‘But It Just Don’t Work On You . . .’

Originally posted August 21, 2007

According to All-Music Guide, there are almost 300 recordings of the blues standard “Got My Mojo Working” (or “I Got My Mojo Working” or variations thereof) on CDs currently in print. And that doesn’t begin to touch those recordings of the song on vinyl or on CD that are no longer in print.

Probably the most famous name that pops up on those lists is that of Muddy Waters, the Mississippi native who was one of the creators of the Chicago blues in the years following World War II. From what I’ve heard, Waters got hold of the song after hearing a live performance by Ann Cole, who had recorded the song – written by Preston Foster – in 1956. Waters and his band made the song their own, so much so that when various British and American rock and blues-rock groups began to record the song in the mid-1960s, they frequently credited Waters with writing it.

I don’t know if Muddy did much to disabuse those performers of the idea that he wrote the tune. At AMG, about two-thirds to three-quarters of the listings for the song are credited to Preston Foster – including most of Waters’ recordings. The rest still list Muddy Waters as the composer either under that name or under his birth name of McKinley Morganfield.

Even if he didn’t write the song – and I don’t know if he actually claimed to have written it or not – Waters was the reason it became as well known as it did. And even a partial list of those who recorded “Got My Mojo Working” after that is interesting: Etta James, British bluesman Alexis Korner, Manfred Mann, Elliott Murphy, Rotary Connection, Shadows of Knight, Junior Wells, Steve Winwood, Long John Baldry, Canned Heat, Gatemouth Brown and on and on. The wisdom of pairing some of those acts – and many I did not mention – with the song is debatable, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most widely covered songs in the blues library.

One of the best covers, listed as “I Got My Mojo Working,” came from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, released in 1965 on the group’s eponymous debut album. Drummer Sam Lay handles the vocal with Butterfield (on blues harp) and guitarists Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield providing a tasty backing. (Jerome Arnold on bass and Mark Naftalin on organ round out the group) The result shows that Butterfield’s group was more adept at getting inside the sense of the blues as well as the sound than many of the other groups that were playing the blues at the time.

If I have a complaint about Butterfield’s version, it’s that it’s a hair too fast, but that’s a minor quibble. The recording remains a good example of why the Butterfield Blues Band was among the cream of the mid-Sixties groups that brought the blues to a far wider audience than the music had ever known.

Paul Butterfield Blues Band – “I Got My Mojo Working” [1965]

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