WFMU Ichiban, Rock and Soul with Debbie D

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hoodie vs Hooty, Man vs Record


Thank you so much for your kind words. I am always pleasantly
surprised to find someone who shares my private passion (the legendary
H.S.). The song is an important piece of his story, and certainly one
of the best known parts of it, even if most people have no idea it’s
about a real person) but it’s really only the beginning.
I’m sending you a rough (very rough) draft of my interview with, Mud
Hut Brown from November 2004. This is only the first half. I’ve held
the rest back because it’s not in a form I would feel comfortable
releasing to the public yet- and because I still hold out some hope of
getting a publisher for my full Sapperticker bio one of these days ;).

If you do find your interest piqued I would be happy
to revisit my notes on Hoodie and maybe polish up an odd tale or two-
there are dozens of them.

Everything below is free for you to use or distribute as you wish as
long as I am credited on my work.

PS- Please excuse any misspellings or grammatical slights (as well as
the lack of footnoting and accreditation), since your request for info
seemed casual in nature I only took a minute to look it over for

Yours Truly,

Glenn A. Hettinger

What follows is a segment of the forthcoming book by Hettinger titled, The Unknown Impresarios of Rock and Roll. Enjoy this preview.

“Why is it whenever I sit my old bones down for a rest and a drink some
fool’s always got to come along and ask me ‘bout, Sapperticker? The old
man asked with a laugh that trailed off into a coughing fit. When he
regained his composure he went on,“Why is it after all the years and
all the folks I’ve known all you kids want to talk about is that crazy
old legend, Hoodie? The song says all d’ is to say- or used to at
least, you prob’ly never heard most of the words that was writ for it.”

It was hard not to see why, Mud Hut would be frustrated with fielding
questions about his former employer, and underground music legend,
Sapperticker. “I just thought the man was crazy, I still do- I mean, I
saw him with my own eyes, hell, I wrote that song about him didn’t I?-
that don’t mean I got to believe what I saw, though…and now, almost
fifty years later, that’s all anybody wants to talk to me about…”

Royal Aloysius Brown was something of a legend himself. Born in a mud
hut among the marshes and swamps of the lower Mississippi, he’d gotten
his first guitar when he was still a child and there hadn’t been a day
since that didn’t find one in his hand.

The son of a violent, alcoholic father, Royal had been raised in such
abject squalor that even the poverty strapped neighborhood kids looked
down on the Brown family. They gave Royal the derogatory moniker, ‘Mud
Hut’ a name they taunted him with as they chased him down the street
after school, most days bombarding him with dirt clumps and rocks as he

Yes, Royal Brown had plenty of reasons to grow up bitter about life
but, apparently, it just isn’t his nature to harbor resentment, “I got
my first gi’tar when I was about six or seven, I guess, and I just
loved that ol’ thing with all my heart. I didn’t know what I was doin’
but I played it every day ‘til one day my old man comes home full of
the ‘shine and stomped on its neck and broke it on me. Oooh, I cried
and cried ‘cuz I was just a little feller then and that gi’tar was
about the only good thing I’d ever known.

But the next day I got up and put it back together again with twine
and pine tar. That worked for a few days until the old man comes home
drunk again- that time he smashed it to bits- the old cuss. Guess he
just couldn’t stand to see a happy soul in his house. Didn’t stop me
none though, I just took the strings off it and home-made myself a
g’tar. I used the broken pieces from the other one as a go by. It
wasn’t very good, I suppose, but it did the trick, once the old man saw
me playin’ it he knows he was beat and he just went on back to
drinkin’” The memory of besting his bastard of a father still brings a
boy’s smile to his old wrinkled face.

By his teenage years, Royal was out the door and travelling the south,
playing for whoever would listen, “I had my stage name and everything,
right from the first whiskey house I stopped in, the man asked me,
‘what’s your name boy?’ and I said, “’suh, I am Mud Hut Brown’- and I
reckon I been Mud Hut ever since.”

After his emancipation, Brown toured the south’s storied chitlin’
circuit almost continually, building a small but dedicated following as
the years went by, “My sound was unique, I suppose, part soul, part
screamin’ banshee-man- depending on what night you saw me.”

Commercial success and fame never found their way to Brown despite
coming close with two singles he cut for Dixie Sunshine Records, 1951’s
“Mama, Go Make Pancakes” and his signature song, “Mud Hut Shuffle”
recorded on a portable reel to reel in Dixie Sunshine’s studio lavatory
(an outhouse) in December of 1953.

“I finally had a song worth callin’ my own,” the singer laments today,
“so that’s what I did, I called it ‘Mud Hut Shuffle’ and it was going
to be my chance at really breakin’ it big. Finally after all the years
of hard work I knew I had my first hit- and then you know what happened
to me? Fuckin’ Elvis, that’s what. That’s what happened to a lot of us
colored folks, that’s what happened to Hoodie, too- I wish that boy had
a-stayed a truck driver, I really do.

That’s what he was doin’ you, know when that colonel of his
‘discovered’ him, he was driving a damned truck- Elvis that is, not
Hoodie. No one discovered no Hoodie Sapperticker,” His infectious laugh
started up again like a motor coming to life deep inside his chest, “if
they had they’d a put him back where they found him.”

“Thinkbouit,” He returned to the subject of Elvis Presley, “one day
he’s just some guy driving a truck and I’m some guy playin’ music for
the people, then, next thing you know he’s shak’n his ass on TV like he
was some barrel house flooze and the people done disappeared-
DIS-A-PEARED. Black man couldn’t sell a record after Elvis went on the
TV, not unless he’s was standing behind a shop counter at least.

“Hound Dog” He went on, “Shit son, that song’s older than me, ain’t no
Elvis song. They call that some kind of revolution? Why? ‘cuz he was
white? Why is it every time white people find something other people
been doing forever they got to act like it’s brand new and then claim
they discovered it. First they discover it, then they shit on it,” He
laughed for a few moments at his own joke, “–I guess that’s how it

“Everybody was talkin’- Elvis this an’ Elvis that-Well, I saw that boy
Elvis, and I said, shit, he ain’t that bad I but he ain’t doin anything
I ain’t already been doin’ my whole life.” He leaned in close to me,
close enough to envelop me in a cloud of whiskey breath, “ Weren’t no
girlies cryin’ when Uncle Sam drafted my black ass- and I could
actually play my guitar.” He leaned back with a ginger grimace that
reflected the pain of his long years and then chuckled softly and shook
his head.

“Anything left in that bottle you brung?” He nodded towards the quickly
disappearing bottle of Wild Turkey at my feet.

I’d picked it up at the airport in Jackson, as a gift for a legend,
something to warm his house and free his tongue- in simplest terms; a
bribe. Now, caught up in the enchantment of the man and his story, the
rapidly draining bottle felt less like a cynical attempt to ply the
truth from him (which is exactly what it had been) and more like a
sacrifice to a village shaman.

I poured two snorts and we touched glasses before he drank his empty in
one long, slow swallow. “Aah, now. Where was I- Oh yes, Hoodie- not
HOOTY! By the way- I never met no HOO-T Sapperticker in my life, - Oh I
knew Hoodie Sapperticker, I wrote a song about, Hoodie Sapperticker and
I recorded a song about, Hoodie Sapperticker, but I ain’t never met no,
Hooty- like the name on that record they sold.”

The words hit me like a bolt out of the blue. In all my years of
searching for the origins of the Hooty Sapperticker legend I had come
across so many conflicting stories about him that I had almost begun to
regard things like ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ as subjective- at least where
Hoodie was concerned. My research had found different birthdays, places
of origin, family history and, yes- even different spellings for his
name. Now, for the first time I was talking to someone who knew the man
personally and who was telling me that his name was in fact; HOO-DIE.

“So that wasn’t his real name!” I blurted out, a bit too much of the
‘sacrificial lamb’ coursing through me.

“Shiit-“ He said with an experienced smile, “that was just somethin’
them Sherman boys concocted so they wouldn’t have to pay the man,
wouldn’t have to pay none of us. Mary Poppins…” He shook his head
again, “Shiiit-what a laugh.”

Mudhut was referring, of course, to ‘Hooty Sapperticker’ the song made
famous in 1958 by ‘Barbara and The Boys’. Its release, in the summer of
that year, created such demand that production of the disc required the
services of two different record companies to keep up with sales. That
version of the song, mistakenly regarded for years as the original,
featured some of the finest studio musicians of their time including LA
session great, Plas Johnson, best known for his work on the Pink
Panther and Odd Couple themes.

Most importantly, to Royal ‘Mudhut’ Brown, at least, is that the
writing credits were given to Bob and Dick Sherman- the Oscar-winning
songwriting duo of, ‘Mary Poppins’ fame and a host of other very
‘un-Hooty-ish’ work.

“I never got drunk with Johnny Otis again after I heard that song on
the radio, I knew it was him that gave it to the Sherman’s, I knew it
then and I know it now- him and Plas were just thick as thieves, and
thieves is what they was.

Not that I ever cried about it much, they never did get the song right.
Otis never realized the acetate I played for him was just a work in
progress kind of thing, they never got the lyrics, and without the
words you ain’t got, Hoodie.” He left off with a sly wink.

Ahhh, the long lost lyrics to the Hooty (Hoodie) Sapperticker song, I
thought to myself, a sort of American folk music historian’s holy
grail. This is what I’d come here for, this was what I’d spent all
those years digging through record shops and scrutinizing liner notes
to find…

His eyes clouded over and I could tell he was ‘seeing’ a memory from
half a century ago. “I swear that man lived on Russian vodka, pimento’d
olives and the nectar of teenage girls,” and then he added with a wink,
“- which he preferred to get straight from the tap, if you, uh, follow
my meaning.”

I did. If even half the stories of Sapperticker’s legendary appetite
for booze, sex and destruction could be believed then it was a wonder
there wasn’t a whole catalogue of songs written about the man.

“It was that train of his…his train tour, that’s how I got on with
Sapperticker. I had no idea what I was in for but once I seen it I knew
there was a song in it. Musta been a good one too, for them Sherman’s
to steal it the way they did.”

‘The Sapperticker Unlimited’, arguably the impresario’s most noted
achievement, was intended to be a twenty-one city whistle-stop tour of
the mid-west featuring the best live musical acts, premier burlesque
dancers, acrobats, pantomimes and half a dozen rhesus monkeys trained
to do everything from juggle bowling pins and make martinis, to lifting
up ladies dresses whenever they heard applause- even if Hoodie was the
only one applauding.

The entire company loaded itself on a train in St. Louis one fateful
day and pulled out of the station for a month long excursion across the
country that Sapperticker promised, “Would revolutionize the way people
thought about entertainment!” and “Sound the death knell of the
television set!”

Lofty promises aside, the ambitious plan ended four days after it
began, with only two and a half shows under its belt, somewhere outside
of Kansas City on a barren piece of train track in the middle of the
Missouri wilderness.

The exact circumstances of what went wrong have never been recorded but
the tales of excess, lunacy, feces throwing monkeys and shrieking
burlesque girls running away from the martini-drunk and amorous (and
frequently pant-less) Hoodie Sapperticker have echoed down through the
years to give the impression of a kind of ‘rolling mayhem’ that moved
along the tracks raising the ire and attention of every authority in
the mid-west as it went.

After a few days enough rumors and warnings had been passed ahead of
the advancing train, to cause the ‘decent and God fearing citizenry’
(as the local paper would later describe them) of one small Missouri
town to refuse, almost sensibly at that point, to allow the moveable
feast entrance to their presumably ‘decent and God-fearing’ hamlet-
stopping the Sapperticker Unlimited Tour dead in its tracks
(literally)… and that, of course, if you believe the reports, was when
all hell really broke loose…


1 Comment:

prof. grewbeard said...

awesome, one of my fave raves for some time now too, great story, thanx!