Jessie 'Ooh Poo Pah Do' Hill
Shirley 'Sweetheart of the Blues' Goodman
"Ivory Tower" (Fulton - Steele)
Shirley & Jessie, Wand, 196?
Time's up for these two
Here they are, Shirley & Jessie, your American anti-Idols! Consider this post my antidote to tonight’s TV showdown. If you don’t live in the US, or even if you do, feel free to ignore this reference.
Why anybody (like track’s producer, Huey Meaux, the “Crazy Cajun”) thought pairing Shirley Goodman and Jessie Hill would be commercially viable enough to justify the sessions, I’ll never know; but, as a record collector and fan of all things musical, quirky, strange, and deliciously obscure in the HOTG, I am sincerely grateful for the attempt.
Cut in Los Angeles with a band of New Orleans expatriate musicians led by Mac Rebennack, the duo’s remake of “Ivory Tower”, their first pairing, was issued on Wand around 1967 or 1968, I’d guess. Two other Wand singles taken from the sessions followed in short order, all falling on deaf ears, so to speak. This track certainly sounds like a hometown tune with a syncopated popeye suffle that recreates the feel of some of Jessie Hill’s sides for Minit earlier in the decade. Rebennack’s radical re-arrangement of a hit ballad from the 1950’s is typical of the things he’d try in the studio. When this version begins with Jessie’s intro, you think it’s on the road to nowhere, then Shirley comes in with the band kicking behind her; and they’re off on a groovin’ little ride. From Dr. John’s mention of these sessions in Under A Hoodoo Moon, I gather that the players included Rebennack on guitar, Barron on piano, Al Frazier on bass, John Boudreaux on drums, and Dave Dixon on percussion. He tells a funny story about one night recording with Shirley & Jessie when the band had LSD given to them instead of uppers and totally devolved in mid-song. Fun times in Babylon.
Say what you will about Shirley’s piercing and often off-key (though not on this tune) vocals and Jessie’s ragged but right on sound, they are both readily identifiable and distinctive. But blend they do not. Still, I enjoy this cut and most of the others they did in their short time as a duo, working with Rebennack and their other HOTG friends. Meaux’s Crazy Cajun label released most of the single sides and several unissued songs on an album in the 1970’s called You’ll Lose A Good Thing (they covered several songs by Barbara Lynn, one of Meaux’s artists). Goodman and Hill also worked with Rebennack on his early Dr. John projects. Jessie had some success as a songwriter (with Mac and others) and did some solo recording* in California, culminating in his Naturally album in 1972, before returning to New Orleans. Shirley scored an early disco hit as Shirley & Company with “Shame, Shame, Shame” in the mid-1970’s, proving, I guess, that anything is possible in pop.
*Larry Grogan’s Funky 16 Corners blog has a great recent post on one of these.