“ Label: Castle „
Since 1970 Ray Dorset has been the front man of Mungo Jerry. Since 1972, when he was briefly sacked by two other members of the band but reinstated by management and record company, resulting in the departure of the other two members, he HAS been Mungo Jerry, full stop. Yet as this anthology shows, his recording career goes back to 1966, and has taken in several interesting side projects along the way. It takes its name from the B-side of the group's last UK Top 20 hit, 'Long Legged Woman Dressed In Black' (not included) - and there's little doubt that the man will indeed live up to that promise.
There are 39 tracks altogether, and space doesn't permit a review of the lot, so once again I'll select the highlights. Many of these were issued only on obscure labels at home or in Europe, and eleven for the first time ever, so the 'rarities' tag on the sticker on the front is justified.
The first three tracks, demos recorded in 1966 and previously unreleased, are by one of Ray's first bands, The Tramps. 'St Pete Florida Blues' is closer to the kind of song that Fleetwood Mac were doing in their earlier days, while 'I'm Gonna Love My Baby' and 'Who Oh Oh' are basic rockabilly. The sound quality of these is a little on the primitive sound, but as was the case with the early Sun recordings which he (and many others) tried to emulate, the rough-and-ready feel adds to the atmosphere.
Much the same can be said for his first recording band, The Good Earth, who made an album recorded in 1968 on battery power and released on a long-defunct budget label. 'Unwashed Unwanted' is a bluesy song with some nice slide guitar, not a million miles from the old standard 'Rollin' and Tumblin'', and the plaintively folksy 'My Own Country', with something of the homespun simplicity of Bob Dylan's early work.
Two years later Ray and keyboard player Colin Earl, plus two new members, had changed the group's name to Mungo Jerry and ensured immortality with their seasonal 'In The Summertime' anthem. That song is not here, but we do have a 10-minute live recording from their Hollywood festival appearance of May 1970, including an excerpt from 'Maggie', 'the old trad blues 'Midnight Special', and their own song ''Mighty Man'. These are typical of the sounds which gave the band their character - Ray's earthy voice, capable of a growl one moment and a scream the next, the boogieing piano, the skiffle beat, and the regular harmonica and kazoo breaks. The same sound continues with subtle variations in more trad blues songs recorded during a studio jam, the brisk 'Shorty Long', 'Outskirts Of Town', 'You Got Me Dizzy', and the slower Jimmy Reed classic 'The Sun Is Shining'. Another curiosity is the train song 'Santo Antonio', released only as a single in Italy in 1971.
Around the same time he recorded a solo album, in which he put the blues and skiffle on one side to prove his versatility as a writer and singer of more sophisticated material. 'The title track (and also a single, although without any chart success), 'Cold Blue Excursion', has an adventurous lyric plus strings and a brass section which work up to a sizzling crescendo towards the end. It could hardly be more different from the other material, but it works brilliantly.
In 1972 Ray took the group in a heavier direction, adding a drummer for the first time, resulting in his temporary sacking and subsequent reforming with a new line-up. 'No Girl Reaction' and 'Open Up' (an alternate version of a song recorded as a single in 1972), awash with sizzling lead guitar and organ, a touch of Hendrix-style feedback on the former, and impassioned, occasionally screamed vocals, sound more like the Doors and T. Rex crossed with Led Zeppelin, while the infectious 12-bar rock'n'roll of 'Don't Stop', the title track and the previously unreleased 'Dance Dance Dance' are a treat as well.
The second CD contains tracks issued under other names apart from Mungo Jerry (or occasionally, for legal reasons, Ray Dorset & MJ). From 1972, 'Hello Nadine' is the original demo version of a later single which flopped in the UK but was a hit in France and Germany, and to my mind is considerably stronger than the recording which was later made available. 'All That A Woman Should Be' is a more funky, hard rocking track with that superb scream vocal and wah-wah guitar, while 'Forgotten Land', planned as a 1979 solo single on his own label Satellite but cancelled after about 100 promo copies had been pressed, is a delightful song with children's chorus - normally one of my pet hates, but on here it works rather well.
By this time, they (or rather he) had adopted a more contemporary sound. 'Night On The Town' is halfway towards new wave, a Cockney knockabout, like Chas and Dave crossed with Sham 69, while both sides of a 1980 single 'She Had To Go' and 'Rollin' and Strollin'', issued under the name of The Insiders, have something of the then fashionable keyboard sound although Ray's earthy vocal is self-evident. However, as the decade wore on his vocal seemed to get a little lighter in tone, as if the grit of early days wasn't still completely there. This seems particularly evident on a 1983 single, 'There Goes My Heart Again' (MJ featuring RD and The Tarts), with female backing vocals and a sax solo in the break. Some of the other tracks from around this time, like 'Hazel Eyes' and 'Put a Little Love In Your Letter', show more of a nod to the lighter pop side of things than the more skiffle and blues-based approach generally associated with the name. There's even a children's song, Ha Ha This-A Way', recorded as the theme for a teatime TV series 'Wizbit', featuring Paul Daniels.
Quite out of character is the very downbeat, even sombre 'Prospects', the theme tune to a 1986 comedy drama series. Issued under the name 'Made in England featuring RD', and a minor hit at the time, it is a more introspective sound - and probably more memorable than the programme, which never went into a second series. (From what I remember, it looked like a rather gloomy second cousin of 'Minder' - I watched about two episodes and had had enough). From the same year comes the more bouncy 'Boogie All The Way', with Ray's lead vocal at the forefront of a one-off supergroup blues project, Katmandu, also featuring Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Vincent Crane of Atomic Rooster, while to round the collection off is the plaintive bluesy 'Blowin' All My Troubles Away', credited to 'The MJ Trio' and made available in 2002 on a limited edition private pressing.
A generous 16-page booklet illustrated with photos, records sleeves, memorabilia, plus a detailed biography focusing of most of the tracks in turn with some interview quotes from Ray, and a page in which he looks back on his years in the music scene as well as dedicates the compilation to his mate Dick How, who played lead guitar on the early recordings and passed away suddenly in 2005.
If you loved Mungo from the early 1970s hits and wondered what Ray Dorset had been doing since then, this compilation helps to provide the perfect answer. For me, who's always regarded him as one of the best rock and blues British voices, it's a shame that his activity hasn't been reflected in chart positions, in the UK at least. But the man has always maintained a considerable presence on the live scene.
A few weeks ago when I looked on Amazon, it was priced at around £16 - twice what I paid for it brand new on release about four years ago. What goes up must, will and will usually come down, so shop around!
[Revised version of a review originally posted on ciao]