Bobby Marchan

   

  

  

 

Bobby Marchan, 69, noted N.O. R&B artist
By Jeff Hannusch
Contributing writer/The Times-Picayune

Bobby Marchan, one of New Orleans' most colorful rhythm and blues artists,
died Dec. 5 after a lengthy illness. Mr. Marchan, whose given name was Oscar
James Gibson, was 69. Mr. Marchan's biggest hit, "There Is Something on Your Mind," was a No. 1
rhythm and blues single in 1960. As a member of Huey Smith and the Clowns, he
sang on the hits "Don't You Just Know It," "You Don't Know Yockomo," and
"Havin' A Good Time."

"Bobby was just a character -- he would do anything," said singer Frankie
Ford, who imitated Mr. Marchan's vocal style early in his own career and
scored a hit with the Huey Smith song "Sea Cruise." "I learned from him. He
always looked like he was having fun, like Fats Domino and Frogman Henry."

Mr. Marchan was born in Youngstown, Ohio, where as an adolescent he became
fascinated by female impersonators who performed in local theaters. He began
appearing in drag as a comedian and singer. In 1953, Mr. Marchan organized a
troupe of female impersonators called "The Powder Box Revue" that was booked
at New Orleans' Dew Drop Inn for several weeks. Finding the city's relaxed
temperament to his liking, not to mention the ample opportunities to work as
an entertainer, Marchan relocated, renting a room above the Dew Drop.

In 1954, Marchan became the master of ceremonies at Club Tiajuana, where he
was discovered by Aladdin Records' Eddie Mesner, who was impressed by
Marchan's sophisticated blues style. He later recorded for Dot before
beginning a long and successful association with Ace Records.

"I was working at the Club Tiajuana in 1956, when Huey Smith brought in (Ace
Records') Johnny Vincent," Marchan said in 1998. "I was a singer, emcee and
female impersonator. (Vincent) thought I was a woman.

"Johnny said he liked my singing and wanted to record me. He gave me $200 and
I signed his contract. A couple of days later we got to Cosimo Matassa's
(studio) and Johnny still thought I was a woman because I was dressed in drag.
Huey and everybody else was cracking up because Johnny was treating me and
talking to me like I was a woman. Finally, Huey told Johnny I was a man and
he just about fell on the floor from a heart attack."

Mr. Marchan's first taste of success was in 1956 with the release of "Chickee
Wah-Wah," which was a regional hit. He and Smith joined forces in 1957 to
form The Clowns. As Huey "Piano" Smith & the Clowns, they recorded some of
New Orleans' most memorable rock and roll.

"I was the group's boss," Mr. Marchan said. "When we first went on the road,
Huey went with us, but after a few months he stayed home and concentrated on
writing and doing sessions. I hired (pianist) James Booker to take his place
because he sounded like Huey."

After Mr. Marchan left Ace and The Clowns, he went back on the road as a
female impersonator. Eventually he contacted Fire Records' Bobby Robinson
about recording the Big Jay McNeely song "There Is Something on Your Mind."
Mr. Marchan's version hit No. 1 on the R&B charts.

Mr. Marchan continued to cut R&B records for Fire, but they didn't chart. In
1963, Otis Redding recommended him to Jim Stewart at Stax/Volt and Mr.
Marchan began making the transition to contemporary soul. He later cut the
original version of "Get Down With It," a hit for the British glam-rockers
Slade in the 1970s.

By the mid-1970s, Mr. Marchan was living in Pensacola, Fla., and barnstorming
the South again as a female impersonator-bandleader. In 1977, he returned to
New Orleans as emcee at Prout's Club Alhambra.

In the 1980s, Mr. Marchan began appearing annually at the New Orleans Jazz &
Heritage Festival and presenting gong shows at local clubs. A bout with
cancer and the removal of a kidney in the early 1990s cut down his
performing, but he remained active in the music business. He started Manicure
Productions, a company that scouted, promoted and booked hip-hop acts, and
was also a key figure in the formation and success of Cash Money Records.

Mr. Marchan's last public appearance was at the 1999 Essence Music Festival.
He is survived by an aunt, Anabelle E. Adair of Youngstown, Ohio.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Tuesday.

© 1999, The Times-Picayune. Used without permission