The Pleasingly Humpin' Jean Knight
"Humpin To Please" (James Canes)
Jean Knight, Ola 1-102, ca 1977
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For those of you who don't know or recall the reference in the title to this song, there was a large, national trucking company back in the 1960s and 1970s called Campbell 66 Express that had their slogan, "Humpin' To Please", along with a running cartoon camel, painted onto their trailers, as pictured below. You'd always see them out on the road. I'm pretty sure that's where the inspiration for this song title came from. But, as you can tell, its not a song about hauling freight or trucking - at least not literally. No, this song is pretty much about....um, you know, humpin' to please. And New Orleans' own Jean Knight delivers the goods with her characteristic sass and soul.
Released on Traci Borges' Ola Records, "Humpin To Please" b/w "Love Me Slowly!" probably dates from around 1977 and is the second of two 45s she cut at Knight Recording Studio (also owned by Borges, and not named for Jean), in Metairie, LA. I featured one side off the earlier single, "What One Man Won't Do Another Man Will", back on July 22, 2005, if you want to read more about it. That came out on the Open label in San Francisco in 1976. Both records were arranged by musician Eric Dunbar, about whose career I have found out very little; but, as with the previous cut, he displays a deft hand at creating a pulsating groove of interlocking instrumental parts that gives Knight's vocal a humpin' bumpin' ride. Also, this track and the Open side I featured were penned by another mystery man, James Canes. Any information about him would be appreciated. After long looking for it, I finally got this record a few months ago from a local collector/dealer down here. It's definitely a keeper, as I like Knight's funky sides the best.
Jeff Hannusch says in The Soul Of New Orleans that "Humpin To Please" was a local hit for Knight. That's good to know, since Knight had been wandering alone and hitless in the musical wilderness since she and Stax parted ways in the early 1970s. After she gave the label one if its biggest sellers with "Mr. Big Stuff", a classic Wardell Quezergue production that Knight helped tweak into a smash, the singer, producer, and Stax could not find common ground to move forward. Going it on her own, she recorded only a handful of singles in the remainder of the decade; and "Humpin" was the last of that period. She wouldn't record again until 1981, when she had success working with producer Isaac Bolden on his Soulin' label. Her second single for Bolden was picked up by Atlantic/Cotillion; and the A-side, "You've Got The Papers (But I Got the Man)", a duet with a male soulster named Premium, charted nationally and resulted in an album release for the pair. But Cotillion lost interest when nothing else from the LP sold. So, Knight and Bolden returned to releasing material on Soulin' until, in 1985, they got in on Rockin' Sydney's "My Toot Toot" craze, releasing a version that Atlantic again picked up and put out on its Mirage label. It did well enough on the pop charts for another album to be released on her, though the song craze soon had tooted its last. Since then, she has had, I think, one CD release, which I found lacking, and still performs at casinos and festivals, including, of course, Jazzfest, where I've had the pleasure to hear her again in the last several years. Jean Knight still has a great voice, plenty of attitude, and can strut her stuff most pleasingly.
More than a slogan, an emission statement: