February 01, 2005

Hey Now, Hey Now

Sugar Boy and friends

"Jock-A-Mo" (James Crawford, Jr.)
Sugar Boy & The Cane Cutters, Checker 787, 1954
(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

"Iko Iko" (R. Hawkins/B. Hawkins/J. Johnson/J Crawford)
The Dixie Cups, Red Bird 10-024, 1965

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

"Jock-A-Mo” is another early r&b Carnival record that incorporates Mardi Gras Indian chant phrases and a Spy Boy reference, while “Iko Iko”, which came out about a decade later, seems to be a derivation of it. These songs are so closely associated that I thought I’d post them both.

By the time James 'Sugar Boy' Crawford recorded his classic celebration of Mardi Gras day late in 1953, he had already done a barely distributed single for Aladdin credited to his band, the Sha-Weez, short for the Chapaka Shawee, plus a demo session that the group had done when Leonard Chess was scouting talent in New Orleans. Despite its marginal sound quality, Chess released "I Don't Know What I'll Do"/"Overboard" on his Checker label, renaming the band Sugar Boy & The Cane Cutters; and it sold fairly well locally. As a result, Chess signed the band and promptly recorded another single with “Jock-A-Mo” on top, which caught on in New Orleans during the 1954 Carnival season and sold well nationally. It was Sugar Boy’s biggest record and the one he is remembered for to this day. The band at the time consisted of James Crawford on vocal and piano, Snooks Eaglin on guitar, Frank Fields on bass, Eric Warner on drums, Edgar Myles on trombone, with Alfred Bernard and David Lastie on saxes. Warner’s unique drumming shifts the song’s groove from second line calypso to rock ‘n roll and back during the course of the song. In Jeff Hannusch’s book, I Hear You Knockin', Crawford says that his inspiration for “Jock-A-Mo” came from his memories of the Indian maskers in his neighborhood on Mardi Gras day back when they would actually battle each other, and the songs they sang in the streets. It is still a Mardi Gras standard. After the Dixie Cups' version, "Iko Iko", came out in 1965, and then was further popularized by Dr. John on his 1972 album, Gumbo, the Crawford's song has been covered numerous times. While traveling to a gig in 1963, Crawford was stopped by police in Monroe, LA ,who pulled him from the car and pistol whipped him severely. It took him many years to recover; and his career in music was essentially over.

According to Barbara Ann Hawkins of the Dixie Cups, she, at least, had never heard Crawford’s "Jock-A-Mo" before they did an impromptu rendition with just vocals and percussion that they called “Iko Iko” in the New York studios of Red Bird Records in 1965. Instead, she and her sister, Rosa Lee, say their grandmother sang it to them as they were growing up, which sounds a bit shakey. Whatever the case, the tape was rolling; and the song became their last hit for the label. Later, Crawford’s name was added to the songwriting credits, perhaps by court order. The Hawkins sisters plus Joan Johnson had been brought to New York from New Orleans in 1963 by bandleader and talent scout Joe Jones and signed to Red Bird, one of the labels owned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Originally called the Mel-Tones, they were thankfully renamed the Dixie Cups and went on to have a string of hits over the next few years, “Chapel of Love”, “People Say” and “Iko, Iko” being the biggest.


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