The temperature will drop Sunday at Club Coozan as members of Freeze reunite.
The band, which served as the house band at Smackwater Jacks, was popular during the mid-’70s and ’80s, and billed itself as “The Sound of Electrified Funk.”
Freeze was the idea of Mike Kirkpatrick (trumpet) and Fred Cassidy (saxophone). “We were all juniors at Tara (High School),” says Dale Craft, who was drafted as lead guitarist along with drummer Kirk Blackwood. “The four of us started the band, then we added Charlie Kramer as lead singer and the late Preston Holder on bass.”
Their first gig was for a ’50s night at Tara High. Blackwood asked organizers if the band could play some contemporary music near the end of their performance. He got an OK and the band took off.
Out of high school, Craft moved to keyboards and Jerry “Waldo” Watts joined the group on lead guitar. Dana Hall came on board as the bass player, replacing Holder, and Jay Hebert replaced Cassidy on sax. The band also signed Richard Payne as its lead singer.
“That’s when we became Freeze,” adds Craft.
Watts, who was in the Navy at the time, traveled from Meridian, Mississippi, every weekend to play with the band. Eventually that wasn’t doable and he was replaced by Pat Niquiporo, although Watts would still occasionally play with the group.
Like most bands first getting started, Freeze played high school proms and homecoming dances. As its popularity grew, the band also played LSU fraternity and sorority parties, at the old Fun Fair Park, the Sportsman’s Lodge in Campti and a club in Maringouin called The Hill.
“It looked like an old shotgun house,” says Niquiporo. “That place was swinging; we played there several times. The Sportsman’s Lodge was out in the middle of nowhere. It was the first place we played where we got a hotel room. We thought we were really cool.”
The band members credit Smackwater Jack’s owner Ronnie Fairchild with giving them their biggest break — serving as the house band on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 1975 to 1977. It was here that Freeze perfected its sound and style.
“We started doing dance routines and we discovered that bands with costumes got paid more,” says Payne.
So off to New Orleans they went to have their gold lamé “zoot suits” made. “We’d play the first set in our street clothes and the second set in costumes,” says Craft.
Eventually Freeze got so popular that it hired a manager, Don Turner.
“There were a lot of big nightclubs in those days, 1,000- to 2,000-people clubs,” says Blackwood.
The hiring of a manager meant more touring and changes in band personnel.
“I got married and had to get a real job,” says Craft with a laugh. Hall also left the group and was replaced by Ray Dalcourt on bass.
Freeze found itself opening for the likes of Chubby Checker, the Ohio Players, Tyrone Davis and Vince Vance & the Valiants.
“When we were opening for the Ohio Players, their manager asked us not to do their big hit, ‘Fire,’” recalls Payne. “It was something we always played so for our last song we did ‘Fire’ complete with pyrotechnics and the place went crazy.”
“We made our own pyrotechnics and we were dangerous,” he added.
Then there was the performance at a University of Texas fraternity party.
“Archie Bell & the Drells were performing next door and Pat and I wanted to go meet them and have a drink,” says Payne.
The rest of the band left them and drove back to Baton Rouge but not before traveling down a one-way street and getting stopped by the police.
“We’re all in these gold lamé suits and the cop says, ‘I can’t wait to hear this,’” says Blackwood, laughing.
Payne had the group’s credit card so he and Niquiporo took a plane home, beating the rest of the band back to Baton Rouge.
In late 1979, Freeze signed with a record label and was set to record its first album. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt before that happened. Also, in the late ’70s and early ’80s disco and country music became all the rage.
“It about killed us,” adds Payne.
Freeze played its last gig in 1981, a benefit performance for a fan battling cancer.
Over the years, some 32 guys played for Freeze. Most of them will be on hand for Sunday’s reunion. They’ll share memories of days gone by while dancing to the sounds of Storywood, Boss Tweed and Geared Up — bands who count Freeze alumni as their current members.