Wow, we’re up to two hundred reviews already? Time flies, eh? In fact, since number 100 (the Marvelettes’ Please Mr Postman, released in August 1961), Motown took less than a year to pump out another hundred single sides; the label had well and truly arrived.
Anyway, this is the last throw of the Motown dice for the excellently-named Henry Lumpkin, a charismatic, enigmatic, big-boned, raw-voiced character who never quite made the big time. On his arrival at Motown, less than a year and a half previously, Lumpkin had been paired up with one of the label’s leading songwriters – Robert Bateman of the Satintones – along with emerging tunesmith Brian Holland, turning in an engaging début, I’ve Got A Notion.
But since that promising start, Lumpkin’s career had been drifting slowly backward. Henry was initially teamed again with Bateman and another new signing, gospel-trained screamer Gino Parks, to be marketed as a new trio, “Hank, Gino and Bob”; for some reason, the plan was shelved by Motown after a couple of sessions, and their would-be début single Blibberin’ Blabbin’ Blues (a take-off/parody of the Coasters’ Yakety Yak) ended up being credited to Parks solo, and in all likelihood cancelled before any copies were manufactured. This episode might have given Lumpkin an indication as to where he was in the Motown pecking order, but he soldiered on alone, and his perseverance was rewarded when the company (eventually) released a second solo single, the excellent What Is A Man (Without A Woman), written by Lumpkin himself.
When that record failed to sell, it was the beginning of the end for Henry Lumpkin the Motown recording artiste. Even though the end was in sight, Lumpkin kept on gamely plugging away, cutting this – the original, first version of Mojo Hannah, a much-covered quasi-standard – as his third and final Motown single.
“Much-covered” apparently doesn’t begin to describe it – a quick scan of YouTube unearths versions by Elkie Brooks, Betty Harris, Aaron Neville, Oz and the Sperlings, Tammi Lynn, Stoneground, Motown’s own Underdogs, and Wendy Colonna, plus a fine live performance by Sugar Smacks and an even more riveting one by Marvin Gaye, no less, and that’s just page one – but Henry Lumpkin’s rendition was the original.
(Fans of extreme noise terror might enjoy opening all of those links in new tabs all at once, as I just accidentally did; it’s like being crushed to death by a local club’s “Classic R&B & Soul Night” that’s accidentally been dropped on you from a low-flying aeroplane.)
Anyway. I do get why so many artists have felt the need to turn to it, to include it in their live repertoire – it’s an excuse to cut loose within a recognised set of boundaries, much as the Beatles used to do with stuff like Long Tall Sally, and it evidently works better live than on record. Fine, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a great single. I’ve never really been able to understand why this seems to be such a beloved song (maybe because I’m British, I don’t know), but it’s pretty thin, and doesn’t have a lot to commend it on its own merits.
A convoluted tale about Lumpkin going to a bayou witch doctor for a love potion to snare the object of his affections, it’s a fun but naggingly generic piece of turn-of-the-decade raw, bluesy R&B rock. Lumpkin’s coruscating screams are engaging enough, but the overriding feeling is that it’s already been done, that this was the sort of thing Motown was already starting to move away from in favour of crossover hits on the pop charts; a dead end.
I don’t know, I’m just not all that interested in it, despite Lumpkin and the band’s best efforts to give it character and charm. (Plus, any record that pronounces it “Loozyana” usually gets a thumbs up from me, something that reminds me of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s cover of Jerry Reed’s Amos Moses – a record which in turn has more than a few similarities with this one, being another tale of swamp-bound alligator-wrangling. But that’s not really enough.)
I guess it’s just one of those songs that works better as communal property, as a vehicle for a live jam or for singalong high-jinks, than something you’d choose to listen to over and over again. I guess. Not my cup of tea, as it were.
As was now traditional for a Henry Lumpkin record, this one missed the charts, and that was that. The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2 reveal that Lumpkin had a further session booked at Hitsville for later in 1962, but that the session ended up being cancelled because he’d already left the company by the time it came around. With his departure, “Hank, Gino and Bob” were all three gone away from Motown.
Lumpkin ended up cutting a somewhat half-hearted follow-up record – I’m A Walkin (For JFK) b/w Make A Change, for Pageant Records in 1963 (for any collectors out there, the catalogue number is PT-605-C) – but it’s unclear as to whether any copies actually came out. Several years later, he hooked up with Robert Bateman again, this time at Buddah Records. The relationship resulted in two fine singles, co-written by Bateman and Lumpkin with Lou Courtney: Soul Is Takin’ Over b/w If I Could Make Magic in 1967, and Honey Hush b/w Your Sweet Lovin’ in 1968. Neither seems to have made much of an impact commercially (for added irritation, the YouTube clip of Soul Is Takin’ Over that I’d previously bookmarked has apparently now been taken down), but if Henry Lumpkin never exactly set the world on fire, he at least left a respectable body of work.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
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|Mike & The Modifiers
“It’s Too Bad”
“Break Down And Sing”