatory in Boonville, Missouri.
After 14 months he returned home and went back to his musician friends in the black section of Poplar Buff, MO, which was called The Holler. He had a few drinks, talked music and sat in with some of the bands.
As soon as he was off parole he tried his luck in Los Angeles, CA where his musical taste was influenced by frequent visits to Dolphin's Of Hollywood, a record shop which would become world famous in Doo-Wop circles. The shop, located in Watts, Los Angeles on the corner of Vernon and Central, featured a deejay by the name of Dick Hugg, a white guy nicknamed "Huggie Boy", who everyone thought was black. He played records like "Gee" by The Crows, "You're The One” by The Spiders, "Shake a Hand" by Faye Adams and "Money Honey" by Clyde McPhatter.
In 1955 when Rock & Roll started to happen he went back to Poplar Bluff where people immediately started calling him names because of his love for black music. He decided to move to St. Louis, Missouri where he worked bars and night clubs including a stint at The Bamboo Key Club in East St. Louis, Illinois, where Ike Turner was the house band.
His next stop was The Bar X in Calumet City, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago notorious for gangster activity. He worked from 8 at night until 5 or 6 in the morning playing backup for strippers and singing blues tunes he made up as he went along. The place was wilder than East St. Louis and after a few months he moved back to South East Missouri where he started playing a variety of jobs in jazz trios, country bands and rock & roll bands.
In July 1956, while playing a gig at the El Morocco Club in Gideon, Missouri, he met a local singer by the name of Narvel Felts who had started to build himself a reputation as an Elvis type rocker. This meeting turned out to be the start of a lifelong friendship.
In the fall of 1956 they ended up in the same band when Jerry Mercer, leader of the band for which Narvel sang, fired Bob Taylor his drummer and Narvel recommended Matt for the job.
In 1959 he met up with Narvel Felts again when he was asked to audition for a new trio Narvel was about to form after the breakup of his "Narvel Felts and The Rockets" band. His experience in drumming in a wide variety of musical styles landed him the job and he started 1960 as the drummer for the Narvel Felts Trio, which also featured J.W. Grubbs on stand-up bass and Narvel Felts on lead guitar. The Narvel Felts Trio played all over the Missouri/Arkansas/Illinois area from real dives like the Starlight in Lepanto, Arkansas to honky-tonks in Missouri and strip joints in Cairo, Illinois and Chester, Illinois.
Lucas was soon asked to sing a couple of songs during each set in order to broaden the trio’s repertoire and he reverted to the blues and R&B he had learned during his years as a drummer in the clubs of East St. Louis and Calumet City. In addition to songs like "Annie Had A Baby" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" he started playing around with Hank Snow's 1950 country hit "I'm Movin' On" changing some of the lyrics and adding lines like "wind it up baby" and "shake it for your daddy" and " I wanna ride that thing tonight". The song became a crowd favorite and convinced him he had a potential hit on his hands.
In the summer of 1961, while Narvel Felts was serving 6 months in the US Army Reserve, he stayed in Memphis playing drums for Bill Rice and Jerry Foster as well as doing studio work. Some time during those 6 months he recorded "Trading Kisses / Sweetest One" at the Fernwood Studios in Memphis with Alvy Browning on bass, Bill Rice on piano, himself on drums and Roland Janes on guitar. The latter also produced the record and released it on his Good Records label.
In late 1962 he recorded "I'm Movin' On" in the Sonic Sound Studios in Memphis, at the end of a Narvel Felts session. The song was initially released on Renay Records, a label owned by Roland Janes. The deejays loved it; the only problem was they liked the B-side "My Heavenly Angel". In an effort to kill the record a "It's Different - It's A Hit - I'm Movin' On by Matt Lucas" stamp was applied to the sleeves and sometimes the record itself. The reaction was swift and devastating "The record is too wild and crazy and we don't want to play this nigger music on our white radio station".
Eventually he visited WDIA radio, the top black radio station in Memphis at the time, where he played the record for Rufus Thomas who really liked it and added it to the stations playlist. A second disc jockey instrumental in breaking "I'm Movin' On' was Dick "Kane" Cole on WLOK. The airplay on the black stations forced white stations like WHBQ WHBQ to add the song to their playlist too.
He wanted more than a local hit in Memphis and on recommendation by Rufus Thomas he went to the number 1 R&B radio station in the world, WLAC in Nashville, Tennessee. John R., the station's top disc jockey, took one listen to the Renay single and immediately referred Matt to Zenas Sears of WAOK radio in Atlanta, Georgia. Bob McKee, a disc jockey at that station, played it over the phone for a contact at Mercury Records in Chicago which resulted in the release on Smash Records and a monster hit.
The record sold 50,000 copies in Detroit alone. It was a big hit in Canada as well and it was released in Europe on Smash, Belinda, Philips and several other labels. In August 1963 the Belgium Teen magazine "Juke Box" listed the single as "promising" and one month later it entered the Belgium hitparade at #10. In October it moved to #8 and in November it peaked at #6. The November 1963 Juke Box Hitparade reveals an even higher listing (#4) in the French speaking Southern part of Belgium. All in all it was a genuine worldwide smash pop hit. Stateside it officially peaked at 56 in Billboard and 45 in Cashbox but locally it was much bigger especially in the Southern markets.
The Narvel Felts Trio now became the Matt Lucas Trio with Matt as the featured vocalist occupying front center stage with his drum set and Narvel Felts on lead guitar and J.W. Grubbs on bass standing behind him on the sides.
Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby" was selected as the follow-up single. He gave the Orbison rocker the "I'm Movin' On' treatment starting it with the classic line "Hey baby this is Matt Lucas, come on out on this dance floor I want to tell you about something that is brand-new and I made it up baby and I am doing it just for you and here it is…Hey Baby”.
The record came out on Smash Records and it started off the same way as "I'm Movin' On". Radio stations were reluctant to play it and the single never attained the success of "I'm Movin' On".
A second attempt at a follow-up hit involved Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”. The recording took place at the Roland Janes studio in Memphis, Tennessee with Travis Wammack on guitar, Jamie Isonhood, a talented Jerry Lee Lewis type piano pumper from Jackson, Mississippi on keyboard and Fred Carter on bass. It was released on DOT Records and basically went nowhere.
Frustrated by the lack of success he started thinking about moving North to Canada and an offer from Harold Kudletts, the man responsible for bringing Rock & Roll to Canada, sealed the deal. The move meant the end of the Matt Lucas trio since the other members had too many roots in Southern Missouri.
For his next record he left the formula of taking an established song adding his own drum beat to it and throwing in some extra lyrics. "Turn on Your Lovelight" a Bobby Blue Bland hit from 1961 was recorded in Memphis with the same people as "Maybellene" with the organ at the end dubbed in by . The record basically saw no chart action, and was largely ignored by both black and white radio.
In 1965 he briefly returned to the States when he was contacted by Ollie McLaughlin, producer/manager of Dell Shannon, Barbara Lewis and later The Capitols. Ollie had taken a liking to him when he visited Detroit during the promotion of "I'm Movin' On” and he was asked to come up with a song to hook in on a dance craze, which was big in Detroit. The dance was called The Twine and a single by Alvin Cash & The Crawlers called "Twine Time" was a big hit.
He wrote “The Motor City Twine” and recorded Part 1 & 2 of the song at United Sound in Detroit with the finest Motown players. The single topped the R&B charts in Detroit but remained a local hit. A second release on Karen, "Baby You Better Go-Go" was also recorded at United Sound but it failed to chart and he moved back to London, Ontario. (Note: the record later became a mega rare Northern Soul hit in the U.K.
By this time he had developed a serious alcohol problem. He tried to stop drinking, worked as a printer for a while but eventually started a new band and called Harold Kudlets to put him back on the road. The newly formed band played all the old Rock & Roll stuff but with more blues and boogie woogie thrown in.
When the hippy movement started to happen he realized it was not his thing and he slipped back into drinking. He approached the lowest point in his life and many times he did not get to eat because what little money he had, he spent on booze. One guy who still tried to help him occasionally was Ronnie Hawkins. Ronnie added him as a second drummer to his band for several one nighters where he shared the stage with regular drummer Levon Helm.
In the early seventies he started rebuilding his career with some success. In 1971 he made the cover of the prestigious Toronto Globe & Mail Magazine and appeared on the Pierre Burton Show, while CBC TV did a special on him called "Return of a Singer". At the same time he married a girl who owned three massage parlors and then he turned around and became involved with Xavier Hollander, also known as The Happy Hooker. They remain close friends.
In 1972 Gene Lees, a Canadian composer and editor of the jazz magazine Down Beat, who had just started a new record label called Kanata Records, offered to cut a blues album on him and his band. Recorded at Sound Canada Studios the album, "I Paid My Dues", produced the single "I'm Movin' On" / "The Old Man" which became a double sided hit in Canada, reaching just below the Top 20.
In 1974 he returned to Ollie McLaughlin in Detroit and recorded "You've Gotta Love" backed with a song called "I'm So Thankful". Musicians on the session included Minnie Ripperton, Donnie Hathaway, and Phil Upchurch. The single was released in 1974 or 1975 on Quality Records, Canada's largest independent record company. The record became a hit in Canada, and also appeared on an album called "Disco mania" with songs by acts like Van McCoy, Gloria Gaynor and The Ohio Players.
In 1975, his wild life caught up with him. He had a heart attack, almost died and he decided to make some drastic changes in his life style.
He received an offer to go on tour with Buck Owens, starting at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Toronto. The same day he also received a call from Sid Rudeau in Tampa, Florida. Sid had The Bellamy Brothers and Jim Stafford and he offered him a job at the Rodeway Inn in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Hoping the move to a warmer climate and different surroundings would enhance his chances of making a full recovery from his heart attack, he left Canada and started spreading his brand of Rock & Roll and Blues music amongst the cajuns.
After working the club circuit in Louisiana for a while he received a call from his agent asking him if he would be interested in playing at "Frenchmen's Reef", the number one resort hotel in St. Thomas on the Virgin Islands. He took the offer and ended up spending a little over 2 years there working 6 nights a week. Eventually he moved back to St. Petersburg, Florida where he had bought a home and started working hotel chains like Holiday Inns and Supper Clubs always working 6 nights a week.
Around 1980 he accepted an offer for a job on a cruise ship. This turned out to be an excellent career move because even though he was not nearly as wild as he used to be, he knew exactly how to work the crowds who took to the seas to have a good time. He mixed old Rock & Roll songs from his Memphis days with new 12 bar blues tunes which he had been writing about his own experiences and the audiences loved it.
He re-released several albums/cassettes with titles that clearly reflect two musical personalities. There were two volumes of "The Memphis Rock & Rollin' Rock-A-Billy" filled with old rockers like "Memphis", "Blue Suede Shoes", "Don't Be Cruel" and "Breathless". Then there were "Matt Lucas Sings for Lovers" and "Matt Lucas Sings Duke Ellington" featuring standards like "Solitude", "Caravan", "Try A Little Tenderness" and "When I Grow Too Old To Dream". (Most of this material had originally been recorded in the late sixties).
Other cruise lines started offering him engagements giving him a long steady period of employment while making good money. A few years earlier he had fallen in love with a girl in Pittsburgh and after some arm-twisting he convinced her to join him on the cruise lines as a tour director. Together they worked several cruise ships out of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Cape Canaveral, Florida.
In 1990 he became Steamboat Director for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, and his wife tour manager, together they cruised the Mississippi river from New Orleans to Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Ohio river from St. Louis to Pittsburgh, PA on the Mississippi Queen.
Today, he and his wife Barbara make their home in North Central Florida during the winter while summers are spent in their RV on the roads of the USA. As avid motorcyclists and RVrs they take to the roads as soon as the warmer temperatures of Florida spread north to the Canadian border.
He has continued performing starting with a trip to Scandinavia in 2000 followed by appearances at The Rockabilly Hall of Fame Introduction Show in Jackson, Tennessee (2000), The Hemsby Rock 'N' Roll Weekender in Hemsby, Norfolk England (2001), The Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, Louisiana (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), American Music Magazine Show, Sweden (2005) and various other small festivals.
Recording wise there were new CDs in 2001 "Shockabilly", "I'm Movin' On & Other Timeless Rockers" on Redita Records of The Netherlands and "Back In The Saddle Again" on Ten O Nine Records out of Chicago. The Redita release features all his old Rock & Roll songs as well as some interesting tracks from the sixties/seventies. "Back In The Saddle Again" features all new songs and was recorded with the James Burton on guitar and Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica.