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Mungo Jerry

+ {The Good Earth} + {Ray Dorset & Mungo Jerry}

Adorning characteristic mutton chop side whiskers fit for a 19th century aristocrat, dashing singer/songwriter Ray Dorset (born 21 Mar’46, Ashford, Middlesex) led out skiffle-blues jug band revivalists MUNGO JERRY. The playful, carefree combo was of course responsible for the classic chart-topping signature tune, `In The Summertime’, however by the mid-70s the hits had dried up as glam-rock withstood the pace.
The band’s roots, so to speak, stemmed from The GOOD EARTH, a quartet comprising Dorset (on lead vocals/guitar), Colin Earl (piano), Dave Hutchins (bass), and Ray Bowerman (drums). This garage/psych outfit completed only one LP for Saga Records, IT’S HARD ROCK AND ALL THAT (1968) {*5}, before allowing their label to pitch them against rivals The First Impression, in order to unfetter a cash-in shared LP, SWINGING LONDON (1968) {*4}; this featuring a dozen tracks, though only four bore The GOOD EARTH nom de plume. By Christmas that year, Hutchins left to join BOBBY PARKER’s group, and as the drummer, too, vacated prior to a booking, Ray and Colin called upon double bassist Joe Rush to step in at short notice. Performing old American folk/blues/country tunes in skiffle aplomb, the trio began to build up audiences when asked to play further gigs. Multi-instrumentalist Paul King was added almost immediately, whilst Mike Cole superseded Rush.
The drummer-less quartet needed a catchy moniker to catapult their newfound sound, and when the poem “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” (from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats”) cropped up, MUNGO JERRY seemed as good a name as any to kick off their new project.
Timed to perfection in order to coincide with the May 1970 release of aforesaid debut disc, `In The Summertime’ (having earlier inked a deal with Dawn Records; via PYE), the band put in a superb first-day performance at the Hollywood Music Festival, near Newcastle; headlined by FAMILY and GINGER BAKER’S AIRFORCE. This exposure and the record’s maxi-single format (that featured two tracks on the B-side), doubly ensured massive returns, though only `Mighty Man’ made it to press when Janus Records, in the States, propelled the summertime song to #3 (their only US hit). And further marrying Dorset’s distinctive laid-back vox to a chugging skiffle/jugband rhythm, the track’s infectious good-time vibe duly saw global sales eventually run into millions.
The eponymous MUNGO JERRY {*7} debut album followed hot on its heels; however its mix of old-timey jugband nostalgia grated a little with repeat plays. And leaving out their big ticket item (though not on the stateside version), several reviewers pointed thumbs south. And for all intents and purposes a good time rock’n’roll set of songs, reviving Arthur Gunter’s `Baby Let’s Play House’ and JESSE FULLER’s `San Francisco Bay Blues’, the Barry Murray-produced LP was quick to spiral downwards from its unlucky-for-some #13 peak. On reflection, the cocky country-bop of `Johnny B. Badde’, `Movin’ On’ and the kazoo-enhanced `See Me’, were worthy of further inspection.
But for a US-only flop 45, `My Friend’, it’d be early 1971 before the release of a follow-up UK single; bassist John Godfrey now filling the vacancy left by Cole. With the lascivious and bawdy, `Baby Jump’, the Afro-coiffed Dorset and crew topped the chart, although they couldn’t quite match GERRY & THE PACEMAKERS’ record of three novice consecutive hits when single, `Lady Rose’, only managed to reach No.5. This was possibly due to its B-side (well one of them in their unceasing maxi format): the trad-cum-Dorset piece `Have A Whiff On Me’, banned by the BBC for its suggestion of cocaine use. Yeah, the Beeb were fine with overlooking `In The Summertime’, with it green-lighting “have a drink, have a drive…” (read on…).
By this point their musical approach had more in common with the post-folk/classic-rock scene that numbered the likes of T. REX and MEDICINE HEAD, though many would probably disagree. The much-improved second Top 20 set, ELECTRONICALLY TESTED (1971) {*7} (the phrase used to endorse a “Durex” condom TV ad campaign), somehow managed to squeeze in “…Summertime” between a 9-minute cover of WILLIE DIXON’s `I Just Want To Make Love To You’ and the frolicking `Somebody Stole My Wife’. The wryly-titled track `Memoirs Of A Stockbroker’ was facilitated to headline the title of the re-arranged US LP version, and there was remission by way of u-turn rhetoric, `You Better Leave That Whiskey Alone’.
By autumn ‘71 and the Top 20 success of the long-winded, `You Don’t Have To Be In The Army To Fight In The War’ (complete with a LEADBELLY cover B-side), MUNGO JERRY were a staple among the 7-inch record buying public. This didn’t transpire to parent set, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE IN THE ARMY {*5}, which totally bombed with its concentration on trad re-workings and a re-hash of WOODY GUTHRIE’s `That Old Dust Storm’.
Many folks were of the mindset that MUNGO JERRY was indeed the sole enterprise of RAY DORSET, but that then myth was put to bed with the singer/guitarist’s own debut LP, COLD BLUE EXCURSION (1972) {*6}, that saw him backed by bassist Dave Markee and drummer Mike Travis. Not far removed from a group recording (John Godfrey and washboard auxiliary Joe Rush featuring on `Have Pity On Me’) most reviewers couldn’t see anything immediately different.
A big coup had been swept under the proverbial carpet in the meantime; Paul and Colin forming the King-Earl Boogie Band when they couldn’t sack Dorset. Undeterred, Ray and John roped in keyboardist Jon Pope and a conventional sticksman Tim Reeves (ex-OCTOPUS, ex-The FOX) –to replace Paul Hancox – to tie-in with their near Top 20 MUNGO JERRY hit, `Open Up’. Album recognition was a blot on the landscape for the feisty quartet, and with the rather pop-orientated BOOT POWER (1972) {*4}, there was a sense they’d been kicked into touch; run-of-the-mill ditties `Brand New Car’, `My Girl And Me’ were indeed low-brow.
What was needed was another sizeable Top 3 hit, and thankfully their prayers were answered in the summer of ‘73 by way of `Alright, Alright, Alright’. Though not nearly as successful and rather derivative of its predecessor, `Wild Love’ continued to keep up MUNGO JERRY’s chart momentum. And if it was simplicity fans were looking for, the bawdy boogie-woogie Top 20 spin of `Long Legged Woman Dressed In Black’, had indeed the desired effect to shake a tail feather. Lifted from the similarly-titled, but belatedly-dispatched LONG LEGGED WOMAN (1974) {*4} – partly penned by producer Barry Murray (aka Joe Strange) – the band’s days were numbered when the exclusive `All Dressed Up And No Place To Go’ sold little to nothing. Note too that former CHICKEN SHACK rhythm section Dave Bidwell and Bob Daisley, plus Ian Milne (who superseded ex-OCTOPUS geezer John Cook in ’74), backed Dorset – aka MUNGO JERRY.
A subsequent move to Polydor Records failed to resurrect the group’s chart fortunes as all three efforts (`Can’t Get Over Loving You’, `Hello Nadine’ and `Don’t Let Go’) fell by the wayside; Colin Earl had now been reinstated; as was percussionist Rush, alongside fresh drummer Jimmy Jewel. The midway track opened their early 1976 set, IMPALA SAGA {*5}, an unfruitful recording to hopefully reignite their flagging careers. Nor did a change of billing to accommodate the DORSET branding – that saw Rush and Jewel move aside for bassist Chris Warnes and Pete Sullivan – push the act upstream.
In fact 1977’s LOVIN’ IN THE ALLEYS FIGHTIN’ IN THE STREETS {*4} – featuring flop single `Heavy Foot Stomp’ – 1978’s RAY DORSET & MUNGO JERRY {*5} – featuring `We’re O.K.’ – and 1980’s SIX ASIDE {*4} booted the band back yonks; note that ‘tween sets, drummer Boris Williams (later of The CURE) and keyboardist Steve Jones (ex-HERON), had filled places left by Sullivan, Earl and Warnes.
Nevertheless, one of Dorset’s songs from the latter set (`Feels Like I’m In Love’; once penciled in for ELVIS), surprised many by becoming a crossover No.1 hi-NRG/disco nugget for Scots lass KELLY MARIE. Unfortunately, Ray couldn’t twist this success for a further 80s comeback singles, which included a cover of DYLAN’s `Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ (from the Dutch-only LP, TOGETHER AGAIN (1981) {*5}), `Sunshine Reggae’ (as Mungo Jerry & Horizon), and a redefined `In The Summertime’ for a potent anti-drink driving TV campaign under the billing of Mungo Jerry & The Brothers Grimm; an indie chart-topper for Illegal Records.
In between times, Dorset regained some street-cred when he joined Messrs PETER GREEN and ex-ATOMIC ROOSTER’s Vincent Crane, plus others, in the overdue 1985 release of their “Katmandu” project.
Subsequently confined to the annuls of history, Ray and his various MUNGO JERRY cohorts continued in vain to resurrect some interest; bar their rousing gigs up and down the nation, and a one-off set for Prestige Records: SNAKEBITE (1990) {*4}.
Then in 1999, in support of Newcastle United’s unsuccessful bid to beat Man U in the FA Cup Final, Mungo Jerry & The Toon Travellers had a minor breakthrough with their Top 60 novelty EP, `Support The Toon – It’s Your Duty’. Prior to this, Dorset’s all-new MUNGO JERRY; featuring guitarist Tim Green, bassist Les Calvert, drummer Simon Baker, and percussionist Mick Frampton, were back in action on German-only set, OLD SHOES NEW JEANS (1997) {*5}.
From time to time, the ever-changing MJ & RD came out of the woodwork, and bypassing the odd foreign single, a handful of twilight-ish, partly covers albums were forthcoming; namely CANDY DREAMS (2001) {*5} – a set that featured brothers Plato and Byron Contostavlos (fathers of N-DUBZ’s Tulisa and Dappy), ADULTS ONLY (2004) {*6} – by the Mungo Jerry Bluesband, NAKED – FROM THE HEART (2007) {*5} – backed by drummer Bruce Brand and Mike Cole, WHEN SHE COMES, SHE RUNS ALL OVER ME (2008) {*5}, COOL JESUS (2011) {*6} and KICKING BACK (2015) {*6}; the latter record augmented by bassist Jon Playle, keyboardist Helmut Posch and esteemed sticksman Heini Altbart. For double-CD concert set, 100% LIVE IN BADEN BADEN (2016) {*6}, Ray Dorset aka Mungo Jerry was now joined by Playle, drummer Bob White and keyboard player Toby Hounsham.
© MC Strong/MCS 2000/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2019

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