Y’know the maid from the old Tom & Jerry cartoons? The one with the broom and the wrinkled up stockings and the shrill, accusing “Thomas!” voice and the face you never saw? I think she’d have loved swinging that big ol’ Mammy ass around to Little Willie John‘s I’m Shakin’.
William Edward John, as he was known to his own Mammy, is an important figure in the development of R&B in the 50s and 60s. Like many of his ilk, his muse came from gospel music, alcohol abuse and the concurrent loving arms of many women. He did the original Fever (selling over 1 million copies in the process), later covered ‘n claimed as signature tune by Peggy Lee. Little Willie John was also the originator of Need Your Love So Bad, a track so beloved of Peter Green’s blues-obsessed Fleetwood Mac. Even The Beatles were touched by John’s tunes. In the early days in Hamburg, they regularly included Leave My Kitten Alone as part of those backbreaking put-Springsteen-to shame length sets.
Little Willie John didn’t write I’m Shakin‘, that would be Rudy Toombs (who’s version seems to be forever out of the reach of these typing fingers) but it was Little Willie John’s version that pounded out of the juke joints and jive houses on the other side of the tracks, the same juke joints and jive houses that Keith Richards writes so fondly of in his autobiography. I’m Shakin’ is big, bold, bluesy and brassy and swings sweeter than Sinatra at The Sands. If you’ve never heard it, rectify that now!
….although you may well have heard at least one version of it by now. It’s that traditional time of year when all and sundry chip their tuppence worth in to give you a rundown on the year’s most essential movers and shakers. Lists are drawn up all the way from Lerwick to Land’s End and dismantled and debated for all their worth by every 2-bit self-appointed music expert with an opinion and the ability to voice it. Folk like me love ripping those lists apart. Wilfully pretentious or missing the glaringly obvious, its easy to do.
Mojo’s Album of the Year went to Jack White‘s Blunderbuss, which was kinda a return to White Stripes territory. Riff-based, part guitar, part keyboard and featuring a whole lotta whoopin’ and a hollerin’, God-fearin’ Jack, it featured a version of I’m Shakin’ that turned Little Willie John’s Memphis Horns riff into a Led Zeppelin funk of a record, squealy guitar solo ‘n all. The genius part of it all is when Jack takes the original ‘I’m jittery‘ lyric and replaces it with ‘I’m Bo Diddley‘, replete with a perfectly-timed Jerome Green-inspired maraca rattle. For a rhythmically-challenged Ayrshireman like me, Jack’s I’m Shakin’ is manna from heaven.
Best known for their raucous mix of R&B, country and blues, The Blasters version from 1981 is actually pretty tame in comparison. Maybe it’s the 80s production or the fact that The Blasters sound anything like their name would have you believe, but to these ears it’s more of an I’m Shruggin’ than I’m Shakin’. Is that the best you can do? Really? Perhaps you had to be there. In 1981 I was doing the dandy highwayman dance to Stand & Deliver, so I’m probably not the most qualified to comment.