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Like many pioneering black artists, King Karl says he was taken advantage of--to put it mildly--by a more business-minded individual. In this case, he was a studio owner, songwriter and manager of talent named J.D. The main quarrel centers on a song called "This Should Go On Forever" that somebody wrote; it was recorded by Karl in 1957, but, at J.D.'s behest, stayed in the can for two years until a version by Rob Bernard was released by Chess Records. And yes, it did very well.
According to Bruce Bastin's liner notes for a 1983 compilation, J.D. was "asked by Jolivette to write a song using that title, which I did. . . . I did make him co-writer, but he later sold his portion to me." Oh really?
"I wrote the song!" Karl demands. "You see what the crook would do? He'd put his John Henry on the songs he thought would make it. He was tricky!" Though the King never got what was apparently coming to him, he still has contact with ol' J.D. "He called me just before I left [Louisiana] and said, 'Come see me, I'm down in the dumps, my wife's sick and I just lost a $50,000 lawsuit.' Ha! He should have lost a $150,000 lawsuit! Everything he got, he made off us."
The Musical Kings went their separate ways in the early Sixties, and Karl continued to perform as a solo act until things tapered off in the early Seventies. "There was no money in it for me," he says. "The only guys making money in the Seventies were the blues guys who left Louisiana and played overseas." He worked as a night watchman and tended the garden, living with Georgette in a big, old Louisiana house on two and a half acres.
They miss it.
"A lot of things we could get at home we can't get here," she says. "No crawfish, no catfish. And everything would grow down there. You could put a piece of dried stick in the ground and the next week there'd be buds on it. But don't try that here!" And as for Karl? "Figs, that's one thing I miss. And pears. I can em both, but figs are still the best preserve."
For Karl, performing these days is in the category of "just for fun," he says. "I ain't got time to miss it." He only plays his old songs. "I remember em, sure. It's not hard if you wrote em. You can go years and years and they stick in your head."
He doesn't pay any attention to what's happening in music now.
The only songs he's written lately have been religious. "Yeah, I been writing some gospel," he admits. The couple is born again, Georgette adds. But doesn't that put soul music off limits? "If it don't cause him to sin. If he plays in the house, it don't cause him to sin." Yet he's performing soon at a wicked, smoky nightclub. The man from Opelousas shrugs, still cradling his guitar. He's got a gleam in his eye, maybe thinking about those Southern nights so many years ago in wicked, smoky nightclubs; maybe thinking he's not quite ready to call it quits.
"I'm only playing an hour," he says softly. "Maybe something can come out of it, let the people know I'm here." Karl smiles and starts strumming.