Sunday, 1 February 2015

Stranded In The Jungle - with only jazz, exotica, R&B and rockabilly for company

Now, obviously that opening song is deplorable on many levels - but it's terrific. The performer, Lincoln Chase, was a New Yorker, the son of West Indian immigrants. He was better known as a songwriter, whose credits include "Jim Dandy", "Such a Night", "The Name Game" and "The Clapping Song". Respect! 

I found the delightful "Miss Orangatang (sic)" while desultorily searching for songs with a jungly theme (no, I have no idea why). There are probably thousands of them across a variety of musical genres, and a surprising number are excellent (or just strange), so I thought I'd share some of my favourites with you, including a few I heard for the first time today. The next one, which came out in 1960, isn't that great, but it took my fancy. I know nothing about Ernie George or his quartet, and this appears to have been their only release:

The next song is mad, and the only vaguely "jungle" association is the fact that the performers - Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes (no, really) were African, from the Alexandra Township outside Johannesburg, which probably isn't near any jungles. The song "Tom Hark" (possibly a mishearing of tomahawk?) reached to No.2 in the UK charts in 1958, sold three million copies worldwide, was used as the theme tune to a TV series, The Killing Stones, and is now chanted by English football fans. A jive flute is another name for a penny whstle:

I have a hopelessly scratched copy of "African Waltz" by the British singer Lynn Cornell, made after she left the Vernon Girls. Unfortunately, no one has posted it on YouTube, so I've chosen the original, purely instrumental version by Cannonball Adderley:

"Stranded in the Jungle" was doo-wop group The Cadets' slightly livelier cover of the original by The Jawhawks. They were both released in 1956, and both got into the US top twenty:

"Similau" is by Martin Denny, who released the instrumental albums Exotica and Exotica Volume II in the late '50s, which leant their name to a whole musical genre:

Fred Prentiss's "Jungle Queen" was recorded at Sun Records in Memphis, but never released - which you won't find particularly surprising once you've listened to it. One of the oddest rock and roll records I've ever heard:

There's no overt jungle or African references in Duke Ellington's "The Mooche" from 1928...

...but I think the reason it's here is that the sound reminded me vaguely of contemporary Australian-American artist, C.W. Stoneking's utterly splendid "Jungle Blues":

About Ronnie Savoy, I know next to nothing - but I love this:

Dave Bartholomew was an immensely distinguished New Orleans bandleader, songwriter, producer - you name it. He worked with Fats Domino (and many others) and co-wrote  "Ain't That a Shame", "I'm in Love Again" "Blue Monday" and "I'm Walkin'". "The Monkey", released in 1957, is a chugging classic:

I'll finish with one of Sun's finest moments - the great Warren Smith and the wonderful "Ubangi Stomp":


  1. Can I be the first of your readers to point out the Ubangi Stomp/Cool Cat Wild connection? I am not sure I'll ever be the same again after hearing the Fred Prentiss track. It's as if he wasn't told what key it was in or allowed to listen to the drum track as some sort of bizarre experiment. The guitar riff invents an entirely new scale. I imagine the Sun label realised that its release could do serious damage to its artistic credibility and decided to suppress it. Wise choice. Great post.

    1. Thanks, ex-KCS - and very well spotted re "Cool Cat Wild". I was lucky enough to be at the rockabilly concert at the Finsbury Park Astoria in 1977 where Warren Smith - who'd been out of the music business for years - returned to the stage. If I remember right, he'd completely forgotten "Ubangi Stomp" and had to relearn it from a record. Vast cheers all round from the Teds who seemed to make up most of the audience (and for Charlie Feathers and Jack Scott - poor old Buddy Knox of "Party Doll" fame got booed for being too poppy.)

      As for Fred Prentiss and the other musicians, one can only assume that libations had been liberally dispensed beforehand. To be fair, if Sun hadn't allowed utterly obscure musicians to perform crazy musical experiments, we'd never have heard of Elvis Presley. And Sam Phillips seems to have been sufficiently forward-looking to hold on to unreleased tracks and out-takes - otherwise we'd never have heard Carl Perkins unbelievably wonderful "Put Your Cat Clothes On"! I've been intrigued for years by a 30" scrap of classic echo-drenched Sun magic teetering on the verge of chaos known as "Unknown Tape Fragment", generally credited to Jimmy Wages, but nobody really knows who it is. I dream of the day someone stumbles across the rest of it. You can find it here:

  2. Fascinating. I remember the thrill of coming across a bootleg copy of the unreleased What's The New Mary Jane by the Beatles and then realising once I had listened to it why it had remained unreleased. On the other hand, Unknown Tape Fragment sounds great. The vocal echo is odd. The classic mix technique has the echo at lower volume than the source. Here it is at about the same volume, which makes me wonder whether they were experimenting with unaligning the tape heads or some such trickery and abandoned it when they couldn't get it quite right.

    Yes, I know. I need to get out more.

    1. Jimmy Wages four complete Sun sides certainly sound a bit like the unknown fragment with the echo settings at more normal levels (well, normal by Sun standards) - the difference being that there are drums on all of them, but not on the "fragment". Maybe the other musicians and the producer (Phillips himself?) were trying something out while the drummer went for a wee or to pick up hamburgers or get in some more booze or something. That still doesn't explain the extreme echo effect. As far as I'm aware, echo was applied to the overall sound coming from the studio rather than to an individual instrument (including the voice) - but that doesn't sound like what's happening here, where the electric guitar has nowehere near as much echo on it as the voice and the clicks of the double bass strings hitting the fretboard. A separate echo effect was applied by Scotty Moore (from Mystery Train onwards) after he followed Chet Atkins by getting hold of a Ray Butts's EchoSonic amplifier with built-in tape echo, but I'm not aware of the ability to apply separate echo to the voice in addition to the overall slapback echo that Phillips had at his disposal. Anyway, there's an interesting bit about Phillip's echo equipment available here:

      I evidently need to get out more as well!