It’s been a while since I covered a single that was recorded before the 80s; it’s always nice seeing some of these older singles pop up in the challenge every so often, especially when it’s from an artist that has been completely forgotten by most people. Take one Ray Sharpe, who found his most successful hit with this very single, “Linda Lu”, which reached up to #46 on the Billboard charts. He was born and raised in Fort Worth, TX and was influenced by the country and blues music that made up his everyday surroundings. Once the rock ‘n’ roll craze hit airwaves, he grew particularly fond of the music of Chuck Berry and taught himself to play guitar by following along with his records. Eventually he would start a recording career, which unfortunately never really took off to any big heights, though it did snag him a spot on American Bandstand during the height of its infamy. The most amazing part of all of this is that he is still alive and making music, well into his late seventies! So that’s pretty awesome.
With just one listen to “Linda Lu”, it’s immediately tempting to place Sharpe in the category of rockabilly music. It has all the trademark qualities of the genre: a prominent bass rhythm, twangy vocals, 12-bar blues structure in its verses. And that alone would be super cool – after all, I don’t often come across too many other Black rockabilly musicians (even though it doesn’t make sense how the whole genre would be utterly dominated by white guys… but I’ll move on). Yet listening through some of his other songs, it’s clear that his influences range from a host of other genres, such as country and blues music. As a musician, he is certainly more versatile than such a simple, cut-and-dry rockabilly song would lead one to believe. It’s true, though, that rock ‘n’ roll is where his strengths lie; his single “Monkey’s Uncle” could easily be written off as a rip-off of both Berry’s and Jerry Lee Lewis’ style, but it’s perfectly good fun on its own accord. I would totally recommend “Gonna Let It Go This Time”, which is a nice upbeat little number with a humorous stammering performance by Sharpe and a backup saxophone that sounds uncannily like a King Curtis bit (though I’m failing to find a source that confirms my suspicions).
“Linda Lu” is as simple as simple could get. The bulk of the lyrics revolve around the titular woman, with whom the speaker is infatuated and believes is “the cutest little girl in town”. The usual love song cliché phrases are there: “When she walks down the street, all the guys stop and look around”, “I’ll marry that gal next Saturday night”, “If you ever leave me, you’re gonna break my poor heart in two”… et cetera. Basically, there are probably a good number of songs from Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, and others that cover the same ground in the same amount of time, maybe even better. However, Sharpe’s unparalleled charm is tough to be equaled by anyone else. Simply the way he dances around stuttered phrases like, “Her real name, her real name, her real name is Linda Lu” is enough to make this well worth a listen through its entire two-minute runtime. It may not be anything particularly exceptional, but maybe Ray Sharpe didn’t deserve to be a name that was lost in time, and I’d highly recommend anyone to dig up this obscure track and enjoy some perfectly pleasant early rockabilly fare.