“GG gave me his notice. He wanted to start his own group. … An artist with the talent of a GG Shinn does not need to share the money 12 ways.” – Boogie Kings bandleader Ned Theall, recounting Shinn’s exit from the group
It was 1966 when singer-trumpeter GG Shinn split from the Boogie Kings. But his legacy with Louisiana’s longest-running rock ‘n’ roll band is so strong that his spirit never really left. His short-but-indelible stint, during which time he fueled a power-packed vocal tandem with Jerry Lacroix, is still considered the group’s apex. And that’s saying something, given the cavalcade of great singers who’ve done tours of duty within the BK ranks, like Clint West, Tommy McLain, Lil’ Alfred Babino, Duane Yates, Allen Wayne, and Gregg Martinez, to name just a few. Shinn and his monstrous vocal chops make their welcome return to this year’s 13th annual Ponderosa Stomp.
In its heyday the twin Shinn-Lacroix vocal attack drew admiration even from megastars. “The Righteous Brothers really were in awe of GG and Jerry. Bill [Medley] and Bobby [Hatfield] have made many public comments about the talent of these two guys,” Theall recalled. Dubbing themselves “the King Brothers,” Shinn and Lacroix teamed up on numerous duets like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “Let It Be Me.” It was their unbridled artistry and soul that lifted the Boogie Kings – as tight and musically proficient as the musicians themselves were – from mere cover band to something loftier.
As Theall added:
“The two years that we had GG and Jerry as a team molded the sound and style of the band as we totally broke away from the old sound of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. These two guys were so strong that many of our fans think that this was the ‘original’ Boogie Kings. They made such a huge impact on our success that it simply can’t be measured. … The odd thing about them is their contrasting styles. GG has this sweet, pure, smooth voice with a dramatic high register, and Jerry has a rough, get-down-and-dirty, soulful voice. But the two of them together would make the most beautiful blend of rhythm and blues music that the Boogie Kings have ever had.”
And once a Boogie King, always a Boogie King, as evidenced by Shinn’s reappearances with the group during modern-day reunion shows. But who is GG Shinn? Quite frankly, his full story has yet to be told. But Shinn was born Aug. 25, 1939, and hails from Franklin, La., where in 1956 he formed his first band, the Flat Tops. By 1963 he was recruited into the Boogie Kings, which had been founded in 1955 in Eunice, La., by Doug Ardoin, Bert Miller, and Harris Miller. The band played everywhere around Louisiana and east Texas, gaining in notoriety particularly at the Bamboo Club in Lake Charles and the Big Oaks club in Vinton near the Texas border, the latter club drawing a young Janis Joplin as a patron.
According to Theall: “We played at the Big Oaks every weekend and the crowds were tremendous. One had to be 21 years old in Texas to purchase liquor, but in Louisiana, one only had to be 18. The club was located about a half mile from the Texas border, so the kids would come over in droves to get boozed up.”
Floyd Soileau of Ville Platte’s Jin label hired the band to record their first album, titled “Clint West and the Fabulous Boogie Kings,” which included the West vocal showcase “The Twelfth of Never.” But by 1965 West split from the Boogie Kings, and Texas singer Jerry LaCroix joined. As Theall tells it: “The band’s only competition was a band called ‘Jerry and the Dominos.’ We were wiping them out so badly that Jerry gave up his band and called me for a job with the Boogie Kings. I hated for that to happen because we really admired Jerry’s band. But then again, I was very happy to have the opportunity to work with Jerry. We had 11 pieces already, but I hired him anyway because of his enormous talent.”
Recalling the first time he heard the Boogie Kings, Lacroix noted:
“It was like a freight train coming through that room! These guys had five tenor saxophones, a couple of trumpets, a Hammond B-3 organ and one of those Louisiana drummers. They were playing all of that what is now called swamp pop music back then. Fats Domino, Bobby Charles, Louisiana-style music. These guys were really super powerful. They were great. So, after our band kind of disbanded, all of my friends went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston. So, I said if I can’t lick these guys I’ll join them. I called up Ned [Theall], the leader of the band, and asked him if he could use another singer. He said, ‘Come on.’ There were three lead singers and all the horn players sang like black chicks in a gospel choir. They had beautiful voices. It was just an incredible band.”
A chance encounter with Sam Montel of Baton Rouge, who had been the force behind Dale and Grace of “I’m Leaving It Up to You” and “Stop and Think It Over,” led to a recording session at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans. The resulting album, “Sam Montel Presents the Boogie Kings,” includes the key tracks that cemented Shinn’s place in the annals of Louisiana rhythm and blues. Rich with Shinn’s jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics, those songs include “The Crying Man,” “Fever,” “Funny How Times Slips Away,” “Harlem Shuffle,” and “Devil of a Girl” (the latter penned by Morgan City rockabilly swamp-popper Vince Anthony Guzzetta).
By May 1966, the Boogie Kings scored an extended gig in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and according to Theall, “this was to be the last major appearance of the GG and Jerry team.” In 2010, Shinn told the Houston Chronicle: “I left the band because I wanted a small band that could travel better. That big band, it was just too expensive to move around.” Shinn formed a group called the Roller Coasters, which released the infamous “Putt-Putt” album, whose cover featured a trumpet-blowing, suit-wearing Shinn fronting a seven-piece ensemble (including two drum kits) set up on a miniature golf course.
Below was an audio recording of Shinn playing the 1968 Port Sulphur High School prom in Plaquemines Parish during this Roller Coasters period of his career, performing dynamic versions of the Temptations’ “Get Ready” and Glenn Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” (Recording now offline)
According to the Houston Chronicle:
In 1966, he put the Roller Coasters together and Lacroix joined him about a year later. The band was together for “two or three years,” Shinn recalled.
The Roller Coasters did shows up and down the Gulf Coast and played in Miami a lot, he said. “That was fun. Those days are gone.”
Shinn and Lacroix went separate ways. Shinn joined a jazz-rock fusion band called Chase, which produced two albums in the early 1970s. Shinn joined Chase in the middle of the recording session for the second album, “Ennea,” which was released in 1972.
G.G. Shinn had replaced the lead vocalist in the Chase band. Their vocalist had split when the song “Get It On” went all the way to No. 1. Sound familiar? I knew Bill Chase personally. He was a brilliant trumpet player and a great person. I went to the first rehearsal of the band Chase. I remember it well, because Bill forgot his mouthpiece, and I loaned him mine. GG did the vocals on Chase’s second album. It was a masterpiece of an album, but it did not go anywhere. Shortly after the second album was released, Bill Chase was killed in a plane crash, and the world lost a great trumpet player and a wonderful man. Rest in peace, my brother. GG’s big opportunity was delayed by an act of fate. But he was lucky not to be in the plane with Bill.
Although the first Chase album sold nearly 400,000 copies, “Ennea” was not as well-received by the public. One likely reason was a shift away from trumpet sections. A single, “So Many People,” received some radio play, but the side-two-filling “Ennea” suite, with its tightly chorded jazz arrangements and lyrics based on Greek mythology, was less radio-friendly.
Shinn toured with Chase, even traveling to Japan, and YouTube videos of that tour capture Shinn’s overwhelming vocal power for posterity. Though Bill Chase is dead, the group’s members still perform together at reunion gigs.
According to the Houston Chronicle: “Shinn formed a band called T.S.C. Trucking Company and spent time in Las Vegas. That band lasted for about 15 years.” According to guitarist Gerry Mouton’s Web site bio: “While Gerry was with G.G., they played all over the country. Beaumont, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Little Rock, Panama City, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, Iowa City, Denver, Aspen, Monroe, Jackson, Biloxi, Ruston, Joplin and more places than Gerry can remember.” The band likely also included Boogie King/White Trash sax player Jon Smith and future Toto singer Bobby Kimball at one time or another. Shinn also has played with Luther Kent, who said of GG: “Always loved singing with GG. We did a few gigs with the Chicken Hawks, also with the Boogie Kings. GG is one of the greatest vocalists I’ve ever heard!!!!!!!”
Shinn “returned to Louisiana in 1986 and opened up a nightclub in Lake Charles,” according to the Chronicle. “He got married and moved north to Monroe, when he opened another club. Now he has a club in Alexandria, which coincidentally is the town where Lacroix was born.”
In 1992, Shinn formed a veritable supergroup with fellow Louisiana legends John Fred Gourrier of “Judy in Disguise” fame and country-music artist Joe Stampley, a north Louisianian whose 1960s group the Uniques scored a regional hit with a cover of the Allen Toussaint composition “All These Things” and landed on “American Bandstand.” Performing as the Louisiana Boys, the trio also recorded a 1997 album of the same name, produced by Howard Cowart, who played the famous bass line on “Judy in Disguise.”
In 2000, Shinn released a great album on Gary Edwards’ Sound of New Orleans label, titled “You Can Never Keep a Good Man Down.” Shinn is joined by an all-star cast of Crescent City R&B masters, including drummer Harry Ravain (a former latter-day Boogie King), pianist Al Farrell, guitarist Allen Poche, and tenor saxist Jerry Jumonville. Standout tracks include the title song as well as a version of “Two Steps From the Blues” that’s a dead ringer for Bobby “Blue” Bland, and a scorching rendition of Danny White’s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (with blazing guitar work from Poche).
If you’re ever in Alexandria, GG’s nightclub is the hottest spot in town, though one gets the impression that most patrons have little to no idea of the owner’s musical pedigree. Just make sure the legend is performing on the night you go. The club also brings in acts like Cajun accordionist Wayne Toups, soul icon Percy Sledge, swamp-pop singers like Warren Storm and TK Hulin, and country and cover bands, though the focus of the mostly under-40 crowd seems to be on dancing to the DJ’s tunes. While you’re there, pick up a copy of GG’s “Christmas with GG Shinn” CD, in which Shinn breathes brand-new soul into those sometimes-tired holiday standards. You can also catch GG singing around the state and in Texas at festivals and clubs, where he often team ups with TK Hulin to re-create the electric duets of his “King Brothers” days. With Boogie Kings bandleader Ned Theall having died in 2010 after a final Boogie Kings CD that included GG on several tracks, that band’s future is up in the air, though original founder Doug Ardoin is now fronting a new lineup. What’s not up in the air is that GG Shinn remains one of Louisiana’s most powerful singers. If you have any doubts about what blue-eyed soul is all about, catch him at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp. GG will school you.