Last week was an incredible musical journey! Over the course of four days, I played 11 performances with 7 different ensembles. The Central PA Festival of the Arts was blossoming all over State College, and in addition to my regular gigs there were six festival gigs. By the time the Triple A Blues Band finished on Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted but also exhilarated by the experience.
That joy was soon tempered by sorrow, as I found out Monday that Lotsa Poppa, the great Blues singer from Atlanta GA, had passed away early that day.
I played keyboards behind Poppa for the last 6 years I lived in Atlanta, and he was without a doubt the best entertainer I’ve ever worked with. Using his powerful voice, he not only sang his heart out but told many stories as part of his show, a show that contained a lot of language that, well, as he put it:
“I’m a grown man. If I wanna say ‘shit’, I say ‘shit,’ I don’t say ‘doo-doo.’ SHIIIIIT!!”
There were quite a few references to the female form in his show, too.
These stories were all humorous, and despite having heard them hundreds of times, we band members still laughed along with the audience, an audience that he commanded everywhere we played. When Lotsa Poppa was on stage, everybody from the front to the back of the room was paying attention – a feat that few club performers can pull off consistently.
Strokin’ – Live at Blind Willie’s
He had a big voice, a big smile, and a big presence. His moniker “400 Pounds of Soul” was not an exaggeration. As he once told a policeman who pulled him over in his Cadillac for not wearing a seatbelt,
“Wear a seatbelt? Does it look like I’m gonna fall out of the car?”
He was born Julius High Jr. in Atlanta GA in 1935, baptized by Martin Luther King Jr, and sang in the Ebeneezer Baptist Church choir from the time he was 5 until his mid-20s. He began touring as “Little Julius” and recorded several singles in the 1960′s. There are links to them at www.LotsaPoppa.com.
While in Chicago with Sam Cooke and Dinah Washington, he was given the nickname “Lotsa Poppa,” and continued performing until 2004 when ill health landed him in a nursing home.
The band I was in at the time, the Atlanta Heat Blues Revue, began backing up Poppa in 1995, and continued to do so until his retirement in 2004. My last gig with them was New Years Eve 2001, after which I moved back to Pennsylvania.
In addition to the gigs, performing with Poppa was also a big part of my courtship with Christy, my wife. She loves the Blues, and she loved Poppa and the great times we had playing around Atlanta, notably Darwin’s and TTurning (sic) Point in Marietta, the Peckerhead Brewery in Douglasville, The Newnan Riders Club, the Auburn Avenue Elks Club, and of course, Blind Willie’s. We’ve been to Atlanta several times since moving away, and always stopped to visit Poppa in the nursing home, remembering to bring a few Planter’s Peanut Bars. He would sing a couple songs, and talk about the show posters on his wall.
His 400 pounds melted away over the last decade, but his soul lives on, and he leaves an indelible mark in the memories of the many musicians who played with him over the years, and the audiences who adored him. As he joins the Heavenly Choir, the Angels may welcome him with a bit of trepidation, but they’ll be laughing along with the rest of us soon enough.
We love you, Poppa – sing on >>>> If You Don’t Know Me By Now