Frogman Henry and a Fan From Liverpool

David Hinckley
5 min readApr 16, 2024

Sometime in mid-1961, a 20-year-old music fan in Liverpool bought a 45 rpm copy of Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “But I Do.”

He wasn’t alone. “But I Do” would reach №3 on the British pop charts, Frogman Henry’s biggest hit there just as it was his biggest hit in the U.S., where it reached №4.

Clarence Henry, right.

After purchasing the record, which was issued in England’s Pye label on a lease from America’s Argo, the fan wrote his name on the label. Five times. Three on one side, two on the other. This also didn’t set him apart. In the early years of rock ’n’ roll and 45 rpm, it was common to identify your records that way.

The downside, irrelevant to most record buyers, was that “defacing” the label diminished the future value of this record to collectors.

Unless the name on the label happens to be “Ringo,” as it was and is on this copy of “But I Do.” It was bought and owned by Richard Starkey, who a year and a half earlier had begun calling himself Ringo Starr and who a year later would become the drummer for the Beatles.

Not the signed copy.

The record — not Ringo — is currently being offered by RR Auction. Bidding closes April 17 and as of April 15 the high bid was $495, meaning it has enjoyed a nice appreciation since 1961.

While music memorabilia gets auctioned all the time, two things are notable about this offering now. The first is that Frogman Henry died on April 7, a few weeks after his 87th birthday. The second is that not long after “But I Do” was released, Frogman and Ringo met and became friends.

Interestingly, Henry first met the Beatles before Ringo joined them. When he was touring England in 1961, Henry told Offbeat magazine in 2004, a promoter took him to meet the aspirational band “in an upstairs club in Piccadilly Circus.”

At that point, Henry had a hit record and the Beatles did not. By their second meeting, in early 1964, that had, uh, changed.

Henry’s manager, Bob Astor, also worked for NEMS, the British company that arranged for the Beatles’s 1964 American tour. That presumably greased the wheels for Henry, along with Jackie DeShannon and the Bill Black Combo, to become opening acts on the tour’s 18 East Coast dates.

Henry recalled those shows being somewhat different from the concerts he played back home in New Orleans. The swarms of teenage girls, the screaming, the riot police, things like that.

Henry was paid $750 a week, which after expenses came to about $500. When he’d finished his dates, the Beatles gave him a money clip as a token of thanks.

Henry, a happy warrior of the music world, said it was all a great experience.

“I met some snotty entertainers over the years,” he said in a 1994 interview. “But also a lot of nice guys. Paul McCartney was the greatest. Real down-home. And Ringo wanted to find out all about me. We were joined together and became real good friends.”

He did tell Offbeat that the one stab at impromptu music with the Beatles, during a rest stop in Key West, didn’t work out. “We tried to have a jam session,” Henry said. “But I don’t think the Beatles knew too much about music at the time. All they knew was what they played. I was trying to get them to do like the Jimmy Reed or the Bill Doggett beat, things like ‘Honky Tonk,’ but they weren’t too familiar with the blues then.”

Frogman Henry was. His early musical idols, he said in 1994, were Fats Domino and New Orleans icon Roy Byrd, better known as Professor Longhair. Henry joined his first band, Bobby Mitchell and the Toppers, when he was 15. He became part of the New Orleans music culture of the 1950s and 1960s, which spawned artists from Domino to Allen Toussaint, Ernie K-Doe, Frankie Ford, Phil Phillips, Irma Thomas, Joe Jones and others, segueing into the Dixie Cups, the Meters and the Neville Brothers. Many of these artists only reached the margins of the national charts, but they had a secure home in New Orleans.

“I’ve made my living from music,” Henry said in 1994. “I’ve played it all my life. I’ve lived music, and the rest just happened. I bought my first home in 1962, when I was 24 years old.”

That said, Henry allowed that “it wasn’t all peaches and cream.” Along the way he racked up seven wives and 10 children, which presumably made it a challenge when, he said, he went five years without a royalty check. Fortunately, he remained in demand for live performance around New Orleans and eventually in Europe.

In rock ’n’ roll lore, Frogman Henry may be best known for his semi-novelty 1956 hit “Ain’t Got No Home,” where he declares he can “sing like a girl and sing like a frog,” which unsurprisingly is where he got his nickname.

He said in 1994 he still had the falsetto and his teenage voice. But what may have helped more, he suggested, was that while he had strong roots in New Orleans R&B, he enjoyed and sang a wide range of music.

“I grew up listening to everything, including hillbilly and the ballads,” he said. “Now I also listen to Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, people like that.”

His fondness for ballads was reflected in his two biggest hits, “But I Do” and “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” as well as dozens of songs he recorded after he fell off radio playlists.

“In New Orleans,” he said, “you get to play a variety of music. People are open to it.”

“Ain’t Got No Home” got a second life of sorts in the 1990s when Rush Limbaugh used it as a theme for a regular segment scoffing at what Limbaugh called the liberal-fueled homeless crisis. In that case, Henry did get royalties, and he politely declined further comment on the context. “I’m political,” Henry said in 1994. “I just don’t talk politics. From the time I was young, I’ve tried to figure out how the world should be, and what I know is that it’s education that will change it. When Africa gets education, it will change.”

Henry at the 2019 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Meanwhile, he said in 1994, “I’ll keep playing music,” and he did. When he died, he had been booked for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this spring.

His own heritage lives on in the 45 rpm record that Ringo bought 63 years ago. By the time the auction closes, it very likely will have brought more money than Frogman Henry earned from a week of opening for Ringo’s band.



David Hinckley

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”