Born Robert Thomas Freeman, 13 June 1940, San Francisco, California
Singer, songwriter, pianist, producer.
Bobby Freeman was only seventeen years old when he wrote and recorded his first hit, "Do You Want To Dance", by far his best known number. Many readers will probably find it hard to mention any other recording by him. But he was more than a one-hit wonder.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Freeman started singing in a doowop group called the Romancers when he was fourteen. In 1956 the quintet managed to get onto Dootone Records and had two singles released on the label, including the rocker "House Cat", which has been reissued on several CD compilations. A third single appeared on the small Baytone label, after which the group fell apart. Bobby then decided to go solo and formed his own group, the Vocaleers, a.k.a. the West Coast Vocaleers to avoid confusion with another group who had scored a # 4 R&B hit in 1953 with "Is It A Dream".
However, Bobby was on his own when he visited a deejay who encouraged him to cut some demos. Accompanying himself on piano while a drum playing friend beat out the rhythm on congas, Bobby taped four songs. The deejay played the tapes for the vice-president of Jubilee Records of New York who happened to be honeymooning in San Francisco. Mortimer Palitz liked what he heard and within three weeks Bobby Freeman was signed to Jubilee. Two of the original demos were overdubbed in New York by professional session musicians, including Billy Mure on guitar, and "Do You Want To Dance"/"Big Fat Woman" was released on Jubilee's Josie subsidiary in March 1958. The disc was an immediate success, peaking at # 5 on the pop charts and # 2 on the R&B charts. "Do You Want To Dance" had a distinctive Latin chord sequence, which has been imitated quite frequently since.
Undoubtedly a rock n roll classic, it has been recorded with success by a variety of artists. Cliff Richard took it into the UK charts in 1962 (a # 1 in Holland), Del Shannon made # 43 in 1964 in the US and a year later the Beach Boys had a # 12 hit with the song. The Mamas and the Papas had a minor hit with it in 1968 (# 76), Bette Midler a # 17 hit in 1973 and the Ramones went to # 86 with their version in 1978. While the original Josie version was titled "Do You Want To Dance", all subsequent releases were dubbed "Do You Wanna Dance". Bobby says the song was always "Do You Wanna Dance" and that Josie made a mistake.
Freeman appeared on American Bandstand and went on package tours with the likes of Fats Domino, the Coasters, Clyde McPhatter, James Brown and Jackie Wilson. He showed that he was no flash-in-the-pan by placing five out of his first seven Josie 45s on the Hot 100 between May 1958 and December 1959, though those hits became increasingly small with each release. "Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes" was the immediate follow-up to "Do You Want To Dance" and peaked at # 37. Again it was Bobby's own composition and followed a similar vocal and instrumental pattern to his first hit. With tracks like "Ebb Tide" and "Need Your Love", Freeman also showed himself to be a convincing ballad singer.
Leaving Josie, Freeman signed a contract with King Records of Cincinnati in June 1960 and recorded four songs on June 23. All four bear a songwriter credit for Bill Massey (Bobby's manager and musical director), but they are all the work of Bobby Freeman himself, who put them in Massey's name for reasons that had to do with the publishing rights. From this session, "Shimmy Shimmy" was selected as the first King single and it returned Bobby to the Top 40, peaking at a very respectable # 37 (pop). One might expect that King would be anxious to get a follow-up out. But four years passed before the name Bobby Freeman re-appeared on the label of a King 45. Interviewed by Tony Rounce in 2009, Bobby was still at a loss to understand why. He recorded 14 more songs for King in 1961, not one of which achieved a contemporaneous release. It was only when Bobby started to hit with his Autumn singles that Syd Nathan delved into his stockpile of unissued masters and released three more King singles and an album in 1964-65. By the time of their release, these 1960-61 recordings were hopelessly out of sync with current trends in soul music.
After a short stint at Cameo-Parkway, Freeman signed with Troy Donahue's new Autumn label in 1964. The first two releases on the label were by Bobby and the second one, the dance song "C'Mon And Swim" became a massive hit, peaking at # 5, both pop and R&B. It was written and produced by a black disc jockey, Sylvester Stewart, the later Sly Stone. The third Autumn single, "S-W-I-M" also charted (# 56), but it would be Bobby's last hit. Meanwhile, Josie recycled some of his old material under the title "Get In the Swim With Bobby Freeman". The Autumn recordings are available on an Ace (UK) CD from 2000, but hold little interest for the fan of 1950s rock n roll. He transformed into a soul singer, continued to record for a host of small labels well into the 1970s, but registered no further hits. However, this did not inhibit Bobby's performing career and he remained a big attraction on the West Coast, where he still maintains a steady club career.
Acknowledgements : Adam Komorowski, Tony Rounce.
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/bfreeman.htm
Dik, November 2013
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