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Ringo Starr - First All Starr Band - Iko Iko (Dr John)

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Published on May 28, 2011

Greek Theatre, September 3rd 1989.

"Iko Iko" is a much-covered New Orleans song that tells of a parade collision between two "tribes" of Mardi Gras Indians. The song, under the original title "Jock-A-Mo", was written in 1953 by James "Sugar Boy" Crawford in New Orleans. The story tells of a "spy boy" or "spy dog" (i.e. a lookout for one band of Indians) encountering the "flag boy" or guidon carrier for another band. He threatens to set the flag on fire.

Crawford set phrases chanted by Mardi Gras Indians to music for the song. Crawford himself states that he has no idea what the words mean, and that he originally sang the phrase "Chock-a-mo", but the title was misheard by Chess and Checkers Records president Leonard Chess, who misspelled it as "Jock-a-mo" for the record's release.[1]

"Jock-a-mo" was the original version of the song "Iko Iko" recorded by the Dixie Cups in 1965. Their version came about by accident. They were in a New York City studio for a recording session when they began an impromptu version of "Iko Iko", accompanied only by drumsticks on studio ashtrays.

Said Dixie Cup member Barbara Hawkins: "We were just clowning around with it during a session using drumsticks on ashtrays. We didn't realize that Jerry and Mike had the tapes running". Session producers Leiber and Stoller added bass and drums and released it.

Following is the "Iko Iko" story, as told by Dr. John in the liner notes to his 1972 album, Dr. John's Gumbo, in which he covers New Orleans R&B classics:


The song was written and recorded back in the early 1950s by a New Orleans singer named James Crawford who worked under the name of Sugar Boy & the Cane Cutters. It was recorded in the 1960s by the Dixie Cups for Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller's Red Bird Records, but the format we're following here is Sugar Boy's original. Also in the group were Professor Longhair on piano, Jake Myles, Big Boy Myles, Irv Bannister on guitar, and Eugene 'Bones' Jones on drums. The group was also known as the Chipaka Shaweez. The song was originally called 'Jockamo,' and it has a lot of Creole patois in it. Jockamo means 'jester' in the old myth. It is Mardi Gras music, and the Shaweez was one of many Mardi Gras groups who dressed up in far out Indian costumes and came on as Indian tribes. The tribes used to hang out on Claiborne Avenue and used to get juiced up there getting ready to perform and 'second line' in their own special style during Mardi Gras. That's dead and gone because there's a freeway where those grounds used to be. The tribes were like social clubs who lived all year for Mardi Gras, getting their costumes together. Many of them were musicians, gamblers, hustlers and pimps.

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