Songwriter Bobby Charles Dies at 71
The Louisiana music scene has lost one of its most cherished members as Bobby Charles passed away on Thursday at age 71. Charles, originally from Abbeville, crafted several hits, including 'Walkin' to New Orleans' for Fats Domino and 'I Don't Know Why I Love You (But I Do)' for Clarence "Frogman" Henry. But his best known song started, as so many great ones do, in a bar. Legend has it Charles was walking out of a club when he said, "See you later, alligator." When someone responded, "After a while, crocodile," He went back to check he had heard correctly.
He had, and that little exchange led to 'See You Later, Alligator,' which became a monster hit for early rock heroes Bill Haley and the Comets. Singing the song over the phone earned Charles a deal from legendary label Chess Records. Though he could not read music or play an instrument, he put out several albums of his own over the years and became friends with the likes of Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Willie Nelson and Neil Young.
In fact, one of Charles' last big public appearances was in the 1976 Martin Scorsese-directed Band concert film, 'The Last Waltz.' After that, Charles, who dealt with several health issues, including cancer, and lost his home in Hurricane Rita, preferred to remain largely anonymous. Scheduled to appear at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2004 and New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2007 as part of a salute to his music, he canceled both at the last minute.
Charles was happiest as a songwriter, saying in an interview once, "I never wanted to be a star. I've got enough problems, I promise you. If I could make it just writing, I'd be happy. Thank God I've been lucky enough to have a lot of people do my songs."