Tuesday December 10th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL
I’m a day late, but I would be remiss if I didn’t remember the birth date of John Elroy Sanford - aka Redd Foxx - who was born on December 9th, 1922. He was influential to comedians of both his own generation and those that followed him, and in my opinion has always been under rated.
I first discovered him like most Americans from his role as Fred Sanford on ‘Sanford and Son’ in the ‘70s, but I later came to realize how important a figure he was in the bigger picture of the 20th century standup comedy scene. He was a groundbreaker and trendsetter with ‘party records’.
Those were recordings of standup comedy shows that were risqué for the time, but pretty tame by today’s standards. Before cable TV and the internet, it was the only source of entertainment at most parties and it filled a void. Redd Foxx realized this, and was smart enough to carve a niche.
I saw an interview with him years ago where he talked about having the reputation of doing X rated material or ‘working blue’, and he said the only reason he did it was that there was no place else for the public to get it at the time. It was strictly a business decision, and it worked for him.
Redd appeared on about 50 of these records, and I remember owning several through the years. I’ve moved so many times I eventually ended up dumping all my vinyl albums, but I do wish I’d held on to an autographed album I bought at a rummage sale for $1. I should have had it framed.
Redd worked the ‘chitlin’ circuit’, which is a nice way of saying he played hell holes sweating to squeak out a living just like I’ve been doing my entire adult life. I can only imagine the glut of horror stories he must have had trying to pry payment out of club owners and living on the road.
He wasn’t paid nearly enough for his record sales, even though it did help make him a name to sell tickets for his live performances. He came along at a time where there wasn’t much recourse but to keep working and squeak out a living. He paid his dues, and deserved his eventual success.
I thought Sanford and Son was a very funny show, and still do. Redd’s character holds up well in my opinion. It was always a highly rated show at the time, and my grandparents both loved it so that says a lot. They had different senses of humor, and as a kid I liked it too. It was universal.
Jerry Dye is a Chicago comedian who was born in Mississippi, and is in the generation before me. I worked with him many years ago, and he told me he used to write for Sanford and Son. He said that Redd was notorious for putting as many of his chitlin’ circuit friends on the show as he could. It might only have been a small speaking role or even an extra, but he took care of them.
I always thought that was classy, and should I ever have the ability to do that I’d absolutely do it too. It would be a thrill to be able to give people national television exposure, especially those who have paid dues and deserved it. Redd shared the wealth, and I loved hearing that from Jerry.
Unfortunately, Redd had some nasty issues with the IRS. Rumor has it he owed millions when he died. He was a performer first and business wasn’t a priority. Boy, can I relate to that mindset. Still, Redd Foxx was a pioneer and I greatly respect all of his work. He’s up there with the best.
|Redd Foxx is the undisputed king of "party records".|
|His mainstream fame came from his role as Fred G. Sanford - the name of his deceased older brother.|