Tuesday, October 11, 2005

John R - Keep On Scratching/Mo Jo Blues

Today, another recent discovery. Finding information on this record has proven tough but I'm going to assume this is the same John R (full name, John Richbourg) who was a disc jockey at radio giant WLAC in Nashville, TN. Richbourg started at the station in 1942 and after a stint in the U.S. Navy, rejoined WLAC in 1947 and worked there until 1973. He and his co-workers, Hoss Allen, Gene Nobles and Herman Grizzard were responsible for introducing many thousands of people to rhythm and blues and were at the forefront of the rock and roll movement in the 1950's. Because WLAC was 50,000 watts and on a clear channel, at night it could be heard throughout the south and well beyond. Apparently John R only left the station in 1973 because the brass were insisting on a strict top 40 format and he chose not to comply.

Today's record dates from about 1965. John R doesn't sing but rather speaks the words in his deep, gravely voice that made a lot of his listeners think he was a black man. "Keep On Scratching" is a mid-tempo number with horns, a big drumbeat and a little funky guitar. Mr. Richbourg is telling us about a conversation between a duck and a rooster. The duck wants to go swim and play down at the pond. The rooster is sorry but he can't afford to goof off. He has to keep scratching for worms because his hen is busy laying and he'll soon have twelve mouths to feed. At the end of each verse, backing vocals come in and do some actual singing.

"Mo Jo Blues" is slow, with blues guitar and some harmonica. John R wants to know, "Who put the fly in my ointment" and "Who put the fog on my brain". He gets upset when a woman as much as looks at him. Ooh, what a funk he's in. Horns handle the bridge and, like the other side, things are wrapped up in a little over two minutes. It's a very fun record and an interesting artifact left behind by a pioneering disc jockey who worked at a pioneering radio station. It's too bad that more examples of his on-air work haven't survived.


Phil said...

I would LOVE to hear this! I was a big fan of, and regular listener to, WLAC. They occupy a unique nichein the history of radio and especially in the field of R&B.

Agent45 said...

For more John R, pick up the new 2nd volume of the "Night Train to Nashville" compilation. There's a John R. commercial spot on the CD, included in the vinyl as a bonus 45. Actually, if you can get there, go SEE the Night Train to Nashville exhibit at the Country Music HoF and Museum. It's just too amazing for words.