As the RealPlayer wandered randomly through the mp3s the other day, it settled on an acoustic version of “Got My Mojo Working” by John Hammond, found on his 1976 album Solo. As Hammond ran through the classic blues song, accompanying himself on harmonica, I wondered how many versions of the song are out there. And before I got into that question, I found myself wandering through the history of the song.
The bare bones of the tale are pretty well known to blues fans: A singer named Ann Cole was on tour in 1956 with Muddy Waters’ band, and for their performances, she taught Waters and his band a song she was planning to record, “Got My Mo-Jo Working (But It Just Won’t Work On You).” Waters liked the song – written by Preston Foster – and when he got back to Chicago, he changed up some of the lyrics and recorded the tune for Chess.
Many accounts say that Waters recorded the song after Cole recorded it with the backing group called the Suburbans, but the notes in the Muddy Waters Chess Box say that Waters recorded the tune on December 29, 1956, while Cole – according to Black Cat Rockabilly – cut the song on January 27, 1957 (in New York City, according to a source I’ve seen but cannot find this morning). Those dates, then, say that Waters recorded it first, but I’m not certain. (I’m pretty confident the Waters date is correct, but I don’t know the source of the date I’ve seen for Cole’s recording.) In any event, both recordings were released as singles, and the confusion continues: I’ve seen some accounts that say that both were Top Ten singles, but neither version is listed as having made the charts in Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits or his Top Pop Singles. The only version of the tune mentioned in either book as having made the charts is the cover by jazz organist Jimmy Smith, whose “Got My Mojo Working (Part I)” went to No. 51 on the pop chart and to No. 17 on the R&B chart in 1966.
As to the origins of the song itself, both Waters and Foster claimed to have written the song. There were some lyrical differences, which I’ve seen attributed to Waters’ being unable to correctly remember the words Cole sang on tour, but according to Black Cat Rockabilly, “Eventually the matter went to court, where it was ruled that Foster was the composer. But the two versions are still separately copyrighted.” I dug into my Waters collection to check the composer credit. The Chess box set, released in 1989, credits Waters by his real name, McKinley Morganfield, as does a 1984 anthology of Waters’ work titled Rolling Stone. The Fathers and Sons album, however, tells the tale differently: The 1969 vinyl release credits both Morganfield and Foster, while the 2001 CD release credits Foster alone.
Anyway, here’s Cole’s very good version:
Waters’ studio version was good, too, but it pales in comparison to the version he and his band offered up at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, a two-part performance released on the 1960 album At Newport and happily preserved on film:
Getting back to the question I started with, fifty-two groups or performers are listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded versions of “Got My Mojo Working,” ranging from the versions by the Nightcaps and by Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in 1962 to Johnny Winter’s cover of the song on his album Roots in 2011. I have sixteen versions of the tune in the mp3 library (and probably a few more on vinyl that have not yet been ripped to mp3s), including a version by Long John Baldry from his 1964 album, Long John’s Blues. Digging around for a video of that track this morning led me to the following fascinating video from an April 28, 1964 taping of a British television program called Around the Beatles:
(Despite the comments from the original YouTube poster, I saw no Rolling Stones there, and the website The Beatles Bible does not list them as being guests on the program. The guests were P.J. Proby, the Vernons Girls, Long John Baldry, Millie, The Jets, Cilla Black and Sounds Incorporated. The show was aired in Britain on May 6, 1964, and in the U.S. on November 15, 1964.)
Other noteworthy versions of “Got My Mojo Working” on my dusty shelves come from Manfred Mann, Canned Heat and Etta James and from Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars. Others from the list at Second Hand Songs that I’d like to hear are the previously mentioned cover by Johnny Winter and versions by Pinetop Perkins, Magic Sam, Ike & Tina Turner. (One version that I heard for the first time this morning that’s likely to get a fair amount of play here is, oddly, by Melanie.)
One version not listed at Second Hand Songs is one that I saw mentioned as I stumbled through some research this morning and that I managed to find at YouTube. It’s a smoldering take on the tune by a singer whose name I first came across at the very end of Dave Marsh’s listing of the 1,001 best singles, The Heart of Rock & Soul. Marsh tells the tale of Michael Goodwin and a long-buried tape from Goodwin’s college radio station days. Listening to the tape years later, Goodwin came across a unidentified song that – after much searching – was found to be “No Way Out” by Joyce Harris, a piece of New Orleans-inflected rockabilly that’s as incendiary as anything I’ve ever heard.
“No Way Out” was recorded for the Texas-based Domino label, and I learned this morning that Harris also took on “Got My Mojo Working” for Domino, recording a track in 1960 that wasn’t released until 1998 (evidently on the import package The Domino Records Story). It’s not my favorite version of “Got My Mojo Working” – that would be Waters’ performance at Newport – but it’s pretty high on the list.