Tuesday, 5 March 2013
Tommy Tucker born 5 March 1933
Robert Higginbotham better known by his stage name, Tommy Tucker (March 5, 1933 – January 22, 1982) was an American blues singer-songwriter and pianist. He is best known for the 1964 hit song, "Hi-Heel Sneakers", that went to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and peaked at #23 in the UK Singles Chart.
Robert Higginbotham (Tucker's legal handle) grew up in Springfield, getting his little fingers accustomed to the ivories by age seven. Tucker joined saxist Bobby Wood's band in the late '40s as its piano player. When vocal groups became the rage, the band switched gears and became the Cavaliers, a doo wop outfit that remained intact into the late '50s. Tucker put together his own combo after that to play bars in Dayton, his personnel including guitarist Weldon Young and bassist Brenda Jones.
The trio eventually relocated to Newark, NJ, setting Tucker up for his debut solo session in 1961 for Atco. "Rock and Roll Machine" was issued as by Tee Tucker and already exhibited the gritty, Ray Charles-inflected vocal delivery that Tucker later used to great advantage. His traveling companions did pretty well for themselves, too: renamed Dean & Jean, they hit big in 1963-1964 with the lighthearted duets "Tra La La La Suzy" and "Hey Jean, Hey Dean" for Rust Records.
Tucker fortuitously hooked up with Atlantic Records co-founder Herb Abramson, who was working as an independent R&B producer during the early '60s. Among their early collaborations was the lowdown Jimmy Reed-style shuffle "Hi-Heel Sneakers" (Dean Young was the nasty lead guitarist). Abramson leased it to Checker Records and watched it sail to the upper reaches of the pop charts in early 1964. A terrific Checker LP and a trip to Great Britain were among the immediate upshot for the organist.
R&B star Don Covay co-wrote Tucker's follow-up, "Long Tall Shorty," an amusing tune in a similar groove. It barely scraped the lower end of the charts, and Tucker never scored another hit. That didn't stop Abramson from trying, though — he produced Tucker singing a soulful "That's Life" in 1966 for his own Festival label, while "Alimony," another standout Checker 45, certainly deserved a better reception than it got in 1965.
Although the majority of his waxings were under Abramson's supervision, Tucker did travel to Chicago in 1966 to record with producer Willie Dixon in an effort to jump-start his fading career. "I'm Shorty" had Dixon contributing harmony vocals and Big Walter Horton on harp, but it didn't do the trick.
Abramson admirably stuck by his protégé, recording him anew for at least another decade, but most of the mixed results just gathered dust in his vaults. Tucker left the music industry in the late 1960s, taking a position as a real estate agent in New Jersey. He also did freelance writing for a local newspaper in East Orange, New Jersey. Tucker was still musically active when he died, a relatively young man, in 1982 at College Hospital in Newark, New Jersey from inhaling carbon tetrachloride while refinishing the hardwood floors of his home; his death has been alternately attributed to food poisoning.
Over 200 artists have recorded "High Heel Sneakers". These include Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers,Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCarthy, Sammy Davis Jr., Janis Joplin, Jose Feliciano, Tom Jones, John Lee Hooker, Cleo Laine, Pharoah Sanders, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead and Ramsey Lewis. There are many videos on youtube.com with performances by The Searchers on Shindig!, Zsa Zsa Gabor, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Faces, Sting, The Mummies and many more. (info edited from AMG & Wikipedia)