Mungo Jerry Arrives to Save Rock 'n' Roll
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August 6, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 32
By Andrew Lycett
LONDON -- The Beatles are dead, the Stones are playing bad, repetitive music. In fact, the English music scene has been in a state of unhappy hiatus for the last year or so. Gone are the innocent days of the early Mersey noise, played out is the second generation euphoria of Cream, all that is to be heard is the boringly stylized blues riffs of Ten Years After and the plastic fantastic orgasms of Led Zeppelin. At the recent Bath festival of progressive music 80 per cent of the name groups were American -- Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds, Country Joe, Steppenwolf, Frank Zappa, et al.
The advent and the demise of the supergroup last year (Blind Faith, Humble Pie) showed all that was wrong with the sad introverted music of the late '60s. The notion that one could string a few names together and that one could manufacture rock to a formula ("Give 'em a 10 minute drum solo, a couple of freaky guitar breaks") epitomized the sterility of the ideas and of the sound. That is why, pace the "Blonde on Blonde" freaks, it is good to hear Dylan moving on, refusing to accept any proven musical concepts as his own.
Maybe it was the acid, maybe it was the money, maybe it was the boredom, but something had gone wrong. At the beginning of this year the rock pundits deliberated on the possibilities for the sounds of the '70s. Would it be moon rock, typewriter boogie, or plain country revival? Now after six months of the decade it seems that we could be into something good. For the last few weeks we have seen the rise of Mungomania here in Britain. Mungomania? The cult of the jug-band blues sounds of Mungo Jerry, a four-man percussionless rock group. You'll be hearing a lot of them in the States, soon, coupled with a whole load of predictable record company hype which you'll just have to grin and bear with.
Their single -- "In the Summertime" -- has been selling here at the rate of 50,000 copies a day and has attained the first gold disc for well over a year (although it is true their record company promoted them big with the prototype maxi-single -- three titles at 33 rpm, selling at $1.20).
The group itself has been around for a couple of years playing the kind of $100 per night northern folk club and southern art college circuit that spawned the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band -- amateurish, but free of commercialization and therefore free for experimentation.
Their big break came in May of this year when their manager put on the Hollywood music festival (Hollywood, England, that is), and they were booked as a filler group. If they didn't actually upstage the Grateful Dead, they certainly overwhelmed the crowd when they played on the Saturday, and were brought back on the Sunday for an unscheduled performance and yet more encores. The reason was not far to find. People were tired of being blasted with the heavy sounds. Mungo Jerry encouraged them to get up, to clap, to bang Coke tins, to dance and to sing.
Their style is deceptively simple, almost lazy, and that is its attraction. It's the happiest sort of music, without any trace of sloppiness. As the group leader, Ray Dorset, says, they work extra hard to produce their apparently easy result.
Their songs are mainly their own compositions, but they have a strong line in country blues, jug band, and boogie standards (such as "Midnight Special") which they light up with their guitar, banjo, piano, string bass line-up. They say, "It's music for drinking beer to," but there's more to it than that. "We're always happy with the life we're living, that's our philosophy," runs their hit single.
Lead singer Dorset welds them together with a nice throwaway voice which switches through the jogging warmness of "In the Summertime," through the take-off doobie, doobie, dash of "Mighty Man," to the raunchy harmonica-based rock of "Dust Pneumonia Blues."
The amazing thing about all this is that the group is wowing not only the tingling teeny-boppers, but also the most hardened heads. Their forthcoming lp is being talked about on the underground radio shows, they themselves are preparing for an autumn tour of the states, taking in such venues as the Fillmore.
They may find that they are unable to sustain their success; they don't have too wide an emotional or musical range. But in the meantime they are providing a long-awaited shake-up of the cliches of the pop world. The Lovin' Spoonful would enjoy a fantastic revival in England today, ditto the early Jefferson Airplane.
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