August 23, 2007

Diggin' Two On The Scoobydoo

You know you're getting waaaay behind on your blogging when your wife starts telling you to get another post up. Let's just say some of my many projects are starting to sprout projects! It's getting harder to keep up. Somehow I manage to hold down a day job amidst it all. The Ms wanted me to put up something funky (that's my girl!); and, looking over my running list of prime candidates, I noticed two sides with nothing in common really other than they give good groove and sport some strange lyrics. Since I loves me some novelty tunes, I thought I'd give 'em a go.

"Oogsey Moo" (J. Hill - R. Byrd)
Jessie Hill, Minit 628, 1961

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

As I've noted before around here, there's a deep vein of oddball lyrics and novelties to be mined in New Orleans music, with Huey Smith, Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, Jessie Hill and Dr. John being being some of the more well-known sources. For example, the ever-quirky Hill and his band rode his song, "Ooh Poo Pah Do", to unlikely hitdom in 1960 for Minit Records with the help of Allen Toussaint's production work. Supposedly, Jessie "borrowed" at least some of the lyrics from a barrelhouse blues piano player he heard named Big Four, who extemporized the words as he played. Anyway, after it went into the Top Ten, becoming the first big record for the producer and label, and the only one for the singer, Jessie and Toussaint tried in vain for a follow-up hit during the next two years; but a lot of listeners never acquired a taste for Hill's raw, idiosyncratic vocals. Among his other Minit releases were two more novelty/nonsense catch-phrase sides, "Scoop Scoobie Doobie" from later that year, and "Oogsey Moo" in 1961.

For New Orleans music students and collectors, the fairly obscure "Oogsey Moo" has a lot going for it. The music resonates with Professor Longhair's songwriting and playing style, as rendered convincingly on piano by Toussaint; and Fess (R. Byrd) shares co-writer credit with Hill on the tune. In the 1950s Jessie had gigged with Longhair for several years, and it is possible that the two developed the song back then. Befitting the Professor's funked up rhythmic feels, the drums on this tune laid down an insouciant second line strut that should be noted by all looking for early examples of that type of playing in New Orleans R&B. On this cut and most of Hill's other Minit sessions, the backing band probably came from his gigging crew, the House Rockers, who had become regular sessions players for Toussaint and AFO Records, as well: drummer John Boudreaux, bassist Richard Payne, David and Melvin Lastie on sax and trumpet, and maybe Alvin Robinson on guitar, although Papoose Nelson is a strong possibility, too. Oogsey Moo never caught on as a term of endearment or a pop record, but it makes for a memorable hook on a track that exudes the fun loving, feel good essence of its city of origin.

"Niki Hoeky" (J. Ford - L. Vegas - P. Vegas)
Bobby Rush, Jewel 840, 1973/Ronn 125, 1995

(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

In Part 2 of our excursion into funky nonsense, we encounter Bobby Rush's take on "Niki Hoeky", with its undulating, swampy groove, surely inspired by the weird, glossolalia of the lyrics, which seemingly attempted to capture the bizarro-world patois of some South Louisiana alternate universe where everybody talks like Pootie Tang (when, of course, people down here all talk like Poo Poo Broussard). Even stranger, I first heard this song done in 1967 by a flamboyantly hokey, puffy-shirted show-biz singer named P. J. Proby, who had the original hit with it - though it didn't sound quite like this. In fact, the song was written by Pat and Lolly Vegas, two American Indian brothers who went on to front the rock band, Redbone. I didn't own Proby's record, just heard it on the radio - and, like I say, I've always had a thing for odd novelty songs and never quite forgot this one. As hilarious as the hokum is, Bobby greases it up and and sells it like snake oil atop the get down groove. His gritty, insinuating vocal lets you know what the song's about, regardless of what the words are. Lest that slip by us, though, right before the fade he adds, "I, I like to do strange things to you" - ah, those freaky deaky Seventies.

So, while the Louisiana born and bred Rush wasn't exactly breaking new ground recording "Niki Hoeky" - Aretha Franklin did a fairly straight cover of it on Lady Soul in 1968 - he put da serious fonk to it. This side originally came out in 1973 on Jewel backed with "I Don't Know", and was his second release for the Shreveport-based label. Although great records were being made there at Sound City Studio, it seems Rush was still doing sessions in Chicago, which was his base of operations at the time. My Ronn single is a digital re-master of the earlier recording, with one of his un-released Jewel tracks, "Get Out Of Here With you Boom Boom", on the flip. It came out around 1995 on colored vinyl to coincide with the Ronn CD compilation of his Jewel sides, It's Alright, which I don't think is in print anymore. But the tracks can also be found on the Fuel 2000 CD, Bobby Rush, Absolutely The Best, which I think has also been cut out.

And now that you're hip to the consultation, enjoy.


Blogger Kees said...

Ha! Thanks a lot for Oogsey - a song that I taped in the mid 1970s when the book Walking to NO was published, and a radio show interviewed the author and played some of the greatest sounds that made me dig NO-music forever.
The tape recorder has long gone now, and today's the first time I hear the song again - a real treat!

3:31 PM, August 24, 2007  
Blogger whiteray said...

Hey, thanks for the Niki Hoeky! If you're interested, I posted the P. J. Proby version at my blog in this long post:

Again, thanks, and keep it up. You have a great blog!

8:03 PM, August 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bobbi Gentry did a very fine cover of 'Niki Hoeky' on her Ode To Billy Joe album, on Capitol label.

8:12 PM, August 25, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Glad you found Oogsey again, Kees.

whiteray, thanks for that link to your Proby "Niki" post. I had trouble tracking that song down. Hearing it again after all these years, I can really see how far Bobby Rush took it.

And, yes, refer, I discovered that after finding a video on YouTube of Bobbi Gentry doing 'Niki' (NO, it's not THAT kind of video). Anyway, it's, um, interesting... one of those hokey (hoeky?) 60s TV production numbers with lots of dancers obviously choreographed and wardrobed by aliens who've never interacted with actual humans. It makes me glad I didn't see it in the 60s while tripping. With Bobbi cavorting around with them in her 'I Dream of Jeannie' outfit and cutely spouting the future wisdom of Pootie Tang, my head would have exploded.

11:54 PM, August 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Dan. Is this the same Niki Hokey (sp different) that was done by the Cleftones in about 1955?

6:21 AM, August 28, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Backatcha, Tom. I just tracked down and heard the Cleftones "Niki Hokey" in the WFMU show/playlist archives (a fantasitic resource).
I was not aware of it before your comment. It's a far different song. 50s doowop-ish rock - does have a lot of nonsense lyrics, though. It strikes me as odd that such a song title would randomly appear twice in pop music (there seem to have been many more monkeys with typewriters than I thought). So, I don't know if there is any connection between the two. That's a research project for some other blog. Thanks for brininging it to my attention.

10:32 PM, August 29, 2007  

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