A French-speaking Cajun son of a truck driver who can't play an instrument or read music sings in an R&B band at school functions is departing from a local eatery one night. 

The kid farewells his mates with a See you later, alligator. A drunk overhears, and adds After while crocodile. To make sure he heard things correctly, the kid goes back inside, asks the drunk to repeat what he said, goes home and uses the two lines as the basis for a song that takes him about twenty minutes to write.

The owner of a local record shop hears the kid sing his song at a dance, and persuades him to sing his song to Leonard Chess over the phone. Chess is impressed enough to get the song cut in New Orleans using local Chess Records affiliates, and while the kid's version doesn't make it big, the song is covered by Bill Haley and becomes a smash.

After Chess decides he'd prefer the kid to record in Chicago rather than the Crescent City he makes a startling discovery as the kid alights from the plane.

Chess: You're not black!

Kid: I know.

Although his own recording career doesn’t take off, the kid hits the road with other Chess artists, and is usually the only white guy on the bus, which isn't necessarily a good thing to be. The occasional bullet aimed in his direction is enough to persuade him he'd be better off working on the promotional side of things until the clamour of the Civil Rights years means that a white guy in Alabama driving a car with Illinois plates around a circuit of black radio stations is more than likely to attract unwanted police attention.

Having said good-bye to the record business, the kid releases the occasional album while living quietly. Along the way he gets to deal with personal disasters including scrapes with the law, a broken marriage, general excess, fires, floods, diabetes and cancer.


B© Ian Hughes 2012