His one and only LP, Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday should have been his calling card to country music stardom. Instead the album has been singled out as the best of the worst – not for Bult’s singing abilities, but for its unfortunate cover art.
“It still chaps me real bad,” he said. “The whole thing still makes me mad, even after all of these years.”
In 1980, John Bult was playing gigs throughout his native Louisiana, when he met up with Howard Richard, an investor who liked Bult’s sound, and thought the Lake Charles crooner could hit the big time.
“We went to Nashville, and had a meeting with Chet Atkins and Ray Stevens,” Bult said. “It was my chance to stick my foot in the door, but I didn’t. I was thinking about all of the things I would have to give up, like family. So I went back to Lake Charles.”
Instead of giving up on the dream, Richard convinced Bult to record his music. So he paid for some studio time, and enlisted the help of Teddy Broussard to produce an album.
But according to Bult, Broussard wanted a more hands-on involvement in the project—including the art concept of the album cover, and the selections of the songs. Broussard was himself a songwriter who had worked in Nashville, but he never achieved any notable success. With an eager, but admittedly naïve singer, he saw his opportunity to further his own dreams.
“I guess the first mistake I made was not signing a contract with him,” Bult admitted. “When I was 19, I was under contract with the Temple Brothers in Fort Worth, with Soundtrack-Chevelle records. They had me record a bunch of crazy songs that weren’t country. They were never released. I didn’t want to sing anything but country, so I talked to an attorney, and he told me if I didn’t like what was going on, to leave, and go about my business. So I decided I would never sign another recording contract again.”
Recorded at Master-Trak Sounds (in Crowley, LA), Bult, Broussard, and a half a dozen studio musicians and backing vocalists quickly recorded ten songs for his debut—five written by Broussard, including “Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday.”
“Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday” tells the story of Jim, a guy who hangs out in bars, and enjoys a drink, or two, a little more than he should. He tells his friend Lou that he can’t stay at the bar long tonight, because his daughter Julie is turning 16 that very day, and going out on her first date. But Jim loses track of time, (and the number of beers he’s had), and proceeds to get behind the wheel of his car, where he hopes to speed back in time to see Julie off on her big night. As he reaches for a bottle of booze under the seat, he slams into an oncoming car. In the hospital, Jim learns that a young man was injured, and a teenaged girl died.
Nobody sees the twist at the end of the song coming.
“I said, ‘Lou, should I pass on, before she comes in,
be sure and tell Julie how sorry I am for spoiling her birthday.”
“He said ‘Jim, save your breath,
because when you meet her in heaven, you can tell her yourself.’”
After the recording, Broussard decided to title the album after his ode to paternal vehicular manslaughter. Bult says he was never consulted.
We took a picture of me and my guitar, which I thought was going to be the cover,” he said. “But Ted met this girl at a restaurant, and asked her parents if he could use their daughter on the front of my album.
The cover, shot at Pat O’Carroll’s Restaurant, in Lake Charles, shows Bult, sitting at a table, holding his wedding ring-adorned hand, with Kim Whitehead, a 16-year old, from Lake Charles. A half consumed beer is placed next to an ashtray, on a stained tablecloth. Behind them is a propped-up guitar, next to a piano. What was supposed to look like a living room, in a family home, looked more like a honky-tonk.
“During the photo shoot, Ted kept telling her to look serious, like her dad is talking to her,” Bult said. “But she just kept looking sad to me.”
When the final album was pressed, and Bult saw the finished product, he was livid.
“I told him I didn’t like the look of it, one bit. Instead of looking like a dad and his daughter, it looks like some guy trying to pick up a chick in a bar. Nobody is going to know that is supposed to be Julie. I didn’t like it one bit.”
To make matters worse, Bult provided Broussard with a biography for the liner notes, but instead of using the information, Broussard decided to fabricate the singer’s credentials—including a story of discovering Bult in shopping mall lounge.
“That isn’t true—not at all. I’ve been performing for years. I played with Roy Head when I was 19 at Randy’s Rodeo, in San Antonio, and been on the Louisiana Hayride, before I even met Ted Broussard."
An estimated 250 copies were pressed (DSR 4981), and Bult went on performing, almost forgetting about his debut recording.
Then came the Internet.
Sometime around 2003, a blogger stumbled upon the record, and dubbed it the worst album cover…ever. The trend to vilify the front cover art of LPs took off, with books by Nick DiFonzo (Worst Albums Cover Ever and Seriously Bad Album Covers) and websites Bizarre Records, LP Cover Lover, and Cover Browser, ranking Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday, and its questionable photograph, at the top of almost every “worst” list.
The unique adulation for his 1980 album caught Bult completely off guard.
“My sister-in-law was in Washington D.C., and she called me, and told me look it up, I couldn’t believe it.”
On May 17, 2011, Ellen DeGeneres spotlighted the record on the Bad Album Covers segment of her daytime show.
“When I saw that, I got chapped all over again. I e-mailed her, or whoever her handlers are, and I explained it all to them. I didn’t hear back from anyone.”
Unbeknownst to Bult, in 1985, Ted Broussard re-released the album (Ra Chelle 12483 – minus the fabricated liner notes), and released a single of “Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday.”
“I asked a couple of attorneys and a judge about him re-releasing the album like that, and not giving me any money. They asked if he made millions of dollars on it. I said he didn’t, and that was pretty much the end of that.”
The scarcity of the album, coupled with the notoriety, has made Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday a “holy grail” addition for those who collect maligned album covers - with collectors paying upwards of $100 for sealed copies.
John Bult now lives in southeastern Louisiana, where he is semi-retired from performing. In 2007 he recorded a CD, but never released it.
“It was some old favorites, in different styles, like country and jazz. I was going to do an on-line thing, but I just didn’t get around to it.”
Ted Broussard got out of the music business, and opened up a Mexican food restaurant. Bult says he rarely sees him, but when their paths cross he manages a dig, or two, about the album art.
“If that were my daughter, I wouldn’t have let her on the cover.”
Attempts to locate Kim Whitehead were unsuccessful.