John Fred and His Playboy Band – Agnes English (1967): Forgotten series

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Formed in 1956 and originally billed John Fred and the Playboys, this Baton Rouge, Louisiana group eventually changed their name to John Fred and His Playboy Band to avoid being mistaken for Gary Lewis and the Playboys, who had been ambushing the airwaves with their perky little pop tunes. As an interesting side note, Gary Lewis covered John Fred and His Playboy Band’s best known song, “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses),” which appeared on his Gary Lewis Now! album.

So by the time John Fred and His Playboy Band’s second album Agnes English (Paula Records) was released, they were already veterans of the scene. Several years prior, they achieved a flash of national recognition with the swinging Coasters-meet-Fats Domino styled “Shirley,” and in 1966 their freshman album, John Fred and His Playboys arrived.

Come early 1968, the band finally garnered the major breakthrough they had been striving for, scoring a No. 1 transatlantic whopper with “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses),” which was included on the Agnes English album. A cheeky parody of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” the wildly catchy song was set to a bouncy bubblegum horn rock habitat and concluded to the psychedelic plucking of a sitar. As for another piece of trivia, a Texas band called the Fun and Games quoted “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” in “The Grooviest Girl In The World,” a minor hit from 1969 that also flaunted a bright and sunny bubblegum beat.

Due to “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses),” John Fred and His Playboy Band were immediately typecast as either a novelty act or a blatantly commercial pop group. But those acquainted with their roots were totally aware blues and soul was where they were at. John Fred possessed a rich, robust voice similar to that of Eric Burdon, while the band was taut and lively. Plenty of homegrown southern grit penetrated their material as well.

Although “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” may have been the calling card on Agnes English, every cut on the album has merit. Songs such as “Off The Wall,” “She Shot A Hole In My Soul,” “Most Unlikely To Succeed,” and “Up And Down” resonate with melody and movement. Funky rhythms, prompted by a cooperative combination of brassy orchestration and driving guitars captured John Fred and His Playboy Band’s flair for producing slick but tough sounds. Delivered in a talking narrative, the slow-burning “Sad Story” and the fragile “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” key in as nice ballads. Last but definitely not least, the title track rocks with bleating horns, cheerleader-fashioned choruses and pin-sharp hooks and arrangements.

John Fred and His Playboy Band continued to make records and stage gigs, but in the end “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” was to be their biggest claim to fame. John Fred regretfully passed away in 2005, leaving behind him a canon of cool efforts that are all too unforgivably overlooked. Masters of blues based soul pop and then some, John Fred and His Playboy Band coupled fun with quality — and Agnes English ranks as a perfect example of their vision and abilities.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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