It wasn’t that long ago, that I came across a picture of Louisiana soul legend Count Rockin’ Sidney. Finding a picture was surprising enough, but not nearly as surprising as what he was wearing. There, atop his head, was one of the most INSANE turbans I had ever seen. A massive, satin popcorn-ball, with his name on the front, and a jewel holding it all together. The picture made me think – not about why he was wearing it – but about other, similar pictures I had seen.
Believe it or not, there was a period, in the 50’s and 60’s where some of your more ‘out there’ performers (many of them hailing from the South) could be found sporting that symbol of the mystic East, the turban.
To many people, unless you live in an area where there is a Sikh community, you probably haven’t seen an old-school turban in person. Most images of turbans we are familiar with come from the movies and TV.
Films set in the Middle East or the British-occupied Raj featured all manner of turban, from run of the mill, everyday Sikh or Muslim turbans, to the wild golden bejeweled numbers (often fitted with Ostrich feathers) on the heads of Pashas and genies. I especially remember one on the cartoon genie on the Fizzies pack from when I was a kid.
When R&B performers started to wear them, it was a risky move. On the right guy (say, Chuck Willis) a turban could give a good-looking cat an intriguing touch of the mysterious. On someone else, say a maniac like Screaming Jay Hawkins, a turban is just another bizarre accessory, there to let you know that this is not a sane man. That dichotomy, a tenuous balance between the suave and the crazy is where turbans would teeter forever more. Some performers could work both sides of the issue. Others wore turbans solely for their novelty value.
I decided that these brave souls deserved to be commemorated in some way. So I bring you, the Turban Hall of Fame. Anyone that knows of other artists (and has a picture of them) that worked the turban, drop us a line at turbans@funky16corners.net.

New Orleans R&B, soul and funk legend, Edwin Bocage or Eddie Bo (as he’s known to his legion of admirers) is a certifiable musical genius. Known for his early R&B sides for Chess, Swan, At Last, Ric, Nola and a host of other labels and his funky work for Bo Sound, Scram, Seven B and others, Bo is giant among Crescent City musical auteurs, and this rare shot of his eminence – au turban – is great.

Harold ‘Chuck’ Willis was an R&B legend that died far too young. He is best remembered for his 1957 version of ‘CC Rider’ and ‘Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes’. Also known as the King of the Stroll. In this shot, Chuck opts for a turban with a jewel

Sidney Simien, better known to his fans as Count Rockin’ Sidney recorded everything from R&B to soul to outright funk before he hit it big as the originator of the zydeco hit ‘My Toot Toot’ (also covered by Jean Knight). He recorded for many years for Louisiana’s Goldband records alongside bayou legends like Boozoo Chavis (subject of NRBQ’s ‘Bozoo, That’s Who’), Iry Lejeune and Cleveland Crochet. Keep an eye peeled for rockin’ soul like ‘Dedie Dedie Da’ and swampy funk like the Count’s anti-Vietnam opus ‘Bury the Hatchet’. Proud owner of perhaps the craziest turban I’ve ever seen.

The Turbans were a Philadelphia based R&B vocal group that had chart success in the mid-50. Featuring Al Banks , Matthew Platt, Charlie Williams and Andrew Jones, the Turbans are credited with performing the first hit record to include the phrase ‘doo-wop’.

James ‘The Mighty Hannibal’ Shaw was an R&B journeyman, recording from the 50’s through the 80’s in a wide variety of settings. His best stuff is the wailing mid-60’s soul-funk of insane tunes like ‘Fishin’ Pole’ and ‘Jerkin The Dog’. He returned in the 1970’s as ‘King Hannibal’. All of his best work is featured in a Norton Records compilation.

Tex-Mex R&B legend Domingo ‘Sam The Sham’ Samudio led the Pharaohs to chart success with mid-60’s hits like ‘Wooly Bully’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Ju Ju Hand’. He sported the turban proudly, while stealing a lot of juice from his stylistic forefather Screaming Jay Hawkins (a far superior performer).

Dr. Lonnie Smith is one of the best of the line of funky Hammond organists that came up in the 60’s. He started his career in George Benson’s combo, before branching out on is own for legendary recordings like ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’, ‘Think’ and ‘The Turning Point’, as well as memorable sideman work in the group of Lou Donaldson. He’s still cooking today, and is the standard bearer for unconventional, musical turban-wearing.

AKA Dolemite. Known to most as the perpetrator of some of the dirtiest, funkiest, blaxpolitationest movies and comedy routines in the guise of Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore was also an R&B shouter and all around soulful cat. His early recordings have been compiled by Norton Records (perhaps the only label keeping the lamp lit for the ‘turban aesthetic’), and his late-60’s/early-70’s 45’s, like ‘Put Your Weight On It’ are worth tracking down.

Screaming Jay Hawkins was the ORIGINAL rock and roll wildman. Jumping out of coffins, while bugging out his eyes and shaking a skull on a stick, scaring the bejesus out of Eisenhower-era America. He could also sing like a motherf$%#er. Best remembered for ‘I Put A Spell On You’, Hawkins also laid down biscuits like Alligator Wine, Constipation Blues, Frenzy and Feast of the Mau Maus.

Roy ‘Professor Longhair’ Byrd was one of the architects of the New Orleans sound. A master pianist with a twisted sense of humor, « Fess » was a legend, inspiring the likes of Eddie Bo, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. Here he sports a loosely wrapped model.

The two guys on the left are New Orleans R&B musicians Bobby Reno and Bobby Mitchell. However, it’s anonymous guy on the right that gets your attention. He’s wearing a stylish, bejeweled turban, yet still manages to look like a dentist. Right on my skinny white brother!!

Marshall ‘Rock’ Jones
of the Ohio Players
Jones, bassist with the Ohio Players (and one of the group’s founding members) may not have sported the insane afro of guitarist-vocalist ‘Sugarfoot’ Bonner, but that turban was mighty fine!
Thanks to Sam Lockley for the pic!

Rajinder Singh Raj
& Party

Granted, there’s nothing unusual about a Sikh band appearing in turbans, but how could I pass on this amazing picture sleeve (first posted in a thread on SoulStrut)? They’re like the Punjabi Four Seasons or something.

Sonny Rhodes
Blues singer, guitarist Rhodes is shown here sporting a stylish, be-jewelled model, with a little bit of a drape in the back. Thanks to Glenn Scharback for the picture!

Lynn Hope
Thanks to Bob Shannon and the Magnificent Goldberg who both hipped me to 50’s R&B legend Lynn Hope, aka Al Hajji Abdullah Rascheed Ahmed. Hope had one hit, ‘Tenderly » in 1950, and made his last session 10 years later.
Turban Wearer Lynn Hope, We salute you!

Hamza El Din
Hamza El Din, master of the oud and one of the greatest living instrumentalists from the Sudan (or anywhere else). He has the distinction of having played with the Grateful Dead. Since the mid-60’s his albums have been available in the West, including LPs on Vanguard and Rykodisc.

Korla Pandit
I have been admonished by more than a few readers for not including 1950’s Exotica legend Korla Pandit. Pandit had a successful TV show on which he basically gazed into the camera (bejewelled turban glistening) and played all manner of romantic music on his organ. He played will into the 1990’s, expiring in 1998.

Eddie Kirkland
Jamaican born (but Alabama raised) blues legend Eddie Kirkland has had a career in which he crossed paths with John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix. he has recorded for a bunch of labels since the early 60’s, and sports some of the most original turbans I’ve ever seen.

Binky Griptite
Guitarist for modern funk powerhouse Sharon Jones and the DapKings, Binky no longer rocks the turbaned look, but we celebrate him for the years he did.

Copyright 2005- Turban Hall of Fame

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