(Read all about Mungo Jerry after the video)
Mungo Jerry are a British rock group whose greatest success was in the early 1970s, though they have continued with a changing line-up that has always been fronted by Ray Dorset. The group's name was inspired by the poem "Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer", from T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. They are identified with their biggest hit "In the Summertime". It remains their most successful and most recognisable song. They had nine charting singles in the UK, including two number ones, and five top 20 hits in South Africa.
Formation and original band: 1970–71
Mungo Jerry came to prominence in 1970 after their performance at the Hollywood Festival at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire on 23 May, which was their first gig under this name, alongside Black Sabbath, Traffic, Ginger Baker's Airforce, Grateful Dead (their first performance in the UK) and José Feliciano. Their show was very well received and the organisers asked them to perform again on the following day. The band's first single, "In The Summertime", the first maxi-single in the world, released on 22 May, entered the UK charts at No. 13 and the following week went straight to No. 1. Ray Dorset had to ask his boss for time off to do the UK TV Show, Top of the Pops.
Ray Dorset and Colin Earl had previously been members of The Good Earth. Bassist Dave Hutchins left to join Bobby Parker's band and the drummer was dismissed so Dorset and Earl decided to fulfil the one remaining gig, an Oxford University Christmas Ball in December 1968, as a three-piece with Joe Rush, one of Dorset's work colleagues on double bass. Also on the bill was Miller Anderson making his debut as a singer and guitarist, and Mick Farren and the Social Deviants. Though booked for only one set, Good Earth were asked to perform another after the bands had finished, playing a selection of American folk/blues/skiffle/jug band music from Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie and others, and some of Dorset's songs.
The trio played more gigs and landed a regular slot at the Master Robert Motel in Osterley, Middlesex, where they soon built up a following, including banjo, guitar and blues harp player Paul King who eventually joined the band, making it a four-piece.
After Rush left, Mike Cole was recruited on double bass, and this line-up recorded the first seventeen Mungo Jerry tracks which made up the first album and maxi-single including "In The Summertime". When they made their national debut at the Hollywood Festival, Rush joined them on stage for some numbers to play washboard. The record topped the UK Singles Chart for seven weeks, made No. 1 in 26 countries around the world and to date has sold around 30 million units.
According to Joseph Murrell's The Book of Golden Discs (1978), "Mungomania" was possibly the most startling and unpredicted pop phenomenon to hit Britain since The Beatles.
Mungo Jerry made their first trip to the United States in September 1970. On their return Mike Cole was fired and replaced by John Godfrey, who played bass on their second UK maxi-single, "Baby Jump", which also topped the UK chart in March 1971. The third UK single, another maxi, "Lady Rose", also in 1971, was also set to become another UK No. 1, but the record was temporarily withdrawn from sale and all existing copies were destroyed on the instructions of the Public Prosecutor's Office after complaints about the inclusion of the traditional song "Have A Whiff on Me", to which Dorset had added some of his own lyrics, on the grounds that it advocated the use of cocaine.
Mungo Jerry was awarded from Melody Maker the 'best new band' title in 1970, and as one of the five best live bands in the world in 1971. Dorset was granted three Ivor Novello Awards as a composer.
Dorset was the composer, guitarist, blues harp, kazoo player, frontman and singer. On return from a long tour of the Far East at the beginning of 1972 he was summoned to the band's management office and told by two of the other band members that he was fired and that his place was being taken by Dave Lambert. The record company, management and publishers did not go along with this idea and Ray Dorset was told that he was from then on, Ray Dorset the composer and Mungo Jerry the performing artist.
Line-up changes and side-projects: 1972–1980s
In time Dorset found the group's good-time blues and jug band repertoire a little restricting, and in 1972 he released a solo album Cold Blue Excursion, with his songs backed by strings and brass and, in one instance, a jazz band. His intention to broaden the group's appeal by recruiting a drummer led to King and Earl trying to sack him, but the management, regarding Dorset as inseparable in the public eye from Mungo Jerry, fired them both instead. Dorset and Godfrey, the bassist, recruited new members and presented a new sound, heard on the fourth album Boot Power. Colin Earl and Paul King went on to form The King Earl Boogie Band and recorded an album at Richard Branson's Manor Studios called Trouble at Mill, produced by Dave Cousins of Strawbs. They played together on and off in the years following and ended up with a band called Skeleton Crew.
Mungo Jerry's hits continued through to 1976 with "Open Up" (Top Twenty in Europe); "Alright Alright Alright" (a rewrite of an old French hit for Jacques Dutronc, and again a major hit worldwide reaching the Top 3 in the UK); "Wild Love"; "Long Legged Woman Dressed in Black"; "Hello Nadine" (European hit and Top Five in Canada); and "It's a Secret" (European hit). "You Don't Have to Be in the Army to Fight in the War" gave Mungo Jerry another hit.
In 1975 Earl, who had played piano with Foghat in between, returned to play keyboards, drummer Peter Sullivan joined and percussion player Joe Rush, part-time member of the band in earlier days, also came back for a while. The group's line-up continued to change. Among those who have played with them are bassist Bob Daisley, drummers Dave Bidwell, Paul Hancox and Boris Williams, guitarist Dick Middleton, keyboard player Sev Lewkowicz, and keyboard/accordion player Steve Jones. They have remained particularly popular throughout Europe. Mungo Jerry was the first western band to have live television gigs in all countries behind the Iron Curtain.
In 1980 another Dorset song, "Feels Like I'm in Love", originally written for Elvis Presley, and recorded by the band as a B side of a single, became a British number one hit for Kelly Marie. They remained successful with overseas hits like "On A Night Like This", "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (a reggae version of the Bob Dylan song) and "Sunshine Reggae" (British version by Mungo Jerry & Horizon).