Back in the early-1960s, when Ray Dorset was in a band called The Concords, they used to play at the Station Tavern in Richmond, where - he remembers - 'It used to say "Rhythm & blues every Thursday with The Rolling Stones" on a piece of brown cardboard stuck in the window, and we had our name on massive posters.' I don't know what happened to the Rolling Stones, but Ray eventually left The Concords, formed Mungo Jerry and invented 70s pop in Britain.
The record that did it was 'In The Summertime', a skiffle-based 12-bar blues that ignored both the self-indulgent muso nonsense of the 'serious' album-based artists and the disposable factory pop of the session-men bands. By rejecting what was happening around him and going back instead to a pre-Beatles heritage for inspiration, 'In The Summertime' set a new standard that was immediately picked up by Marc Bolan: 'Ride A White Swan', a similarly simple blues sequence driven by rhythm-guitar, followed within a matter of months and glam was born.
'In The Summertime' was such a revolutionary record that it's not surprising it almost didn't get released. Under the name Good Earth, Ray Dorset's group was signed to Saga Records; when they presented their new jug-band sound, they were promptly dropped. At the time the fashion amongst record companies was setting up 'progressive' subsidiaries to deal with the kind of bands that didn't fit in anywhere else. Decca had Deram, EMI had Harvest and Pye - not to be left out - was in the process of setting up Dawn Records, under the auspices of Barry Murray, an old contact of Dorset's who promptly signed the newly renamed Mungo Jerry and produced their early sessions.
To launch the new label, a festival was staged at Hollywood, a small village near Newcastle-Under-Lyme. Despite the presence of the Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath, Free and everyone else who was big at the time, it was Mungo Jerry - making their debut appearance under that name - who stole the show and grabbed the headlines. Within two weeks 'In The Summertime' was #1 in Britain. By the end of the year it had sold six million copies worldwide.
Mungo Jerry had other hits, including another British #1 with the raucous follow-up 'Baby Jump' and the wonderful 'Lady Rose', which sounds like the missing link between T Rex and Supergrass. He also did some great album work, including the Southern States home-brew of the third LP You Don't Have To Be In The Army, but despite all this, Ray is never going to get away from the song that launched him. It's become such an international summer anthem that it's fixed him forever, particularly since Shaggy took a rap re-work of the song to #1 in America. Some more fragile egos might resent such a situation, but luckily Ray is one of the nicest, most relaxed people you could ever wish to meet and he knows that to be responsible for a song that has that kind of longevity is something that few musicians achieve. So he enjoys the royalties and continues to explore the kind of music that interests him. Perhaps surprisingly, this - when I spoke to him in 1997 - was mainly to do with drum 'n' bass.
Or maybe it's not that surprising. After all, when disco came along, Ray was one of the few established white artists in Britain to embrace the new sounds, most famously with 'Feels Like I'm In Love', a song he wrote with Elvis in mind but which he ultimately produced for Kelly Marie in 1980. His interest both in dance music and in blues and folk is a pretty potent combination and frankly I wouldn't bet against him creating another hit.
1970 In the Summertime (#1)
1971 Baby Jump (#1)
1971 Lady Rose (#5)
1971 You Don't Have to Be in the Army to Fight in the War (#13)
1972 Open Up (#21)
1973 Alright Alright Alright (#3)
1973 Wild Love (#32)
1974 Longlegged Woman Dressed in Black (#13)
1970 In the Summertime (#3)