Gary James' Interview With Ray Dorset Of
In 1970, Mungo Jerry enjoyed world-wide fame with a song called "In The Summertime". That song went to number three on the US chart and number one in England. Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry talked with us about the history of the group.
Q - Ray, is the original Mungo Jerry still together today?
A - I don't know what you want to call original. I suppose if you think about the original band that recorded "In The Summertime" on the first album - no. We're not together.
Q - So, it's just you and four other guys?
A - No. See, what happened was, after the success of "In The Summertime", at the end of the US tour, for some strange reason, now it's a bit strange, Michael Cole, who played stand-up bass, was fired when we returned to the UK. We got another bass player and recorded another album and the single went to number one, which is called "Baby Jump". Then the following year, I was fired from the band. We went on another long tour. We went to the Far East and took in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Bangkok. So, we were away for another eight weeks. I was playing a lot of jug bands, skiffle, kind of American work songs, slave songs, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie stuff. I played quite a bit of Rockabilly, but I figured you can't go forever playing without a drummer. We didn't have a drummer. I used to stomp on the floor. I think there was a bit of an argument going on about me wanting to get an actual drummer into the band. I don't know if that was the reason, but I came back from the tour, got a call from the office and I was fired from the band. So, Colin Earl, who was the piano player and Paul King, who played banjo and twelve string guitar, they were gonna take on the name Mungo Jerry and the guy who was gonna take my place was a guy named Dave Lambert, who actually became the singer of The Strawbs. After about a week I suppose, the record company and the management and the publishers all thought it was a bad idea. I was gonna be the singer / songwriter. They were gonna be Mungo Jerry, the band. Because I wrote all the songs and sang 'em all and I was the front man, it was decided by the record company that I would take on the name Mungo Jerry, the performing artist and Ray Dorset the songwriter. So, I suppose I kind of took on the whole Mungo Jerry identity. People in the know, people in the music business say Ray Dorset and the other people call me Mungo Jerry. After such a long time, maybe forty years now, I've got used to the idea.
Q - Are the original members of Mungo Jerry still in the music business or are they in another line of work?
A - No. They're all playing. I'm speaking of Michael Cole tonight. We made an album about 1½ yeas ago now, when we actually recorded it. It's on the market and got great reviews. We recorded it in a studio in London, in a retro style with all analog eight track equipment that came from Abby Road, the BBC. It turned out great. So, I'm still doing musical projects with Michael Cole, who's the stand-up bass player. He plays a lot of Jazz now. I've taken on some publishing of Paul King for my publishing company. Colin Earl, I'm not in contact with for some strange reason, although the guy that runs one of my websites went to see him about four weeks ago and he was doing a gig with some of the other ex-Mungo musicians. So yeah, they're all out and about, doing their thing.
Q - Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia Of Rock described Mungo Jerry as "a British quartet of skiffle revivalists."
A - (laughs)
Q - Is that true and what are "skiffle revivalists"?
A - OK. That's one way to describe the line-up in say 1970 or say end of 1968 when I started. I'm a big fan of all kinds of music that's played from the heart. How can you say? No bullshit music. There was a guy in England by the name of Lonnie Donegan, who they called "The King Of Skiffle." I think he had a number one record in the States with a recording of "Rock Island Line". I was influenced by a lot of the things he played and where he got it from. I kind of discovered Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. I realized that's where Bob Dylan got a lot of his stuff from - the Woody Guthrie thing. I was kind of digging back and back and back to find out where it came from. It's all based on Blues music, I guess. Rock 'n' Roll, Soul, Disco, has all got that Blues element in it. I was just kind of playing that kind of music for my own amusement, along with these guys. It was a mixture of all that kind of stuff. Skiffle was really about playing with a washboard in a band, although Lonnie Donegan didn't have a washboard, he had an electric guitar player. He had a normal drum set. In my line-up, I had a boogie-woogie piano player who really loved Jerry Lee Lewis, which is different again. But, the basics of the music were there, I think. You can't really say it was Skiffle revivalist, but people don't know what to call it, so that's what they did. Sometimes I call it a jug band 'cause sometimes we use the jug, but we weren't really a jug band either. It was Mungo music I guess.
Q - Settle a controversy for me. Were there hundreds of groups in England before The Beatles' success or after The Beatles' success?
A - There were hundreds of groups before The Beatles. The Beatles did it in another way. Their background - they accessed through a different kind of music. I would say if you go back to the mid-50s, there was in Soho in London, a coffee bar called The Two I's. It was a very famous place. Bands used to play there, whatever instruments you get hold of in those days. It was very difficult to get a Fender Stratocaster in England in the '50s, so people used German guitars, the most popular was Hofner. People would play their version of Rock 'n' Roll. Then, as I said, Lonnie Donegan came on the scene and he kind of played this mixture of skiffle with a little bit of Gospel with Rockabilly mixed in there. There were all these other small bands and combos all starting out and they were all playing a similar kind of music. Then, there was a guy in England by the name of Tommy Steele and he used to play down at this place called The Two I's. I would say The Two I's coffee bar in London was the equivalent of what The Cavern Club was in Liverpool. But, The Two I's coffee bar came first. So, because of the success of Tommy Steele, and he made a record called "Rock With The Caveman", and a lot of people copied him and you got other bands coming out that had a similar kind of line-up. He was Britain's answer to Elvis, although he looked nothing like Elvis. He had totally different kind of hair. Although, Elvis had blonde hair and dyed it black and Tommy Steele had blonde and whatever. He used to fall all over the place and roll over the stage. All the girls used to chase after him. Then we got this other guy come out called Cliff Richard. He got this band called Cliff Richard And The Drifters. Now the instrument line-up for The Drifters was two guitars, bass and drums. And it was an electric bass rather than a stand-up bass. They got this kind of great instrumental sound, which sounds very much like Richie Valens. That kind of Stratocaster sound, more so than even Buddy Holly's Stratocaster sound. Then they started to do instrumentals. At the same time you got The Ventures in America doing all these guitar instrumentals, but they weren't using Stratocaster guitars. They were using Mosright guitars that had a slightly different sound, a bit more edgy. Because of this, there were hundreds and hundreds of bands all over England, all copying Cliff Richard And The Shadows. The Drifters changed their name to The Shadows because of the American group vocal group The Drifters. They had a hit record in England, so there was a confusion over the name. They were playing like this kind of Rock 'n' Roll music. So, there's a whole history that came out of this small coffee bar in a cellar in Soho. It's very important to British Rock music.
Q - When was Mungo Jerry formed? Late 1968 or was it 1969?
A - I started playing regularly when I was fourteen years old in pubs and clubs. I ended up backing a guy named Jack Edwards. He wrote "Keep On Running", "Somebody Help Me", "Goin' Home". I was playing in a band with him. The drummer left and joined Savoy Brown. The bass player left and joined Bobby Parker. He did something called "Watch Your Step". Roger Earl was the drummer. He joined Savoy Brown. His brother, who used to come and see me play on a Sunday, played the piano. We formed a Rock 'n' Roll band because we loved Rock 'n' Roll. We were playing Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Then we decided to fire the drummer, but we got a gig booked at Oxford University for a Christmas Ball. I was already fiddling around with this kind of junk band, Skiffle music. I saw Jesse Fuller on TV, playing "San Francisco Bay Blues", like a one band thing. He also used a harmonica harness 'round his neck and played the kazoo So, I was kind of doing that stuff. I had a jam session with Colin Earl and I got a guy that I worked with who played stand-up bass and a bit of percussion and washboard. We did the gig at Oxford University without a rehearsal, playing this funny music and they loved it. They loved it so much that we decided to carry on like that and not bother to get a drummer. That was the end of 1968. But, we were then called The Good Earth. When Barry Murray, who was an old friend of mine, saw an advertisement we had in Melody Maker looking for some more gigs, he called me up and was starting a new company called The Red Bus Co. He also had a job as a house producer for Pye Record Company and they started up a new label which was supposed to be their avant garde label. The name of the label was Dawn. He gave me a call and asked me what I was doing. I told him about the kind of music I was playing and he hired a rehearsal room and we came down with a band and played some music for him to listen to with a musical arranger, a guy that he had. They really loved what we played and they said "Would you like to make an album?" Of course we jumped at the chance. And at the same time the companies that he had decided to make a big launch of their company by putting on a festival in England. And this was in a very small village in the midlands. The name of the village was Hollywood. They called it the Hollywood Festival and they booked The Grateful Dead, Jose Feliciano, Black Sabbath, Free, Traffic, Ginger Baker's Airforce, Tony Joe White, Screamin' Lord Sutch and there were probably some others. They said "You guys should play at the festival, but you need to change your name. So, we couldn't agree on a name. Barry pulled a name out of a hat, that happened to be Mungo Jerrie, which comes from T.S. Elliot's book, Old Possums Book Of Practical Cats. The spelling that we have is incorrect, because in the book, the Jerry part is spelled Jerrie. And that was it. We went into the recording studio and recorded seventeen titles. Barry said "In The Summertime" was a hit single. Of course he was right. He said "We're gonna put it on this thing called a maxi-single. So, it became the first maxie-single in the world as well, which was a seven inch vinyl played at 33 1/3 RPM, in a paper bag. We were in a thing called an EP in England, which was in a color sleeve, four tracks running at forty-five RPM. They decided to release a maxie-single, sell it the same price as a normal single. It was released on the 22nd of May, 1970. We did a show at the Hollywood Music Festival on the 23rd of May. There were about 35,000 people there. We tore the place apart. They said it would be a good idea if you play again the next day, which we did and the same thing happened again. The record went straight into the charts at number 13 on a Wednesday. Did my first TV show on Sunday and the following Tuesday we went to number 1. I asked my boss if it was OK to have an afternoon off to do Top Of The Pops and he said yes. And that was it.
Q - Did you write "In The Summertime"?
A - Yeah. Sure. I wrote all the hits.
Q - That's you singing it?
A - Yeah. Oh, yeah. We recorded the song, just the four instrumentalists. We put down the grand piano, the stand-up bass, banjo and electric guitar. Then, I dunno what order I did it, I obviously put on the vocal. I decided to double-track the vocal. I picked up an acoustic guitar and gave it more or less this Latin groove, because the left hand of the piano is playing the boogie bass line, which technically the whole record is out of order. It shouldn't work. Then I play that rhythm on the acoustic guitar and then I picked up a cabasa and I played the same thing with the cabasa. There's no drums on there. I got this idea from watching Johnny Hooker. Johnny Hooker stomps on the floor, yeah? You just need that on beat groove. I stomped on a piece of wood in the studio and the engineer kind of messed around with the EQ to give it a bit more depth. Paul King put the jug on. It was absolutely, totally unique. Barry said "It's a bit short. If we could make the track longer, we'd get double the performance money when it's played on the radio." So, it's not a bad idea, as I wrote the song. He said "How can we make it longer?" I said "We'll just get a recording of a motorcycle, stick it on the end of the song and then re-edit the front and then put the front off to the motorcycle so it starts up again." But I couldn't find a motorcycle. Howard Barry, the engineer had an old, well, it wasn't old then, a Triumph sports car, which he drove past the studio while Barry Marrit was holding the microphone. So, he got the stereo effects from left to right or right to left, whatever. And that was it. So, they put that on there. That's how the whole thing was put together.
Q - As I listen to "In The Summertime", it seems like a song Dr. Hook would have recorded.
A - Yeah, maybe. That's not a bad comparison I suppose, but I'd take it a bit more Creedence. We were always a bit more kind of Creedence side of things rather than Dr. Hook or Lovin' Spoonful. Very American. I was brought up totally on American music and American things anyway, so as far as I was concerned, America was the center of the universe.
Q - That's strange. When The Beatles hit, I thought England was the center of the universe.
A - (laughs) Oh, really? Right. OK. Well, at the end of the day it all comes from all over the place anyway. It just sort of ends up in America because it's just like a big potpourri of everybody in the States. It's a whole mixture of just about every ethnic society you can think of.
Q - So, how did life change for Mungo Jerry when "In The Summertime" became a hit? Did you tour the world?
A - Yeah. Let's face it, I never intended to become a full-time songwriter or musician. Everything I did was for the groove or for the vibe or for the fun. I was actually working in a research laboratory at the time, Timex Corp. Music was a hobby. So, everything changed. I gave up my day job. I was out all over the place, every two or three days on an airplane to some other destination. The only problem was, you didn't have much of a chance to look at the places for the first two or three years. It was just like hotel, airport and that was it. There's got to be more time to look at he country and find out about places I was visiting.
Q - Did you ever meet Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix?
A - I used to play a place in London called the Speakeasy, and another place called Blazes, owned by the same people. Jimi Hendrix used to come down there anyway. So he was in the restaurant, seen around. But, I never, ever had a proper conversation with him. In fact, the drummer had, Roger Earl. I met him one evening. He said "Hey man, I just been doing an audition for the Black guy that plays the guitar with his teeth." (laughs) So, this was Jimi Hendrix. I met loads of other people. I met all kinds of people. It was great for me to meet iconic people. I had a great chat with Johnny Winter once, and David Clayton Thomas. I met a lot of very interesting people in my time. Frank Zappa. Frank Zappa was sitting in the Speakeasy one night, just right at the front of the stage, looking up while I was playing. When I was in Berlin, after "In The Summertime", he was in the TV studio. It was great to meet up with him again. I would have loved to have met Jim Morrison 'cause The Doors were one of my all time favorite bands.
Q - What did you follow up "In The Summertime" with in the U.S.?
A - I haven't got a clue. I'll tell you why. The official follow-up in England was "Baby Jump", which went to number one. It was in a really terrific movie called The Crying Game, which also won a few awards. I can only tell you things were not done in the way you'd expect. The record company that we were with in England didn't have their own record companies in other countries. I think they might've once in Germany. It was part of a really big set up. Janus in the States to start off with. All their deals changed. They licensed stuff out. There was no kind of continuity. So, everyone was releasing whatever they thought they could make a quick buck off of. So, they might take an album track or a B side and stick it out as a single. So, I think we got lost in the States after that. It became more underground I suppose. Everybody knows "In The Summertime", but they don't necessarily know the other stuff.
Q - So, you now divide your time between England and Germany?
A - Well, yeah, in so much as we have houses in England and Germany. I just pick and choose the kind of shows I like to do. I do quite a few festivals. Obviously, everyone wants me to do gigs in the summer, but when my children are on holiday, I like to keep the time free, so I don't do very much in the summer apart from hanging out with the kids.