Saturday, August 23, 2008

Horns: Jock-A-Mo/Iko Iko

James "Sugar Boy" Crawford: Jock-A-Mo (1953) [purchase]

Larry Williams: Jockamo (aka Iko-Iko) (Late '50s) [purchase]

Dr. John: Iko Iko (1972) [purchase]

Dixie Cups: Iko Iko (1965) [purchase]

I posted the Dr. John version of "Iko Iko" last week in my tribute to Jerry Wexler, but I'm including it here to put the song in context. As it happens, Dr. John tells the "Iko Iko" story in the liner notes to Gumbo, his 1972 album that was produced by the late, great Mr. Wexler. Says Mac:

"The song was written and recorded back in the early 1950s by a New Orleans singer named James Crawford who worked under the name of Sugar Boy & the Cane Cutters. It was recorded in the 1960s by the Dixie Cups for Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller's Red Bird Records, but the format we're following here is Sugar Boy's original. Also in the group were Professor Longhair on piano, Jake Myles, Big Boy Myles, Irv Bannister on guitar, and Eugene 'Bones' Jones on drums. The group was also known as the Chipaka Shaweez. The song was originally called 'Jock-A-Mo,' and it has a lot of Creole patois in it. Jock-A-Mo means 'jester' in the old myth. It is Mardi Gras music, and the Shaweez was one of many Mardi Gras groups who dressed up in far out Indian costumes and came on as Indian tribes. The tribes used to hang out on Claiborne Avenue and used to get juiced up there getting ready to perform and 'second line' in their own special style during Mardi Gras. That's dead and gone because there's a freeway where those grounds used to be. The tribes were like social clubs who lived all year for Mardi Gras, getting their costumes together. Many of them were musicians, gamblers, hustlers and pimps."
James "Sugar Boy" Crawford addressed his original in a 2002 interview with OffBeat Magazine:
How did you construct "Jock-A-Mo"?

It came from two Indian chants that I put music to. "Iko Iko" was like a victory chant that the Indians would shout. "Jock-A-Mo" was a chant that was called when the Indians went into battle. I just put them together and made a song out of them. Really it was just like "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." That was a phrase everybody in New Orleans used. Lloyd Price just added music to it and it became a hit. I was just trying to write a catchy song. Leonard Chess (president of Chess & Checker Records, then Sugar Boy's label) contacted me and arranged for me to go to Cosimo's (J & M Studio) and record it. That was in (November) 1953.

Listeners wonder what "Jock-A-Mo" means. Some music scholars say it translates in Mardi Gras Indian lingo as "Kiss my ass," and I've read where some think Jock-A-Mo was a court jester. What does it mean?

I really don't know (laughs). It wasn't my idea to call the song "Jock-A-Mo," Leonard Chess did that. If you listen to the song, I'm singing C-H-O-C-K, as in Chockamo. Not J-O-C-K, as in Jock-A-Mo. When Leonard listened to the session in Chicago, he thought I said, "Jock-A-Mo." When I saw the record for the first time I said, "That's not the title. It's 'Chock-A-Mo'."
Finally, I realize that The Dixie Cups version of "Iko Iko" doesn't actually have horns, but I couldn't NOT include it. It might be my favorite version, simply because of its simplicity. According to Dixie Cup, Barbara Hawkins, "We were just clowning around with it during a session using drumsticks on ashtrays. We didn't realize that Jerry (Lieber) and Mike (Stoller) had the tapes running." Leiber and Stoller, producers of their version of "Iko Iko," later overdubbed a bass and drums and released it.

blog comments powered by Disqus