LARRY BRIGHT (By Klaus Kettner with Tony Wilkinson)
Born Julian Ferebree Bright, 17 August 1934, Norfolk, Viginia
Bright is not exactly descriptive of this pioneer of "white-trash" blues, nor was he raised "white trash" either. Larry (Julian Ferebee) Bright was born on August 17, 1934, Norfolk, Virginia and as a 'navy brat', Bright was constantly being relocated but eventually settled and grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas. Larry led a sort of "charmed" early life, complete with a Mammy. Bright is quoted in a recent interview as saying "My Mammy loved me, she used to call me as her li'l white bastard." Bright's Mammy gave him his first mojo (a monkey's paw) which he wore all the time for good luck. Raised on a diet of Southern Texas Blues, his dream was to make it on the Chitlin' Circuit alongside Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf. He did finally sit in with Bo Diddley once in a New Orleans jam session.
Bright moved to Southern California after a brief stint in the Navy. There he jammed local clubs for free beer and exposure. He quickly established a reputation as both a dynamic guitarist and a performer with a penchant for odd behaviour. In 1959, he was invited by session producer Joe Saraceno to lay down some tracks at Western Recorders. Among the session musicians were legends, including Earl Palmer, Red Callender, and Billy Pitman. Saraceno described Bright as "talented, but unfocused." Bright had heard Muddy Waters doing a mojo song but unable to recall exactly how it went, he made up his own on the spot. They changed it around a little, and ended up with "Mojo Workout." Tide Records, which Bright refers to as a "black" label, picked it up and upon issue, it received heavy airplay on KGFJ, the major R&B station in L.A. It peaked at number 16 on the local charts, and went on to hit #1 on Billboard's Black Music charts in 1960. On Billboard's Hot 100, it achieved position #90. It turned out to be Tide's only release to chart nationally.
While riding a wave of success, Bright was offered a chance to play on Dick Clark's show. He asked Tide records for an advance to buy a new suit. They declined his request, so Larry did what any self-respecting rocker would do - he went out, got drunk, and shopped around with other labels. He eventually walked into RENDEZVOUS Records office and said "I've got a hit record, but no money." He was given $1,000.00 and signed another contract. Dorsey Burnette was in on the resulting session, and he must have played Larry his brother's song "Bertha Lou". They reworked the song into "Twinkie Lee". Bright, in an attempt to influence a local DJ to play his records, came up with the title which was the name of the cat belonging to the daughter of the DJ. It ended up being a disaster. When the record came out, once again Dorsey´s writers credit were overlooked. When Dorsey found out, he sued Bright, and proved that "Twinkie Lee" was a rip-off of Burnette's own 1958 recording "Bertha Lou." Dorsey won co-songwriting credit. Due to Bright being under contract to TIDE Records, this disc was issued by Rendezvous under the name of Pete Roberts (#124). Tide found out what Bright had done, sued Rendezvous and retrieved the master tapes.( Later around 1962, the song was re-released on HIGHLAND (#1052) under his name. Probably to cool down things with Dorsey TIDE owner Ruth Stratchborneo recorded "Bertha Lou" with one of her other acts Alan Knight and released it on TIDE #011 in 1960. "Twinkie Lee" must have seen some action as two other LA locals, Alan Clark and Gary Leeds (Walker Bros.), each recorded the song. Larry continued to record for Tide and released several more singles, including "Bloodhound," "One Ugly Child," and "I'm A Mojo Man." The label failed to promote him well and later leased his contract to DEL-FI Records who were already handling national distribution for the label.
Del-Fi impresario Bob Keane took Bright under his wing and attempted to have him cash in on the Surf Music craze of 1963 that Keane's label was known for at the time. During his tenure at Del-Fi, Bright recorded a Goffin-King penned record, became a fixture on the Sunset Strip scene and toured as the only white blues performer on an otherwise all-black tour headlined by Chuck Berry. Bright later worked several gigs with Lou Rawls and Roy Clark, and was offered a high paying gig with Don Ho, which he refused ('it wasn't his style'). He also sabotaged himself on several other occasions. He claims that he lost a lucrative session job with James Brown after calling the Godfather of Soul "a monkey." He also developed a bizarre friendship with Elvis with whom he partied with for years, often dating the same women. Elvis respected Larry as a guitarist, but declined to offer him a job because of his nonstop drinking. In 1970, Elvis offered to buy Larry a Mercedes as a gift for Bright's newborn son. Thinking Elvis was joking, Larry politely declined, only to discover later that Elvis bought nearly everyone in his "circle" a new Mercedes that day. Their on-again, off-again friendship lasted until Elvis's death in 1977.
Although Bright held a reputation as a hot performer and a musician's musician, he remains an unknown due to disastrous business deals, legal problems, and alcohol-fueled madness. He trusted everyone, drank a lot, and signed everything. He claims to "still have trouble sitting down." Bob Keane said "I'm not sure that `Mojo' of his worked too well. In fact, I looked at it real close one time, and it looked to me like the damned thing was just a rabbit's foot dipped in Shinola." Today Bright lives in Carson City, Nevada and still composes music. He is anxious to make a comeback - once he gets his guitar out of hock.
Compiled by Klaus Kettner with Tony Wilkinson, April 2007
Most background facts in this story originally appeared in a piece written by Gary E. Myers for Goldmine Magazine in 1992. Gary is the author of Do You Hear That Beat (1994) and On That Wisconsin Beat (2006).
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