Word Is Bond
Lou Bond’s music is back on the street
by David Williams
Call Lou Bond the Houdini of soul music. Following the release of his only album to date—1974’s Lou Bond—the then-Memphis-based singer and guitarist simply vanished. His music—a curious mix of folk, funk, and strings—grew similarly hard to find.
But folks were hip to Bond. OutKast sampled him in 1996; Prodigy, Brother Ali, and Mary J. Blige followed suit. But who is he?
Bond was born in Chicago in 1945, a fact he learned from his aunt at the age of thirteen. Before getting to know his biological family, he bounced around a number of foster homes. He learned how to appreciate music in church, and learned to play guitar by age nine. He enlisted in the Navy in 1963, only to be discharged within a year. He returned to Chicago to live with his father around this time, and started playing guitar with a group called the Thrillers.
In 1966, Bond released his first 45, “Ooh You Cheater” b/w “What Have I Done,” and in ’67 he released “You Shake Me Up” b/w “Don’t Start Me Crying.” Though neither single charted, Bond found work as a writer at Chess Records until the label was sold in 1969.
Fatefully, Bond’s next move was to Memphis. There, he landed at the Stax imprint We Produce and recorded his first and only album with drummers Willie Hall and Steve Holt, pianist Lester Snell, organist Sidney Kirk, guitarist Al McKay, bassist William Murphy, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and the Horns of South Memphis. For the first time since it’s 1974 release, Lou Bond has been reissued, on Light in the Attic Records.
How does it feel to have your music available again?
Listen, I am truly grateful. On my bended knees, thanking the Creator. It’s beautiful, man. Stuff like this kind of happens, though. An astrologist, a lady-friend of mine, [she] said it would be like this years ago, and it’s coming to fruition now. She read my horoscope and said that I would have a strange existence before this period now where I’m experiencing recognition and all this stuff. And it’s true. It’s amazing. I’m just grateful. Thank God.
How did you come to work with Light in the Attic?
I found out that my album, or myself, was popular overseas and all this stuff, in November of last year. [A friend of mine] came by my house and left a note in my apartment that I was on the Internet. [Light in the Attic] got in touch with me through the Internet, [and my friend] helped me out because I’m not computer literate.
You’ve had a cult following over the years.
Now, the first time I heard that—that I have such a following and all this stuff—is now. I heard it mentioned a couple of weeks ago in another magazine. Since I’m just finding out about this appreciation, I think it’s great, and I’m grateful for it. Lets me know that the Creator exists and miracles happen. It’s good to know that people like my music.
Did writing your own songs free you up to change your vocal style? There’s quite a difference between singles like “Ooh You Cheater” and how you sang on “To the Establishment.”
Yeah, because on “Ooh You Cheater,” that was Bobby Miller [who was] the writer. He’s a nice guy. But yeah, the album freed me up, like you said. Bobby Miller got me [to Chess Records]. I was a staff writer. I miss Chess, there was a nice atmosphere up in there.
What kind of material were you writing at Chess?
Well, one of my songs was chosen by Mighty Clouds of Joy. A tune called “To Chase the Wind.” [sings] “I hear some sounds of laughter/Cry for peace/Oh, there’s souls of darkness seekin’ release/Who has the answer to make things right?/It’s got to be the one who rules day and night/To chase the wind.” I don’t know, went sort of like that. When they chose that tune, right after that, Chess went through the same thing that Stax did. They had some kind of legal problems, and Chess closed down. So I heard no more about that tune. I don’t know what ever happened to it or nothing.
How did you end up at Stax?
In Chicago, I met a friend. He was an entertainer, also: Mr. Lee Sain. He moved to Memphis, [and] I moved to Memphis in 1971, back to where I grew up. When I got to Memphis, I ran into Lee Sain, and he told me he was at Stax. He introduced me to the people—Tom Nixon and Josephine Bridges—at Stax. He was there on the [We Produce] label with the Temprees, another great group. I was performing around the city as a matter of fact, at different little coffee houses and nightclubs, and got recognition. That was in 1971. And in ’73/’74, while I was [on the road] with the Temprees, along with Josephine and Tom our managers, my album came out. And I think Stax folded in 1976. It was a trip.
Did touring with the Temprees give you the opportunity for your album?
No, I was working on the album before I got to tour with them. Stuff just fit in.
Did you have the full band behind you?
It’s always been just me and the guitar. It was the way I wanted it; it was the way the people wanted it. When I was coming up, a lot of blues players was just you and the guitar. That was your only accompaniment. Starting out, anyway. With the guitar or a harmonica or something.
In the studio, what made you decide to add horns and strings?
The strings and all that was built around my melodies made with me and the guitar.
So then how did a song like “To the Establishment” come about?
Well, the lyrics is just talking about what was going on in the world. Still is the same thing, you know? The lyrics are self-explanatory. Life is what brought it on. Actually, the melody and the song came about at the same time on that one. Some songs are written, some come separate. You write the lyrics, and the melody will come to you later. But those came together on that one.
Did you continue to write after Stax folded?
No, not really. I started stuff and [got] what’s called a writer’s block. [laughs] I mean, a serious one. Back then, I was homeless and stuff, so circumstances take away the urge, eventually. It’s life. Different things happen in life, and that’s what it gave me. So I haven’t been able to write anything in a while. A long while. Since the ’70s, actually. Ideas will pop up, but I haven’t been able to complete anything.
What are you going to do with this new opportunity?
I haven’t got the slightest idea. I’ve been trying to work on some new tunes. Like I said, I got the writer’s block. But this recognition, it’s given me a spark of inspiration. Thanks to people getting in touch with me from different parts of the world. So I’m grateful. I thank the Creator, and we’ll see what happens. Yes, I am trying to come up with another musical something. Physically, I’m alright. I’m grayer, but I look the way I do on [the album cover]. I still run and lift weights, though not a lot. So, physically, I’m alright. And I feel like, musically and mentally, it’s coming back to me. So stuff might be alright. By the spring or this time next year, who knows? I’m always trying when my mind is together. Music, it might be strange on me and stuff, but I thank the lord that it’s getting better. I’m hoping it’ll all espouse me to pop up with something.