The Upsetters are one of my favourite R&B outfits. Unfortunately, their music is very hard to find. Here’s some information from the liner notes of a 1984 Charly Records compilation called “The Upsetters: The New Orleans Connection”, written by the late great Ray Topping:
Around October 1957, Little Richard gave up rock ‘n’ roll for the church and his retirement left his backing band, the Upsetters out on a limb. They had many advance bookings and engagements to fulfil and set about looking for a replacement. In Chicago they met Dee Clark, a versatile vocalist who had previously sung in several vocal quartets. Billed as Little Richard, Clark set off with the Upsetters to complete a mid western tour. On their return the Upsetters signed with Vee Jay and accompanied Clark on “Oh Little Girl” and “Wondering” – (Falcon 1009, see CRB 1010). On the same date, January 17th 1958, the Upsetters cut two great instrumentals “The Strip” and “Upsetter” (Falcon 1010) and their saxophonist, Wilbert Smith (who also doubled on piano) sang on “Hatti Malatti” and “Mama Loochie” (Vee Jay 272). Smith who used the stage name of Lee Diamond on these sides, came from New Orleans and had previously played with the bands of Roy Brown and James Brown, he also co-wrote “Slippin’ and Slidin’” and introduced Little Richard to his revised version; Eddie Bo had first recorded it for Apollo. “Hatti Malatti” became a regional break out in many Southern markets, and the flip “Mama Loochie” was a feature of DeeJay ‘Hound Dog’ Lorenz memory tune show for many years.
The nucleus of the Upsetters started life as various parts of the Pluma Davis and Gatemouth Brown bands. In Houston around 1955 where they accompanied Big Walter Price on his famous Peacock recordings of “Pack Fair And Square”. Grady Gaines, who later became their leader, also accompanied David Dean and Earl Forrest on a number of Duke and Peacock recordings. Grady Gaines’ brother Roy Gaines was starting to make his name as a leading session guitarist in Houston about this time. Roy went off to lead Chuck Willis’ band while Grady went on the road with the Upsetters backing Little Richard. Grady played lead Tenor Sax and wrote charts. Other members of the Upsetters included Clifford Burks (tenor sax), Larry Lennear (Barritone sax), Wilbert Smith (Piano and tenor sax), Nathaniel Douglas (guitar), Osie Robinson (bass), and Emile Russell (drums). Russel replaced the original drummer Charles Conner.
The Upsetters second session for Vee Jay later in 1958 produced 4 more sides: “Upsetter Rock”, “Baldhead Baby”, “Wake Up” and “Girl in Every City”. These sides remained unissued until now. “Upsetter Rock” and “Wake Up” are powerhouse instrumentals featuring the guitar of Nathaniel Douglas and the latter bears an uncanny resemblance to the Athmosphere’s “Fiddle Chicken”. If you listen closely to the end of “Upsetter Rock”, you hear somebody shout “Oh My Soul”. Is this Little Richard or could it be Lee Diamond doing a good impression?
The Upsetters returned for a third session in 1959 but unfortunately the tapes have been lost. In the early sixties Lee Diamond returned to New Orleans where he recorded for Minit, Lola and Bourbon Street, and wrote “Tell It Like It Is” for Aaron Neville with George Davis. He was last heard playing in Joe Jones’ band when they came to New York in 1965.
The Upsetters continued to record and a slew of singles appeared on many labels including Gee, Fire, Palm and H.B. Barnum’s label Little Star, where they re-united with their old buddy Little Richard who sang (uncredited) on “I’m In Love Again”, “Everynight About This Time” and “Valley Of Tears”.
In 2003, a bootleg cd with 27 Upsetters songs appeared on La Cienega Records (Made in Spain). Roots & Rhythm may still have a few copies for sale so don't hesitate because The Upsetters were surely one of the most exciting rock ‘n’ roll bands of the 50’s! Here are 5 classic Upsetters tracks for you to enjoy:
The Strip – THE UPSETTERS mp3
Upsetter – THE UPSETTERS mp3
Hatti Malatti – LEE DIAMOND AND THE UPSETTERS mp3
Mama Loochie – LEE DIAMOND mp3
Upsetter Rock – THE UPSETTERS mp3