Here’s a clip of one-hit wonder R&B stylist Tommy Tucker with a song which would grow in stature from the 60s to today; “Hi Heel Sneakers” recorded on Chess sub-label Checker in 1964.  The song would be recorded by a wide range of acts from Elvis Presley, to Janis Joplin, to British jazzer Cleo Lane.  This is an example of a song outshining its writer in terms of fame, and taking on a life of its own.

[Listen to ‘HI-Heeled Sneakers’]

Tommy Tucker (born Robert Higginbotham in Springfield, Ohio) took the traditional R&B approach, in that he placed his tunes on the back of a piano-and-sax driven sound, having learned the piano at the age of seven.  By the early 60s, he had scored a few minor hits.  But 1964’s “Hi Heel Sneakers” knocked it out of the park for him.  Tucker’s version scored on the R&B charts, and crossed over to the pop charts too.  It garnered enough attention for a number of acts to snap it up for cover versions, including the Rolling Stones who recorded it for a 1964 BBC radio appearance.   Later, it was recorded by Jose Felciano, who also had a hit with it.

Riding high, Tucker toured the UK.  And for a follow-up he wrote “Long Tall Shorty” with soul singer Don Covay, although it made less impact on the charts.  He would write songs with Atlantic records found Ahmet Ertegun, and record with Chess bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon.  But, despite his impressive company,  it seemed that “Hi Heel Sneakers” would be Tucker’s shot.  Tucker would troll the edges of the musical universe up until his death in 1982 at the relatively young age of 49.

“Hi Heel Sneakers” is one of the best examples of first wave R&B that I can think of, full of low-rent fun, going out at night for some action, all with the possible threat of violence (‘better wear some boxin’ gloves/In case some fool might wanna fight…”).  Tucker’s lazy, Jimmy Reed-like delivery makes this tune something of a treat as well, and Tucker’s is the voice of someone from the neighbourhood seizing the day, or the night in this case, in spite of the dangers involved.  There’s nothing more rock ‘n’ roll than that.

My first encounter with this tune was on Paul McCartney’s early 90s Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) record, which included this song among other R&B and country covers mixed in with his Beatles material.  There was something basic about it which I loved, and it is made clear that it is this brand of R&B which helped the Beatles work out their sound when they were starting out.  Tucker could have done worse then recording this one knock-out tune to be celebrated by so many.


9 thoughts on “R&B Songwriter Tommy Tucker Performs His Smash “Hi Heel Sneakers”

  1. Enjoyed your Tommy Tucker tribute. Exactly right on the Jimmy Reed comparison, and on the (albeit indirect) importance for the Beatles. There’s also a copy on Mojo’s comilation “Chess Classics.” Happy listening.

  2. Hey Ronald,

    Thanks for comments. I think I have that compilation you mentioned kicking around. I seem to recall a MOJO comp that had a cut from Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud, which I might write about in a future post.

    Thanks again!

  3. Nice post on a nice song (which I just digitized from the original checker single). My first encounter was through the movie version of Quadrophenia. Our hero gang of mods saunter into a dank club and the mod band on stage is performing this.

  4. Hey Morgan

    Thanks for comments. It is often an afterthought that one of the major musical forms in mod culture is R&B and soul music. And this was certainly an anthem, I would suspect, especially the “…in case some fool might want to fight” part.

    Nice blog you’ve got there, by the way. To the blogroll you go, sir. 🙂

  5. An Electric Mud review? Great. That’s a strange one–hated by the purists when it came out, but I rather liked it!

  6. Thanks so much for honoring my father. He was one of the true Bluesmen that love sharing his gift with the world. I try really hard to keep his spirit alive with my own music. Many blessings to the Blues.- Teeny Tucker

    1. You’re welcome, Teeny. The song he wrote is immortal, and easily one of my favourite R&B tunes of all time.

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  7. Tommy Tucker aka Robert Higginbotham was not a one hit wonder. Albeit, HHS, was his biggest commercial hit to date, he also charted a song called “Alimony”, “Rock and Roll Machine” with the flipside being a collaboration between he and Ahmet Ertegun. Herb Abramson, an original founder of Atlantic Records was his manager. Sugar Pie DeSantos’ “Slip In Mules” was also charted in 1965.

    Over 500 artists, labels, record companies have covered and/or recorded the song HHS. Legendary names such as Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Ramsey Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis, appeared on Johnny Cash cd, performed by Carl Perkins, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, Paul McCartney, Sting, Jerry Garcia, Rod Stewart (Faces), Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Pinetop Perkins, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Rivers, Sammy Davis Jr., James Burton, David Cassidy, Jeff Beck, Freddie Fender, Jose Feliciano, John Lee Hooker, Ronnie Milsap, Blue Mitchell, Grant Green, Jimmy Smith, Rufus Thomas, Ike & Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Booker T & The M.G.’s, The Who’s soundtrack (Cross Section), The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Bill Haley & His Comets, The Everly Brothers, The Searchers, and many independent and less publicized but with a fan base entertainers.

    So, said artist was not a one hit wonder but wondered why the hit he created alone, has made so many others rich from it’s use without our permission…Blog that! Robert Higginbotham/Tommy Tucker estate has been omitted from the payment process for his copyrighted works and the copyright laws seem to support those activities with Congress’ approval…..

  8. Since my last comments, it has been discovered that over 1000 artists and publishers has covered the song ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’, that’s a lot of covers for the Robert Higginbotham/Tommy Tucker Estate, to have received so little…has anyone ever questioned the collectives’ payment methods?

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