Up and Down career in Rhythm and Blues: Jessie Hill


“there was something about that city, though it didn’t let me feel guilty that I had no feeling for the things so many others needed. it let me alone.”

― Charles Bukowski

Jessie Hill New Orleans Rhythm and Blues

New Orleans Rhythm and Blues legend Jessie Hill had a life full of ups and downs. Hill toured throughout the U.S and recorded and wrote with the best songwriters around. But he also was homeless for a while when his career went rock bottom. You may best remember Jessie Hill for the classic “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” a favorite at Mardi Gras and “Whip It On Me”.

Musical career alongside the greatest

Born and raised in the Crescent City alongside Eddie Bo, Oliver Morgan, and Prince La La, it was according to allmusic almost inevitable that he would pursue a career in music, and by his teens he was playing drums in bands fronted by Kid Arnestine and Freddie Domino.

When Hill was 19 years old he started his own group the House Rockers. With these guys he performed in local bars all over the northern U.S. This trip lasted about a year and after the House Rockers split up Jessie became part of Professor Longhair’s band as a drummer. Unfortunately there are no recordings of this collaboration found. After drumming in Professor Longhair’s band he took a spot in Huey “Piano” Smith’s band. In 1958 Jessie Hill took the stage again to lead a new version of the House Rockers.

Biggest hit Ooh Poo Pah Doo

The origins of his Biggest hit “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”, released in early 1960, lie with a local pianist known only as Big Four. According to Allmusic A drunk who played the club Shy Guy’s Place for booze and tips, he once performed the song with the House Rockers in attendance, and Hill scribbled the lyrics and melody on a paper sack. “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”  reached the top 5 of the Billboard chart, and as a Mardi Grass traditional it sold over 800,000 copies.

Favorite song Whip It On Me

Also released in 1960 ‘Whip It On Me” is my favorite Jessie Hill song. The boogie woogie piano, the strong voice and the fantastic backing vocals make this song. It is nice to see how ‘easy’ a good song can be made. A catchy lyric, a groovie drum and not to forget a fine swinging saxophone tune. Whip it on me was suceeded by “Scoop Scoobie Doobie,” which was a local hit.

Relocated in California

For a long time Jessie Hill was a succesful singer, songwriter and drummer and in an effort to reignite his career he moved to California. There he befriended fellow bayou expatriates Harold Battiste, Dave Dixon, and Mac Rebennack (the future Dr. John), who convinced him to temporarily sideline his performing career in favor of songwriting. His songs were covered by Ike and Tina Turner and he wrote alongside Willie Nelson.

Career went Down

In the seventies Hill’s career went down he served a while in the Los Angeles County Jail for an accumulation of traffic warrants, his car, which contained all of his songwriting material, was stolen. 1977 he returned to New Orleans and drove his own cab called “the Poo Cab”. For a time Hill was homeless.

Hill passed away due  to heart and kidney failure on September 17, 1996, and his body was laid to rest under a plywood grave marker in New Orleans’ Holt Cemetery.

JESSIE HILL Scoop Scoobie Doobie


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