Thursday, 16 January 2014

Gimme a Muskrat!

For a bunch of boarding school boys in South Africa in the early '70's, the showing of the movie "Woodstock" in the school hall was unmissable.  The projectionist was also a hi-fi nut, so we had great (and loud) sound.  And of course one of the most memorable performances (well maybe second to Joe Cocker's With a Little Help From My Friends) in that movie was Country Joe McDonald singing the "Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Blues". He introduced the tune by inciting the crowd to "Gimme an F, Gimme a U, Gimme a ..." well, you get the message.  How deliciously wicked that seemed!

Well, many years later in 2003 Country Joe was taken to court for copyright infringement by Babbette Ory, daughter of Kid Ory, who claimed it owed an awful lot to her father's tune "Muskrat Ramble".  In fairness, she had a point: the first strain is pretty similar, the second is unmistakeable.  Here is the original recording, Kid Ory playing in Louis' Hot Five.

Sadly for her, she lost the case: the court ruled that she had waited over 30 years to sue, and that was too long.

But who'd'a thunk it? Woodstock, the musical event that defined a generation, included a 54-year old tune!  You really can't keep a good tune down, and it pops up in so many different styles and manifestations.  Here are a few:

and for sheer joy:

Whoever wrote it, that's a song with some staying power. And in the end who did write it? Looking deeper we learn that Louis claimed "I wrote Muskrat Ramble. Ory named it. He gets the royalties. I don't talk about it.".  Who knows? There are even suggestions that it's based anyway on a Buddy Bolden tune called "The Old Cow Died and the Old Man Cried".   So maybe justice would not have been served by Babbette Ory winning her case after all.


It seems the original "Gimme an F" chant was a little more innocuous: take a peek here.

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