WHEN I ARRIVED AT MY OFFICE on a day in early 1987, I was handed a package that had arrived earlier. As I worked at home more often than “at work,” my schedule of arriving and departing varied from day to day. My job was editor of a line of price guides for record collectors published by O’Sullivan Woodside and formerly associated with other authors.
I didn’t have an office at the building that housed O’Sullivan, Woodside & Co., a small publishing outfit better known as O’Sullivan Woodside. OW consisted of a tiny office where Don Woodside presided over the acquisition and selling the price guides and the books of Norman W. Walker.
The rest of the building housed the printing apparatus of COL Printing, where John O’Sullivan handled various printing projects for local companies and also printed the books that Don sold.
I had been there less than a year and already had two books under my belt: the 1985-86 edition of the Rock & Roll Record Albums price guide, and the Elvis Presley Record Price Guide.
All looked hunky-dory in my world.
We were playing in Florida and the girls at the time had these big old sunglasses. She took off these glasses and she could stop a clock. I said, “She’s kind of in disguise.”
I went to my “desk” (a table in the common room where meetings and luncheons were held) and opened it. I knew it was a record: the 13x13x1-inch box was a give-away. I just wasn’t expecting anything like a record.
The only thing I received at OW was letters complimenting my books.
Or critiquing them.
Inside was a copy of THE BEST OF JOHN FRED & THE PLAYBOYS (Sugarcane SR-100, 1984), autographed by John Fred to me with a nice note. There was also a fan letter from Fred to Umphred (!) along with a business card.
Shirley and Agnes
So, of course, I immediately called the number on the card and found myself in a conversation with John! He was coaching sports at a local high school, working as a producer with Irma Thomas, playing gigs with the Playboys. He also made some spending money wheeling and dealing old 45s. But first, a little background on John:
John Fred Gourrier was born in 1941 and formed John Fred & The Playboys in 1956. They had a minor hit with Shirley (Montel 1002) in April 1959 on both Billboard and Cash Box. The group appeared on Alan Freed‘s show, but when Dick Clark invited him to do American Bandstand, Fred turned him down to play a basketball game!
John Fred was a superb athlete, playing baseball and basketball in high school and at Louisiana State University and Southeastern Louisiana University.
He continued recording for regional companies, issuing three more singles on Montel, followed by three on Jewel and one on N-Joy. In late ’65, Jewel placed the group on their Paula subsidiary, where they had a regional hit with Agnes English in early ’67.
John Fred & His Playboy Band made the Big Time with Judy in Disguise (With Glasses), which reached #1 in January 1968 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Cash Box Top 100. The song was a pop gem: the title was a play on the Beatles’ Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (about all they have in common), but the music was uptempo rhythm & blues pop.
Because the song was a parody with an irrepressible beat and hook, Fred was considered by some to be a novelty act. The wit and insight in the record go unnoticed by most writers and even Fred fans. His follow-up records were rarely given any airplay on Top 40 radio. Even today, many websites place Judy In Disguise in their Bubblegum Rock category!
After his fifteen minutes of international fame, Fred continued to perform in bands. He also coached high school sports, remained a fixture at concerts and shows in his hometown, and hosted a popular local radio show, The Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll. (Wikipedia)
Cantaloupe eyes come to me tonight
Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) was written by Fred with Playboy Andrew Bernard. Fred was inspired by a minor event while touring in 1967: “We were playing in Florida and the girls at the time had these big old sunglasses. One of the guys was hustling this chick. She took off these glasses and she could stop a clock. I said, That’s it! That’s what gave me the idea. I said, She’s kind of in disguise.“
Judy in disguise, well that’s what you are!
A lemonade pie with a brand new car.
Cantaloupe eyes, come to me tonight.
Judy in disguise with glasses.
Keep wearing your bracelets and your new ra-ra.
Cross your heart with your living bra.
A chilly sweet sparrow with guys.
Judy in disguise with glasses.
Come to me tonight.
Come to me tonight.
I’ve taken everything in sight,
except for the strings of my kite.
Judy in disguise, that’s what you are.
A lemonade pie got your brand new car.
Cantaloupe eyes, come to me tonight.
Judy in disguise with glasses.
Judy in disguise, what you aiming for?
A circus of horrors, well that’s what you are!
You made me a laugh of asses—
I guess I’ll just take your glasses.
I still remember my response to hearing Judy In Disguise on WARM (“the Mighty 590”) for the first time in late ’67: What is this shit?!!? Of course, I was 16 and a very very good boy so I almost certainly didn’t say “shit.” Hell, I probably didn’t even think like that then! I probably said “crap.” But you get the message.
And the group’s name: John Fred and His Playboy Band. Keeriminies, I envisioned them as a bunch of (old) 30-year olds who thought a band name that linked them to Hugh Hefner was hip.
So every time Judy In Disguise came on the radio, I reached for the dial to see if WILK was playing anything decent. But how long can you hold out on a record as goofy and wonderful as Judy In Disguise?
In 1971, I found a used jukebox copy for a nickel at one of the many tiny shops that sold smokes, magazines, candy, baseball cards, comic books, and anthracite coal souvenir shops on Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square and took it home and fell in love with it!
Unzippering kite strings
Part of the fun of 45s on the radio in the ’50s and ’60s was deciphering the lyrics. The record is mixed in such a way that parts of Fred’s lead vocal are muffled. There are alternative readings of the lines that I opted for above include, none of which any more sense than mine:
• “unzipper the strings of my kite” instead of “except for the strings of my kites”
• “chimney sweep sparrow with guise” instead of “chilly sweet sparrow with guys”
• “you made me a life of ashes” instead of “you made me laugh of asses”
The best version I could find on the Internet for discerning the words is on the gmtPlus9(-15) website (and whose hyperlink is now gone), and it is not definitive.
An instrumental bridge before the final chorus has Fred “Oh,” “Ah,” and “Uh”-ing in a manner that I can only describe as orgasmic. How they got a cum-scene past the scenarios is remarkable. But even more remarkable is that rockwriters and historians have somehow not glommed onto the fact that a cum-scene is happening and never write about it.
The song was also #1 in Germany and Switzerland but pooped out at #3 in Great Britain. “When I met John Lennon, he thought [Judy In Disguise] was great,” Fred recalled. “He said the first thing he was going to do when he got home was write a song called ‘Froggy In A Pond With Spectacles.'”
As a noun, rah-rah’s can be interpreted as a temper tantrum or a type of shoe that was popular in the ’60s.
Discography and price guide
Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) was an international smash, appearing on several imprints in countries where Paula had no distribution. This gallery here presents the Paula original 45 followed by picture sleeves from other countries. The values assigned are approximations.
A white label promo copy of Paula 282 graded EX/NM sold on eBay for $163 in 2012. Another copy in lesser condition sold for $78 in the same year. I haven’t a clue as to why it is so valuable. The pink label record below it is also a promo, noting the PLUG SIDE. I assume that it was pressed after the single took off and additional promotional efforts were used to push the record up the charts.
Apparently, the white label records are the first pressings of Paula 282. Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) / When The Lights Go Out. Aside from the pink promo and the stock white label pressings (both above), the website 45cat.com pictures four pink label variations, two red label variations, and one yellow label pressing.
I selected one of the pink labels that varies in the setting of the type from the pink label promo, a red one with a bb-sized cut-out hole drilled through the lower left. A realistic NM value for any of these would appear to be $10-20.
Judy In Disguise was also issued as part of Philco’s experimental Hip-Pocket Records introduced in 1968. They were 4-inch records on flexible plastic issued in a cover that could fit into a back pocket and be sat on without damaging the record. They originally sold for 50¢ but were reduced to 39¢ and then discontinued in 1969.
The sleeves below are the ones that I could find on the Internet; others might exist. As I am no authority with non-American records, no values are assigned to them.
An International Gallery of “Judy In Disguise” Picture Sleeves
Brazil: Continental 50.076.
A very groovy sleeve lifted from the second version of the Paula LP. I like the art better here with the white backdrop instead of the black on the American album.
Denmark: California C-282.
Strange sleeve with an antique photo of Fred with a cheesecake photo that looks like it might have been used to advertise a cheesy remake of Creature From The Black Lagoon.
England: Stateside RSS-122.
A nondescript sleeve that doesn’t deserve commentary.
Germany: Vogue DV-14692.
Tasteful sleeve design but the model doesn’t have any real Judyness about her, no ra-ra, no cantaloupe eyes.
Germany: Vogue DV-14792.
Based on the catalog number, it didn’t take Vogue long to decide that a new version by an English band with a large German following should compete with the original. And why not put the new record in the same sleeve as the original and confuse the customers to the point where they don’t buy either?!!?
Germany: Stateside C-23.693.
I don’t know which came first in Germany, this Stateside release or the Vogue above. The folks at Stateside that designed this sleeve should have been sent packing to look for jobs outside of an art department.
Germany: Contempo 6.11310.
On of the extraordinarily bleh! generic sleeves that popped up around the globe in the ’70s to hold a reissues.
Italy: Curium DE-2691.
This is the same photo that was used on the Paula AGNES ENGLISH album from which Judy In Disguise was pulled as a single. After the single became a hit, this album was retitled JUDY IN DISGUISE and given new cover art (see the sleeve for Continental 50.076. released in Brazil above).
Japan: Seven Seas HIT-1492.
Japanese picture sleeves from the ’60s are noted for their originality and beauty and quality and this ain’t one of those sleeves!
Me and John and Judy in 1968
Back to 1987 and my conversation with John: We had a lengthy talk in which he complimented my record album price guide and inquired if I was going to do a 45 guide. Apparently he was buying and selling old 45s, many of which came to him effortlessly due to his background. He was also working on a new record with Irma Thomas with him as her producer.
“Do you like spicy food?”
And I told him that while my mouth really enjoyed spicy food, the rest of my digestive system rebelled against my mouth’s taste for such cuisine.
“Well, if you ever get down here to Louisiana, I’ll take you out on the bayou to some places to eat where we will be the only white people and it will be spicy!”
Alas, I never made it down there and now it’s too late:
In 2002, John Fred released his final album, SOMEBODY’S KNOCKIN’.
In 2005, John Fred died at the age of 63.
In 2007, John Fred was the first inductee into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
In 2007, John Fred was inducted into the Delta Music Museum.
HEADER IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken from the front cover of his first album JOHN FRED AND HIS PLAYBOYS (Paula LP-2191, 1966). I had to crop it rather severely to fit into the slot available for featured images on this theme.