The Lingering Mystery Of Shoo-Rah
Somebody mentioned wanting to hear some more Shoorah tracks back when I had all the Toussaint covers going in January, which made me go into the archives (actually I live IN the archives, for the most part!) and see how many I have now that refer to the mysterious name - or word. Having rounded up eight tracks, I decided to feature the four I hadn't run before and re-activate the audio on the four I orginally posted two years ago. You can follow the links below back to those posts, hear the songs, and, I hope, get more background. While you're there, be sure to read the long comment to the Tamiya Lynn post by Anonymous, giving his rather invloved, speculative history of Shoo Rah that goes back to the Middle East and the Middle Ages! His explanation ends up having more to do with the music that came to the New World via African slaves than it really does with Shoo-ra. I admit that I am still at a loss to explain what or who Shoo-rah is, if it indeed is anything other than a nonsense lyric, which Anon also suggests. Generally speaking, as you can tell when you hear these songs, all have a repetitive simplicity (more or less) that recalls children's play songs.
Before proceeding, then, I recommend that you go back, listen, and read or re-read these posts:
In Search of Shoo Rah - March 15, 2005
Toussaint's Shoo-Rah - March 16, 2005
On the Ship Of Love (Shoo Rah) - March 18, 2005
OK, now that you're caught back up, here are three covers of Toussaint's tune plus Mac Rebennack's laid back take on the Shoo-Rah theme. Anyone having knowledge or another educated guess about the origins on Shoo-Rah, please let me know.
"Shoo-Ra" (Hill - Rebennack)
Mac Rebennack, from One Night Late, Karate 1977
Probably recorded a year or so before the sessions for his first major label debut as Dr. John on the 1967 ATCO LP, Gris Gris, "Shoo-Ra" is from sessions Mac Rebennack cut in Los Angeles, where he had gone to seek work as a musican, songwriter, and producer and to escape lingering legal problems back in New Orleans. As he relates in his autobiography, Under A Hoodoo Moon, a number of his sessions from that era, many of which where simple songwriting demos not intended for release, were later appropriated and sold to cash in on the success he had as Dr. John. An aggregation of hustling shysters, including Mac's former manager in the 1960s, Charile Green, Charlies Underwood (engineer on some of the sessions), and Huey Meaux of (aptly named) Crazy Cajun Records, who Mac worked for off and on, were the perpetrators. Many of the tunes that just had Mac playing paino and singing were even overdubbed to add other musicians; and, in a few cases, instrumental tracks had a "sound-alike" singer added. P-i-t-i-f-u-l. The cobbled together, random results were released on various low-rent LPs over the years and are still coming out in CD versions. The unauthorized LP I picked up long ago, One Night Late, is just one example (I have several more - one of which strangely has some uncredited Ronnie Barron tracks on it, too). Green and Underwood share "producer" credit here; and most of the songs on the record are Rebennack/Jessie Hill collablorations, as the two friends were writing/publishing partners out in LA, CA in the pre-Dr. John days.
On "Shoo-Ra" (mispelled "Shoo-Ria" on the LP cover), which very well may be one of the demos that had the band added much later, the lyrics suggest, as did Fats Domino's version, that Shoo-Ra is a dance, though the pace of the piece doesn't back that up; and, while some of the words echo the earlier Fats and Kenner versions, Rebennack and Hill's creation is distinct. In my opinion, it puts us no closer to any Shoo-Rah revelations. But it's well worth hearing for purposes of edumacation, as Mac might say.
"Shoorah, Shoorah" (Allen Toussaint)
Frankie Miller, from High Life, Chrysalis, 1974
Here is likely the first commercially recorded version of Toussaint's "Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah" (as his 1973 copyright title reads), without hyphens and sung by Scottish rocker Franke Miller. His 1974 album, High Life, was produced and arranged by the songwriter himself at the WEB IV studio in Atlanta. As you may recall, Toussaint and his partner, Marshall Sehorn, were having to record outside of New Orleans after the demise (due to tax probelms) of Cosimo Matassa's studio around 1970 and before they could complete their own Sea-Saint Studio in 1973. Playing on this track and the album are many of the same musicians who played on the Mylon Fevre and Browning Bryant projects Toussaint also worked on in Atlanta. As usual, though, he used his own worthy stable of New Orleans horn men, including Gary Brown on tenor sax, featured on this cut. Toussaint also made something all his own out of "Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah", while keeping it playfully mysterious. I mean, read the lyrics and try to decode what's going on.
The digital transfer here is from my fairly clean DJ copy of the LP. The photo is from my wife's well-worn regular album (the promo just had generic artwork), which she bought and listened to a lot when it first came out. Having discovered the record 20 years later, I've never really thought it much to shout about, actually. Sure, Miller covers five Toussaint numbers; but, to me, he never lifts any of the performances out of the ordinary. Toussaint mainly keeps the production very simple and straightforward - the same approach he took with Lefevre, King Busicuit Boy and Bryant; and no outright funk emerges. As if in reaction, soon thereafter, he would conspiculously go in the opposite direction with the wonderfully over-the-top, funkified arranging and production work on Labelle's albums, Nightbrids and Phoenix. I read where Miller's album work had been re-issued on CD; so, you may be able to find this one in the digital domain.
"Shoorah! Shoorah!" (A. Toussaint)
Betty Wright, Alston 3711, 1974
First off, I wonder why Betty's vocal is so far back in the mix on this slick production. It would have increased the impact if she were more up front. Still, it charted (#28 R&B); so I guess nobody else much cared 'bout dat. Anyway, a good groove sells this one. And I definitely like the tune done by a strong female vocalist. It works for me that way. The more you hear this song, though, the more you realize that its rather unusual, bouncy rhythmic pattern and the hooky horn charts are musically it's strong suit - not much of a melody going on. And, having attempted this song in a band at one point, I can tell you that, as simple as it may sound, it's hard to nail (well, it was hard for US!) - it has to be played flawlessly or it just falls apart. Despite the technical problem, Ms Wright turns in a super fine performance on this tightly arranged cover version.
S&D earlier on
"Shoo Rah, Shoo Rah" (Allen Toussaint)
Sam & Dave, from Back At 'Cha, United Artists, 1975
Man, I said how much I liked Betty Wright's take; and Toussaint's performance of the riverboat with Chocolate Milk is spot on. But, damn, Sam & Dave tear this one up. It's an oustanding song choice for them; and the rhythm and horn sections are exceptional, turning Toussaint's quirky, syncopated composition into an in-the-pocket perpetual motion machine. It doesn't hurt to have Steve Cropper calling the shots and playing guitar on the session with his old MGs partners Duck Dunn on bass and Al Jackson on drums. And, yo, these are the cats who played on Sam & Dave's Stax hits, too. To complete the Memphis session, recorded mainly at Cropper's Trans Maximus Sound Studios on Poplar Avenue in 1975, he adds the full blown Memphis Horns, with Wayne Jackson on trumpet, Ed Logan and Andrew Love on tenor saxes, Jack Hale on trombone, and James Mitchell on baritone sax. I'm fairly sure that's Love doing the hot lead sax riffing throughout.
I featured the other Toussaint cover on this album, "Blinded By Love", in January, which was also quite well done. Kudos to Cropper for bringing these tunes to the party. Back to Shoo-rah, though. Sam & Dave play up the "you won't catch me" lyrics on the song's ride-out - recalling again childhood games. If you listen to all the different Shoo Rah songs, that element can't be denied, which is why I still have the strong sense that it somehow came up into popular music through kids at play in the streets and schoolyards of New Orleans. I hope somebody can remember that and reveal the missing link.
Some other covers of "Shoorah, Shoorah" I have not heard and/or do not have are by Phoebe Snow (on Rock Away, 1980), Teresa James (on The Whole Enchalada, 1998), Pauline Black and The Selecter (English ska! - thanks to Carl for letting me hear The Selecter), and The Bloody Tears (rock). Elvis Costello and Toussaint have been performing "Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah" live on their River In Reverse concer tour, as well. Feel free to alert me/us to any more covers of the tune you run across.