To the man in the street, the name Mungo Jerry probably conjures up images of Ray Dorset's gap-toothed grin, outrageous sideburns and of course, the band's multi-million chart topper, 'In The Summertime'. Not too many would be familiar with their colourful history, occasional brushes with officialdom and the wonderful characters that have passed through the ranks of the Mungo Jerry band.
For Ray Dorset, the band's driving force for over 40 years, the story began as long ago as 1957, when influenced by rock'n roll greats like Bill Haley and Elvis, he formed his first band, The Blue Moon Skiffle Group. After turning up to school for his 'O' levels in a gold lame'-lined overcoat, he was expelled from school in 1960 and became a ladies hairdresser in Egham, not far from his home in Ashford, Middlesex.
In his spare time, he played with The Buccaneers, whose line-up included bass player, Dave Hutchins and drummer, Derek 'Degs' Sirmom, who was later to play on Screaming Lord Sutch's, 'Jack The Ripper' single.
The Buccaneers became The Conchords a year later cutting their first demo's at Tony Pike's studio in Putney, including the blues standard, 'Going Down Slow', and a song called 'Wo-oh-oh'. The session was paid for at a cost of £10 by Ray's father. The band also played alternate Friday and Saturday night residencies at The Station Hotel in Richmond with The Rolling Stones playing the Thursdays and Sundays.
Another name change transpired after a gig at a 'Tramps Ball' at a London club, the band adopted the stage clothes that they had been wearing that night, and became The Tramps and their first taste of recognition came when they won the 1964 Loughton Beat Contest, in Essex. Another name change to The Sweet And Sour Band brought in Roger Earl on drums, who was just pipped at the post by Mitch Mitchell for the drummers job with rock legend Jimi Hendrix. Producer Jimmy Miller booked Sweet And Sour to back Millie 'My Boy Lollipop' Small and Spencer Davis hit maker Jackie Edwards (who became a big influence on Ray Dorset's developing song writing) on tour. In 1967, Ray answered an advert in Melody Maker for a 'Doors/Love' style-band which had been placed by Chicken Shack/Savoy Brown managers, Barry Murray and Harry Simmonds. They fixed the band up with residencies at trendy London clubs, such as The Speakeasy and Blaises, with gigs at Middle Earth in Covent Garden, where they supported Captain Beefheart, on his first U.K gig.
The band had yet more name changes becoming firstly, Camino Real and then Memphis Leather,and witnessed the departure of drummer, Roger Earl who left to join up with Savoy Brown, and went on to experience huge success with U.S based, U.K rockers, Foghat.
He was replaced by Ray Bowerman and meanwhile, Roger's boogie-woogie piano playing brother, Colin Earl had joined the band, having earned his living as a commercial artist. His most prestigious commission was working with designer Peter Blake on The Beatles 'Sgt.Pepper's' sleeve.
Memphis Leather were signed to a three-album deal with Saga, a little known budget label, for which they were paid the princely sum of £250 in session and writers fees to record a selection of Ray's original material "without gimmicks and special effects", which as it turned out meant using primitive battery powered equipment! Craftily, the tapes were left rolling capturing end-of-session jams which later turned up on a second LP - 'Swingin London' - which Saga padded out with tracks by another band, The First Impression. At the labels request, the band changed it's name again to The Good Earth, inspired by the back-to-the-land novel by author Pearl Buck.
Colin Earl describes the Good Earth's debut album, 'It's Hard Rock & All That', as "no audio delight", but it actually stands up in it's own right as a worthy late-60's British revivalist rock LP. It also contains some excellent Ray Dorset compositions, such as the melancholy and truly brilliant, 'My Own Country' and 'Stop Complainin', from which the instrumental break reappeared on Mungo Jerry's 1972 single, 'Open Up'.
After losing Bowerman & Hutchins in more line-up changes, the band implemented a radical change in style which paved the way for Mungo Jerry's future success. Ray teamed up with Timex workmate, Joe Rush on washboard and stand-up bass, and Colin Earl on piano, playing old country blues and jug band music, something they all had a keen interest in.
The Good Earth played at Oxford University at Christmas 1968 on a bill with Keef Hartley. Ray had met Joe, an old boozy jazzer when they worked at Radio Control Specialists in Hounslow, and they later worked together at Timex where they played impromptu sets during their lunch breaks. They had practised their 'new' style of music at a gig at the Duke Of Northumberland in Isleworth and it seemed to have something. At Oxford University, Colin recalled, "We had two spots, one early evening to get everyone in, and one at 3 a.m, to send them home! Two hours later, we were still playing to a packed, gyrating ballroom!"
The Good Earth alternated their gigs between their jug band/blues nights around London, and rock'n roll with a "hardcore rockabilly" element at the Northcote Arms in Southall. Those days were fondly remembered on rock'n roll b-sides of latter-day Mungo singles and a song named after the venue on the 'You Don't Have To Be In The Army' album in 1971.
THE GOOD EARTH
JOE RUSH / RAY DORSET / COLIN EARL
Saga had little faith in this change in musical direction and dropped the band in 1969. Joe Rush also quit after Ray played a version of Desmond Dekker's, 'The Israelites' on stage one night and was replaced by Paul King, a guy who had been along to see the band a few times at the Master Robert Motel, in Hounslow, one of the band's regular haunts. Paul has previously busked his way around Southern Europe and his chosen instruments were, acoustic guitar, banjo, harp and kazoo. He was also a very talented artist and had worked as a prop maker and set dresser at Shepperton Studios. He even "looked after Ursula Andress's handbag on the set of the Bond film, 'Casino Royale'.
The band's first big break came when they were signed to Pye Records by Barry Murray, who had taken over as in-house producer. Pye had set up their progressive label Dawn, despite not having too much idea of what to do with it. Barry devised a way to launch the label - the 33 1/3 rpm maxi-single, which would basically be like an E.P containing 3-4 tracks, but played at the slower speed, come in a picture sleeve and sell for just slightly more than a standard 45. His new charges would be the first band to release a record in this format. At the label's insistence, the band underwent a final name change.
Mungo Jerry (named after a character in T.S Eliot's 'Book Of Practical Cats'), went into the Pye studios to record the tracks for their first album and single, and (at Barry Murray's insistence), the decision was made to release a Ray Dorset composition, the infectious sing-along, 'In The Summertime' as the lead track on their debut (maxi) single, backed with another Dorset number, the riotous 'Mighty Man' and a version of Woody Guthrie's, 'Dust Pneumonia Blues'. The band had wanted 'Mighty Man' as the single but Barry had his way, and the rest as they say is history!
The band could not have been prepared for the astonishing impact that 'In The Summertime' would have on the music world. It raced to number 1 just a fortnight after it's May 1970 release, remained there for an impressive SEVEN WEEKS, and became the year's best selling single, with the band suddenly in demand all over the world and appearing on countless television and radio shows.
It topped the charts in over 20 countries and in France, became the fastest selling single ever! In the UK, they sold 73,000 copies of the record in one day!
To date, including inclusion on compilation albums, the song has clocked up global sales in excess of 50 million!
Just after the single's release, the band turned in a breathtaking performance at the Hollywood Music Festival, near Newcastle Under-Lyme, which had been organised by their management company, Red Bus. Acts included, Black Sabbath, Traffic, Jose Feliciano and making their first UK appearance, Grateful Dead.
Following the Grateful Dead on stage, Mungo Jerry with their irregular, drummer less line-up of guitars, banjo, piano, double bass and washboard gave the performance of their lives, doing so well, they were asked to make another unscheduled appearance the following day, to similar scenes of hysteria. Soon after, the music press screamed their approval with their headlines of - MUNGOMANIA! and MUNGO JERRY FEVER!
Mungo Jerry's self-titled debut album, issued in July 1970 and complete with 3D sleeve and glasses peaked at a slightly disappointing 14 in the LP charts. A tour of the U.S was 'organised', where the band often found themselves appearing with, and in some cases headlining over the likes of, The Faces, Humble Pie & Poco. On their return to the U.K, Mike Cole was asked to leave the band to be replaced by John Godfrey on bass.
Early in '71, the band released their long awaited follow-up to 'Summertime' with 'Baby Jump', a hard rocking number from their rockabilly days which had been based on the "groove" of Vince Taylor's, 'Brand New Cadillac'. Most cynical reviewers expected a 'Summertime' 'sound-a-like' were surprised at the band's change of direction and after a shaky start when it dropped down to No.32 in the charts, it became the band's second successive chart topper. It was yet another maxi-single, accompanied by Paul King's amusing, 'The Man Behind The Piano', plus 'Midnight Special' and 'Mighty Man', recorded at the previous year's Hollywood Music Festival.
Both No.1's were included on the second album, 'Electronically Tested', named after the guarantee of quality found on a packet of Durex condoms, which again stopped just short of the top 10 when it stalled at No.13. Noticeably, there were no Paul King numbers included and it was unfortunately, a sign of things to come and that things were not always well within the Mungo Jerry ranks.
In May 1971, another Ray Dorset, composition, 'Lady Rose' became hit number three when it stormed up the charts only to stall at No.4 when the B.B.C banned it because of the inclusion of 'drug' song, 'Have a Whiff On Me' on the 4-track maxi-single. It was replaced by 'She Rowed' from the 'Electronically Tested' album, but time lost in repressing cost it dearly and it fell just short of making it a third, successive No.1.
This particular line-up of Mungo Jerry were no strangers to controversy and often fell foul of officialdom with their bawdy approach. Ray Dorset, for instance was often criticised for his lewd remarks on stage and in turn took a swipe at a moralistic society with 'You Don't Have To Be In The Army To Fight In The War', their fourth maxi-single issued in September 1971. Joe Rush had returned to guest on the record and also on the 'You Don't Have To Be In The Army' album (banned in Australia for being subversive), and there was no doubt that his washboard playing and sheer presence improved the band's sound considerably. He had also guested with the band at that summer's Weeley Festival. Mungo produced some excellent music on this particular four-tracker with some brilliant country blues, 'The Sun Is Shining' and the traditional old American folk songs, 'O'Reilly' and 'We Shall Be Free' among their finest work.
Despite internal friction, the band embarked on a successful tour of the Far East, Australia and New Zealand early in '72. On their return, fans were shocked to learn that Ray Dorset had been sacked from the band! King and Earl cited Ray's attitude as the main problem but the press claimed that the disagreements centered around Dorset's desire to bring in a drummer and change the band's musical direction. Pye made it clear that as far as they were concerned, Ray Dorset was Mungo Jerry and in the end, it was Paul and Colin who left the band to form their own group, The King Earl Boogie Band with old friend, Joe Rush, folk and blues singer Dave Lambert and bass player Russell Brown. Only John Godfrey remained with Ray.
Both Ray Dorset and Paul King issued solo albums at the time of the split, and both proved that they had more to offer than just jug band music. Ray's well received 'Cold Blue Excursion' was a beautifully varied album, where the orchestral arrangements contrasted starkly with his work with Mungo Jerry, and demonstrated that he could write songs in almost any style. Likewise, Paul King's, 'Been In The Pen Too Long' also impressed the critics, winning album of the month in the respected rock magazine, Beat Instrumental.
Mungo Jerry's first single after the split was 'Open Up', recorded with Godfrey and session musicians. It charted, at No.21 and a different more upbeat version was included on the 'new look' Mungo Jerry album, 'Boot Power', with new drummer Tim Reeves and keyboard player, Jon Pope. 'Boot Power' is believed by many fans to be musically the best ever MJ album.
A management shake-up resulted in another line-up change which saw two ex-members of Chicken Shack, Bob Daisley & Paul Hancox, join Dorset in Mungo Jerry. Bob Daisley was to later distinguish himself on the heavy rock scene with the likes of, Rainbow, Uriah Heep, Gary Moore and worked extensively with Ozzy Osbourne, writing, recording and touring with the 'Prince Of Darkness' for many years.
1973 saw one of Mungo Jerry's biggest hits, 'Alright Alright Alright' race up the charts to No.3 with the follow-up 'Wild Love' charting at 32. Ex-Savoy Brown/Chicken Shack drummer Dave Bidwell had come in to replace Tim Reeves, who had replaced Paul Hancox and Johnny Cook, came in on keyboards. Around the time of 'Alright', Mungo went on what was believed to be the longest tour of Northern Ireland during the troubles, by any British band.
'Long Legged Woman Dressed In Black' continued the hit making sequence, accompanied by more line-up changes with Ian Milne taking over on keyboards and the band became a five piece with Dick Middleton, who had played in Gene Vincent's band at one point, coming in as lead guitarist. From 1970 to 1990, it was calculated that no fewer than 35 musicians had passed through the Mungo Jerry band from acts as varied as - Love Affair, Hard Meat, Spooky Tooth, Chicken Shack, Savoy Brown, Fat Mattress, Rainbow, Bronx Cheer and the Sadista Sisters.
A move from Pye to Polydor promised great things but perhaps strangely, the band failed to chart at all in the U.K but did fair better abroad with songs like 'Hello Nadine' and 'It's a Secret'. Colin Earl & Joe Rush had returned to the band, Colin after playing with the mighty Foghat in the States.
In the late 70's, Mungo Jerry became the first Western rock band to play behind the Iron Curtain when they played live in Bulgaria, (spawning a live bootleg LP of the same name) the whole gig transmitted to the entire Eastern Block.
On his own label and publishing company, Satellite, Ray teamed up with old friend Dick Middleton, ex-Camel bassist Doug Ferguson and drummer Boris Williams, ex-Sadista Sisters & Thompson Twins, and later of The Cure as the "whole-hoggin' rhythm & blues" The Insiders. They issued one single for the label, 'Rollin' & Strollin' and also played selected pub gigs together.
1980 saw Ray Dorset back at No.1, when Scottish singer Kelly Marie hit the top spot with 'Feels Like I'm In Love', one of Ray's numbers originally written with Elvis Presley in mind. During the 80's, Ray Dorset turned his talents towards writing the music for two popular television shows - Paul Daniels childrens TV show, 'Wizbit', and the Thames comedy/drama serial, 'Prospects'.
No history of Mungo Jerry would be complete without mention of the project in which, Ray invited rock legends, Peter Green, formerly of Fleetwood Mac and Vincent Crane of Atomic Rooster, to a jam at his home studio which resulted in the Katmandu album, 'A Case For The Blues'.
1990 saw the release of one of Mungo Jerry's best ever albums, the rocking 'Snakebite', followed by 'Old Shoes, New Jeans' in '95.
The fan club organised a '30 Years Of Mungo Jerry' get-together at Newcastle under-Lyme with special guest, Joe Rush popping over from his home in France to entertain us. The weekend was a resounding success with fans attending from over the UK and Europe.
Perhaps the most 'un-Mungo-like' album of all time was 'Candy Dreams' at the start of the new century featuring Byron and Plato Contostavlos on bass and keyboards respectively. Byron of course was the father of N-Dubz's Dappy and Plato, Tulisa.
2003 saw Ray as the Mungo Jerry Bluesband, release 'Adults Only', an album that many fans believed was the best thing since 'Boot Power' over 30 years previously. Ray Dorset also completed a successful tour with 'The British Legends Of Rhythm And Blues', - Zoot Money, Paul Williams & the late Long John Baldry.
With 'Adults Only' getting rave reviews, and the 'Blues Legends' tour bringing Ray to a whole new audience, Mungo Jerry had a new lease of life and further albums such as, 'Naked From The Heart', with original bassist Mike Cole and drummer Bruce Brand, and 'When She Comes, She Runs All Over Me', as the Bluesband celebrated that new found impetus. Perhaps the best of them all was, the 'Boot Power' inspired, 'Cool Jesus'?
Mungo Jerry is still out there gigging and recording and you will notice that I say IS and not ARE, as it is important to remember that it is now 'Mungo Jerry the performing artist' and NOT 'Mungo Jerry the band'. Of course Ray does have a great band with him, (recording the 'Rewind' album together), guys that have been around for some time now - Jon Playle (bass) & Toby Hounsham (keyboards), with Bob White (drums), and have developed a very tight sound and go down a storm wherever they go. Go check them out if you don't believe me!