Ooh Poo Pah Doo - Parts I and II
'I'm gonna create disturbance in your mind' could very well describe the effect New Orleans rhythm and blues has had on me throughout most of my life; certainly ever since these wonderfully demented lyrics written and sung by Jessie Hill in his hit "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" sunk in (of course the dozens of brilliantly effective Fats Domino songs I heard growing up were the best from the Big Easy). Hill was born in 1932 and raised in the Ninth Ward district, right in the heart of New Orleans, not far from the Fat Man himself. Taking to the drums as a teenager, he formed his own group The House Rockers around 1951, detouring into solo work backing up Professor Longhair and Huey (Piano) Smith and the Clowns at different times in the mid-'50s, also working with R&B singer and sometimes-female-impersonator Bobby Marchan (also of Huey's Clowns and lead singer on some of that group's hits).
New Orleans has the reputation of being a hotbed of musical excitement. That statement is not exaggerated. Just standing anywhere along Bourbon Street taking in the sounds of the blues, jazz and R&B coming from the various corners of the French Quarter at the same time is a revelation. The Minit Records label was formed at the center of all this musical stimulus in 1959 by Joe Banashak and Larry McKinley. As many had done before them, the two set out to take advantage of the overabundace of homegrown Crescent City talent with an eye towards exposing them far and wide...pocketing the proceeds, of course. Hill was signed to the label and songwriter Allen Toussaint was assigned to him, though as a producer. They soon found themselves at the city's famous Cosimo Recording Studio, run by Cosimo Matassa, for the session that spawned "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," Jessie's loud and everlasting proclamation. It was Minit's first hit and the first of many successful sessions for Toussaint as a producer.
The 'disturbance' took hold during Mardi Gras, and in spring 1960 the song hit the pop top 40 and went as high as number three on the R&B charts, though there's a debate as to which side of the single was actually the hit. When I was growing up in Los Angeles it was "Part I," the vocal version, that was played (over the years, I've found out from several people in different parts of the country that this was the case on their local stations, too). The Billboard and Cash Box charts at the time listed "Part II," the instrumental flip side, as the hit. In the 1980s I had a radio show where, from time to time, I would count down an original Billboard chart (yes, I actually used to do those kinds of things on the FM airwaves). One night while recreating the top 50 from the first week of May 1960, with Hill's hit on that chart, I had a dilemma: do I ignore the vocal version I'd known all my life and play the song as listed? My solution was to play both, and I found out you can segue the sides (requiring two copies of the record on a live radio show) and come up with a cool extended mix without altering the impact of either side.
Jessie Hill followed his hit single with "Whip it on Me," an off-the-cuff romp with unpolished but appealing female backing singers joining in the fun. It briefly hit the charts in July (at about the same time his old cohort Bobby Marchan had a huge hit with a bizarre singing/spoken version of Big Jay McNeely's "There's Something on Your Mind" on the Fire label). In later years, Hill hooked up with Dr. John and Harold Battiste (themselves veterans of the Louisiana music scene); one of their projects was "Zu Zu Man" by The Zu Zu Blues Band on A&M in 1966, featuring Jesse's manic shouting over an otherwise instrumental track (that was revived the following year by The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band as "Brown Sugar").
Shirley Goodman (of Shirley and Lee) teamed with Jesse for a couple of '66 singles as Shirley and Jesse, produced by "The Crazy Cajun," Huey P. Meaux. Then he and Huey headed to Chicago's Chess Records for a one-off '67 single. A somewhat misdirected association with Blue Thumb Records in the early '70s resulted in one album. His consumption of alcohol increased to a point that it impeded any further attempts at performing. The fabulous "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" has outlasted its creator, with versions by Paul Revere and the Raiders, Ike and Tina Turner and many others helping to spread Jesse Hill's disturbance into the minds of millions on its way to becoming an all-time classic.