Saturday, January 05, 2008


For the Defense: LSU's Bandits

by Wayne Robins

On Monday night at the Superdome, when the LSU defense stops the Ohio State offense on a fourth and goal, the Tigers' band is likely to play a song—little more than a riff, actually—known as the "Chinese Bandit" theme. The tune is named after the second string but deadly effective defensive unit of the 1958 national championship LSU team, one of three platoons (the others were the White team, the starting unit that played both offense and defense, and the Go, or Gold team, the second string offense) deployed by visionary coach Paul Dietzel, who had the idea of using different squads in the same game to keep the players fresh. It was Dietzel who dubbed the defensive specialists the Chinese Bandits, after some exceptionally tough desperadoes in the "Terry & the Pirates" comic strip.

Chinese Bandits' lore is one of the spiritual foundations of those of us who are LSU football fans. But few are probably aware of a regional rock'n'roll song called "Chinese Bandits," by the Cheer Leaders, a tune brought to my attention by a Memphis law professor who, ironically, attended the University of Arkansas, one of the teams that handed LSU one of its two triple overtime defeats this year.

"At the time the song came out, I was a high school senior in Hot Springs, Arkansas and WKNO [New Orleans] was our favorite late night radio station," my correspondent e-mailed me last month. "After writing you, I spent a good bit of time on web sites with song lyrics trying to find the 'Chinese Bandits' song but with no success."

Even with my deep collection of 1950s-1960s New Orleans and Louisiana music, I had never heard of the song. But it just happens that my compadre Steven Ward of Baton Rouge knew the tune we were talking about. You can find it and buy a digital single for 89 cents on; I was also able to download a copy from eMusic, as "Chinese Bandits," by the Cheer Leaders, appears on an anthology called the Best of Spinnett Records. Hard copies of the Spinnett CD are available from Night Train International, a division of R&B specialists Tuff City Records.

The song was released in 1960; It's 2 minutes and 3 seconds of rolling New Orleans rock'n'roll piano with lyrics that concisely pays tribute to the aggressive defenders: "Chinese bandits they can knock/Gonna stop a touchdown/chop chop." According to the Rockabilly Europe Web bio of New Orleans rocker Jerry Byrne (said to be a cousin of Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack), he was one of the Cheer Leaders, as was Rebennack, Huey Piano Smith and Frankie Ford—an all-star effort worthy of the similarly talent-rich LSU Tigers of 1958-1959.

Ford, of "Sea Cruise" fame, is most likely the featured vocalist. The B-side, "True Love," is also available, but before purchasing and downloading either Cheer Leaders' track, I recommend playing the free audio sample: on both Amazon and eMusic, there is a second file also identified as "Chinese Bandits" that is mislabeled; the second song sounds like an early Aaron Neville ballad, title uncertain. Not bad, but if you're an LSU fan, it ain't the Cheer Leaders. Geaux Tigers.

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