Voodoo Voodoo (1961)

Lavern Baker

Written by Chess Avril and Andrew Coleman
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Voodoo Lavern poodle mainLavern Baker was the second woman to be inducted into Cleveland’s so-called Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. She followed Aretha Franklin, who was the first.

Really, pioneers Baker, Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Big Maybelle and Ruth Brown should have led the female parade. In a just world Aretha, as great as she has been, would hold the trains of the others’ show dresses or throw rose petals in their path.

 

“Voodoo Voodoo”

Inexplicably, “Voodoo Voodoo” wasn’t a massive hit for Lavern Baker, although it has come to be known as one of those great but forgotten songs that was often brushed aside in the early days of Rock-N-Roll. Her big hits would be “Jim Dandy,” “Tweedle Dee,” and “I Cried A Tear.”

“Tweedle Dee”

In “Voodoo,” Baker gives a dominating performance, running on twin engines, one R&B and one pure Rock. The producer of the record also saw fit to put a touch of slap-back echo on Lavern’s voice, adding an even more wildly uncontrolled sound to her powerful set of pipes.

The most impressive aspect of her vocals is that they feel as if she’s not even breathing hard, not reaching deep, but just doing a typically superb day’s work. Like certain athletes, she makes it look – or sound, in this case – easy. You turn around and she’s hit a couple of home runs, stolen a few bases and made a spectacular catch. In 1 minute and 50 seconds.

The whole recording reels, rolls, rips, spins, shouts, shakes, tingles, twangs, crashes and hip-hops – before that expression was ever conceived. The band is cooking an eight-course meal on a camp stove, laughing all the way. (At the end of the record, someone in fact does laugh when a hyena is mentioned. Quick: name another song with a hyena in it!)

The lyrics are as wild and free as Rock-N-Roll was meant to be.

Voodoo singleI thought I was a snake
I started crawlin’ on the ground

I thought I was a dog
I started barkin’ like a hound

I thought I was coyote
howlin’ at the moon

Stumblin’ and a fumblin’
like a flip mighty goon

He done voodoo-doodoo-ed me
He done voodoo-doodoo-ed me
Just about as mixed up as a girl could be
He done a voo-voo-voo-voo voodoo-ed me

If he couldn’t have me all for hisself
I wouldn’t be any good for nobody else
I kinda think he meant every word he said
Sprinklin’ the oogly all under my bed

Some of the lines are self-explanatory, if a might bit deranged. Other words and phrases deserve closer scrutiny.

“A flip mighty goon” is a reference to someone “hopped up” on drugs, as they used to say, usually marijuana, the words “flip” and “mighty” being intensifiers. The word “flipped” is still used for someone over-the-top in some way, one who’s lost her cool, or had a bad time on dope.

“Sprinklin’ the oogly all under my bed” has two meanings. “Oogly” is similar to the big ugly hurt that a voodoo curse might put on a person. But… a woman having the oogly under her bed was bawdy slang roughly analogous to the opposite-sex counterpart, “pussy whipped.” Think of the idea of “bumping uglies,” and there you have it.

Voodoo atomic test pass Tom DowdTom Dowd was the head engineer and supervising producer for Baker’s label at the time, Atlantic Records, and saw to it that the sound was crisp as a starched tuxedo bib. Today, it sounds as technically proficient as it did when released in 1961.

Dowd had earlier worked on the building of the first atomic bomb as a teenager. (See Mangoids below.)

Sound mixes of the era often favored the sax as much as they did guitars. Unfortunately, a re-mix of “Voodoo Voodoo” that brings out the Atlantic studio musicians’ stellar guitar playing has not been released. A close listen will reveal a madly jumping, wiry lead guitar and a fast-shuffle rhythm guitar pushed back to let the swinging, fabulous saxophone work through the jump vocals of Baker.

Adding to the boisterousness of the track are a bass line that seems to have 600 volts coursing through it and drumming that can best be described as in the trash-can school of beating the kit, the greatest noise at the fastest speed with a super, off-the-cuff feel.

“Voodoo Voodoo” is one of the fundamental texts in early Rock-N-Roll. It may not quite be in the book of Genesis, but it is indisputably part of Exodus. The form was coalescing fast and Lavern Baker was there to help bend and shape it. The record closes as maniacally loud, fast and out of control as it began:

Voodoo lavern headshotWell, he took a little box from out of nowhere
A tooth in the box and a little lock of hair
He had a leopard spots and neck of giraffe
He had a zebra’s stripes and a hyena’s laugh

He done voodoo-doodoo-ed me
He done voodoo-doodoo-ed me
Just about as mixed up as a girl could be
He done a voo-voo-voo-voo voodoo-ed me

 

mangoids
  • Engineer/Producer Tom Dowd was still a teenager when he began work on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, part of the quest to build the first atomic bomb. He operated a cyclotron, changed particles’ targets, performed density tests of different elements, and recorded statistics as part of the Neutron Beam Spectography division.
  • After the war, Dowd was denied status in Columbia’s PhD. program because his past work –still top secret – his accomplishments could not be verified. And thus a great musical technical talent was thrust into the studio.

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