Little-known skiffle-cum-jug band, The Good Earth gained instant success and a new name overnight following a sensational performance at the Hollywood Pop Festival in the 1970s.
Taking their name from a T.S Eliot poem, Mungo Jerry was fronted by singer, songwriter and guitarist Ray Dorset, who had a fascination with early rock & roll sounds, as well as skiffle and blues. The other original members were Mike Cole on upright bass; Paul King on guitar, kazoo, and jug; Joe Rush playing washboard; and Colin Earl at the keyboards.
Their performance at the gig coincided with the release of their debut single 'In The Summertime', which subsequently became the fastest selling single of it's time and an eternally infectious anthem for summer.
So taking you right back to your earliest musical experiences with the Blue Moon skiffle group, who was it that influenced you then?
Ray: I guess it was the rock and roll artists around, like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and er...Little Richard.
Your music seems to have a lot of skiffle influences running through it though?
Ray: Well I was influenced by Lonnie Donegan too, and other skiffle groups that were around at the time; like The Vipers and Shirley Douglas. I remember listening to next door's radio through the wall and just loved anything that had a bit of rhythm or groove. Predominantly though, it was the rock and roll artists that I looked up to, but skiffle was something we could do ourselves. When I was about 14 or 15, I remember seeing a Fender Stratocastor in a shop window, the first I'd ever seen, for about 147 guineas. Now that's actually far more expensive than you can get them for today. The skiffle thing allowed people to perform with minimal or basic instruments. I suppose skiffle was to the '50s what punk was to the mid-'70s; home-made music. It came from something called spasm or junk band music which was popularised in places like New Orleans. There were a lot of poor people obviously, so when they got really hard-up they'd hold 'rent parties'. These parties were comparable, I guess, to the raves during the '70s summer of love with Happy Mondays or Stone Roses. [Er, doesn't he mean the '80s Ed?] People would set these gigs up in their houses; get their bootleg alcohol in, open their front door and invite loads of friends and neighbours around to dance around and jam on these home-made instruments. They didn't have any brass instruments, so they'd use kazoos! They wouldn't have had a bass, so they'd use a jug and hence the name of The Jug Band. This is what we used on 'In The Summertime' too, it was the kind of farting sound effect that we created using jugs. But, basically, that's where the whole skiffle thing came from; percussion created from household things. The lyrics often focussed on men at work, in prison, they were spiritual songs or songs about slavery. The white people would go to church, while the black folk worked the fields. The black slaves would pick up on the hymns being sung and add their own lyrics to the songs and, consequently, their own African rhythms and flavour. And this is what really inspired me and where rock and roll really came from. I've never been a big fan of pop music; I prefer something more organic and spontaneous. The pop industry now has become more about the business and it's not good for the art form. I'm not saying that there's not a lot of talent around, but because of fall in record sales, you can't guarantee you'll be around in five weeks, let alone five years.
Tell us about the Hollywood Music Festival gig. That short first set completely changed your career didn't it?
Ray: Well yeah...I didn't have a career before then really. At that particular time, my career was electronics and I'd been working in a US research laboratory. It was a hobby that became a job, but I never imagined music would become my career. It was the first show we did as Mungo Jerry, we'd been called The Good Earth before. We'd done some successful shows before that; we blew the Moody Blues off stage once and played with Dick Abrahams' band. We travelled around London mainly, gigging at colleges and universities with what was considered quite strange music at the time. We hung out at some of pyschedelic clubs in London as well, like Middle Earth, Electric Garden and Roundhouse.
Was being around those clubs at that time as fun as it sounds?
Ray: Yeah, it was! I'd love to go back to that time. It was the most exciting time, that was when everything started taking shape. Luckily a friend of mine, Barry Murray, formed a company with a business partner of mine, Elliot Cohen, who still is a business partner of mine after 35 years. Anyway, Barry, Elliot and another guy, Ellis launched their record company, Red Bus. They signed up a guy called Jackie McAuley and a singer, Judy Dyble, the one-time singer with Fairport Convention, and put together an album. To launch them they decided to set up the Hollywood Festival gig, in a little town in Newcastle-under-Lyne. With a bit of backing, they managed to set-up a brilliant line-up, including the Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath, Traffic, Free... For some strange reason though, Judy Dyble fell out. Barry had to start looking round for another act and he'd seen an ad that I'd put in Melody Maker. I had worked with him before, and he remembered one of the tracks that I'd done. He gave me a call and I explained that I'd changed from the pyschedelic stuff to the skiffle, rockabilly style. He seemed happy with that and offered me a contract. I played him some of my stuff and he decided 'In The Summertime' was going to be a hit...and of course, he was right. So we launched the single off the back of the festival and changed our name at the same time. Mungo Jerry was literally plucked out of a hat. Whoever it was that put it in there though had spelt it wrong; it should have been Mungojerrie!