Dr. John: Iko Iko
Dr. John (piano, vocals)
Dr. John's Gumbo (Atco 7006)
Dr. John (piano, vocals),
Alvin Robinson (guitar, background vocals); Ken Klimak (guitar); Harold Battiste (clarinet, saxophone); Sidney George (harmonica, saxophone); Moe Bechamin (saxophone, background vocals); Lee Allen, David Lastie (saxophone); Melvin Melvin Lastie (cornet), Ronnie Barron (keyboards, background vocals), Jimmy Calhoun (bass), Freddie Staehle (drums), Richard “Didimus” Washington (percussion); Sidney George, Lee Allen, David Lastie (reeds); Shirley Goodman, Tami Lynn, Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith (background vocals).
Composed by James “Sugarboy” Crawford.
Recorded: Van Nuys, California, no date given (album released in 1972)
Rating: 98/100 (learn more)
Sugar Boy and the Cane Cutters recorded this song in the early 1950s, with Professor Longhair holding down the piano chair. But Dr. John staked his own claim to ownership of "Iko Iko" at the Van Nuys session for his 1972 release Dr. John's Gumbo, where he delivered a modern-day classic of New Orleans music. The good doctor brings out all of the contradictions submerged in this style of performance. "Iko Iko" is loose and tight at the same time, on the beat and off, hot and cool - and, most important of all, has "Party" written all over it with a capital P. But before you get out on the dance floor, check out the ingredients here - in particular the drum part, which demonstrates how an old-school march beat can morph into a tasty funk groove.
You don't really need to know what "Iko Iko" means to enjoy it, but a grad student could spend a month deciphering the Creole patois and the song's various significations. The tune was originally recorded under the name "Jock-A-Mo" - which means jester. A "spy dog" is a lookout. Marraine is a godmother, etc. But even the composer claims he was just imitating phrases he had picked up from Mardi Gras Indians, and didn't really know what they meant. He thought it was some sort of victory chant. Works for me. Next time you come up on the winning side - in the office football pool, with pocket aces in a hand of Texas hold 'em, with a lottery ticket from the convenience store - try it out: Jockomo feena nay.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia
If you liked this track, also check out
A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks edited by Ted Gioia