Mungo Jerry

With “In The Summertime” the Brit Ray Dorset wrote music history almost 50 years ago. But as Mungo Jerry, the 71-year-old not only composed happy sunny songs, but also dedicated himself to the serious side of life and wrapped it up in bluesy moments for eternity. On the sidelines of his appearance in the Viennese round dance we met the cult star for a cozy chat – and recapitulated the unique career of an eternal hippie.

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Krone“: Ray, you recently delivered a brilliant, almost three-hour show at the Wiener Reigen. How do you get so much energy at 71?
Mungo Jerry: That’s probably primarily because I’m a very creative person in all artistic areas – not just limited to music. I have also had a special interest in fitness, health and nutrition since I was eleven years old.

You’re also known for being one of the few guys in the music business who’s always in a good mood. Have you always been such a sunny person and do you manage to keep this happiness even on bad days?
At school my first nickname was “Smiler” because even back then I was constantly walking around with a smile and actually thanking me for every day in this world. Of course, I get upset and get upset about things like everyone else, but as long as it’s not life-threatening, I try to put it aside and stay positive. I just prefer to emphasize the positive aspects of life and shrug off the negative aspects as much as possible. Everyone has problems and personal demons to deal with in their lives, but as long as you and loved ones are healthy, everything is fine.

You are always very close to your fans, even giving autographs during the breaks during concerts and being available for photos. How important have your followers been to you over the many years of your career?
I am incredibly grateful that after almost 50 years Mungo Jerry is still interested in so many people and now four generations what I do. I still have a lot to say and I’m convinced that a Mungo Jerry show – whether solo or with a band – can be therapeutic for me and the audience. If it were possible, I would love to get off the stage and shake hands with everyone in the audience to thank them for paying to see my show.

As part of your performance in the round dance, you were one of the cornerstones of the 13th Vienna Blues Spring, which took place across the city for more than a month. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the blues?
I’d like to quote Huddie Ledbetter: “Everyone has the blues sometimes, but sometimes you don’t know what the blues is”. In music and in songs, the blues is about a special feeling, a special emotion that resides in a live performance. But let’s be honest – I don’t think the majority of the audience goes to a concert to get depressed and that’s why I always include happy and positive elements in my shows.

Many people also claim that you sound way too positive to be a blues player. All your really famous hits are very life-affirming. As a musician, is it most important to you to convey fun and joy to people?
I love singing and playing my instruments – whether I have an audience or not. When I create music, it’s all about a good groove, the right vibe, and then I hope that my band and the audience feel the same way. I don’t step onto the stage expecting people to fall at my feet. You reap what you sow, it’s just karma. What you give, you get back. I don’t believe in a bad audience either. If the reactions are non-existent or rather negative, then it’s up to the performer that he can’t get people excited.

Of course, most people know you from your super hit “In The Summertime”. The number sold more than 30 million copies and is still considered the biggest summer hit of all time. Do you feel proud when such statistics and personal bests are held up against you?
I am absolutely grateful that this song means so much to so many people and that the original Mungo Jerry sound in 1970 sounded as fresh and timeless as it does today. Composing this song was a godsend. Every single line of the song has significant meaning for many people.

The song got another boost in 1995 when Shaggy hit the charts and you produced that version at the time. How does it feel when you put your baby in someone else’s hands?
I actually had nothing to do with the Shaggy production. I met producer Robert Livingstone, who was producing the Shaggy album, and offered him a song of mine – by that point they had already ended their collaboration. There are many reggae versions of this song, also found on the Derek Sherinian album, Blood Of The Snake, with Billy Idol on vocals and Slash on guitar etc. I have no problem at all if someone listens to one of my songs accept, but see it as a great compliment.

People and critics alike were crazy about it at the time. How can you imagine the feeling of that time? Was that the boundless spirit of optimism? A spirit of optimism in which you could perhaps imagine becoming really big?
It would be sheer madness to believe that one successful song or one good album could turn the entire music business upside down. But history has often taught us that this incompetent form of thinking is widespread. The whole industry is now occupied by lawyers, accountants and multinational conglomerates who are mostly busy bartering away plastic waste or digital traces in order to enrich themselves. No single individual can stand out more in the music business these days.

Legend has it that you were also part of the Fehmarn Festival in 1970. The last festival Jimi Hendrix ever performed at. Did you have a deeper friendship with him or other colleagues in the music business at the time?
I never had a close relationship with him. I first heard about him when my drummer at the time, Roger Earl, brother of first Mungo Jerry pianist Colin Earl, said to me, “Hey man, I just auditioned a black guy who plays his guitar with his teeth “. After that I saw him a few times at the London Speakeasy, a club at the time where I used to perform a lot before I joined Mungo Jerry. After we played our set at the Fehmarn Festival, I met Jimi at breakfast. We greeted each other but didn’t engage in any deeper conversation. There’s a little clip on YouTube where he’s being asked about “In The Summertime” – that was our biggest thing in common. I was loosely friends with a few musicians in the 70’s, but the only one

Mungo Jerry’s history hasn’t all been sunny and happy songs, though. With numbers like “Don’t Have To Be In The Army To Fight In The War” or “Peace In The Country” you also declared yourself political. In your opinion, did the outside world overlook too much that you were more than just the “happy guy”?
The intelligent listeners have always filtered out the ambiguity in my numbers. However, the “Army Song” was not about terrorism, but about the fact that one is often bullied, has to assume the role of victim, is lied to, cheated or influenced in the wrong way in life becomes. Decades later, the content and the effectiveness of the song have lost none of their topicality. The issues I denounce in my songs have always revolved around the society in which we live our lives. Actually The Army To Fight In The War – The Life And Times Of Ray Dorse aka Mungo Jerry”.

Then in 1972 there was a big crash and the band broke up – as a result you finally became the face of Mungo Jerry. How important was this event for your current career and, looking back, were the decisions made at the time correct?
It wasn’t my idea that the band broke up. After returning from a long tour in the Far East, I was summoned to our London office by Colin Earl and Paul King to be told that I had been fired and that Dave Lambert of The Strawbs would replace me. Anyway – the record company and management thought it was a totally crazy idea because I wasn’t the frontman but also the songwriter of all the popular Mungo Jerry songs and albums. So they dubbed me Mungo Jerry as artist and performer and Ray Dorset as songwriter.

From then on you changed the sound, experimented more and also went a bit heavier and more electronic with your new band members. Did you have to find yourself in the new role first?
I’ve been a musician since I was eleven and I didn’t see myself in the role that the public saw me in Mungo Jerry. Before that I played Skiffle, old Rock’n’Roll, Rockabilly, Ragtime, Blues and also Rhythm & Blues and Folk. I’ve always felt comfortable in all kinds of musical genres and can even do something with swing and doo-wop. Even though the blues and psychedelic rock were the dominant ones, I’ve always had a wide range of styles to offer. King and Earl’s decision to kick me out of the band only made me stronger in what I was doing.

Also legendary is the story that you composed the song “Feels Like I’m In Love” for Elvis Presley, but he died before he had a chance to sing it. Do you think that number would have really gone through the roof with him back then?
It all depends on how you define success. As you know, everyone sees things differently. The song eventually landed on Kelly Marie, who took it to number one in the UK charts. In the end, the song was the first ever energy disco number to make it to the top. Of course the Elvis version would have been great. His albums have always played an incredibly important role in my understanding of blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll. He invented white ghetto music and made it dangerous.

Over the years you have had many well-known names in your band. Among others, Bob Daisley, who later achieved fame and honor with Ozzy Osbourne, or drummer Boris Williams, who is also known from The Cure. Was Mungo Jerry something of a hotbed for talented and promising musicians?
All of the musicians who have been in my band over the years have mastered their craft and have received excellent training – long before they became involved with Mungo Jerry. For example Dick Middleton (Gene Vincent & Johnny Halliday), Steve Jones (Heron), Alan Powell (Hawkwind), Eric Dillon (Fat Mattress), Collin Pattenden (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band), Doug Ferguson (Camel), Chrissie Stewart (Spooky Tooth) and probably a few more. I can’t say if they all got something out of it, because I work in a relatively unconventional way and have always been very different from all the other musicians I know

How important is nostalgia to you? Are you someone who likes to dwell on the old days?
Is nostalgia solely a thing of the past? There is no past and no future – only the present. As I called a song that legendary psych rock band Jericho was recording back then: “The Time Is Now”.

You used to have what it takes to be big but didn’t quite make it, like your old friends from Status Quo? What was missing?
I’m not entirely sure what the question means. If you want to discuss what’s really big and what’s not, I don’t have time for an in-depth discussion right now.

Is it actually true that you are performing with three different live bands on your tours today? And if so, how do they differ from each other?
I don’t know exactly where this story came from, but it’s not true. My band is solid, it consists of Bob White on drums, Jon Playle on bass, Toby Hounsham on keyboards and for the round dance show I had Franky Klassen on board as a cellist. In between I play individual shows with other musicians and in the US it can happen that I tour with a different line-up, but the fixed band – as described above – is constant. Jon and Toby have been with me for over 15 years now and Bob has been on board for two years – he played with Martha Reeves before I met and brought him over.

You are also a loving family man who has been happily married to Mrs. Britta for years and is the father of two sons. You met your wife in Bielefeld, but ultimately left the city again…
It is not quiet right. I have a lot of friends in Bielefeld and I love hanging out there. But I also do the same thing in Bournemouth, England, where our main house is and it’s only a five-minute walk to the beach. I’m an outdoorsy person who needs fresh air – so this area is perfect for me. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to pronounce German words correctly. Also, when I try to converse in German, everyone always answers in English. One of my absolute favorite authors is Hermann Hesse – fortunately his works are also very well translated into English.

Has the environment for artists and creative people changed noticeably in your British home country after Brexit?
Brexit is too broad an issue to be dealt with so briefly now. However, I firmly believe that all those who voted for him were seriously misinformed or underinformed and did not fully understand the big picture on the subject. I’m happy to have a highly political discussion, but that takes a lot of time.

Is it sometimes difficult to be on the road full time and not have enough family time?
Always being on tour is damn antisocial and, above all, insanely unhealthy. That’s also the reason why I haven’t done it for a long time. I tour very often, but always very short and as comfortably as possible, so that there is enough fun for everyone involved.

If we subtract “In The Summertime” – what is your most important song?
It’s actually constantly changing, I can’t possibly commit myself to that.

You are still busy writing new songs and releasing studio albums again and again. Are there any dreams for the future that you would like to fulfil?
Yes – the hippie dream of eternal peace and happiness in the world. I just want my song “I’ll Be A Hippy ‘Til I Die” to be real

In The Summertime

Song by Mungo Jerry

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