Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rick Derringer -- "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" (1973)

One of the forgotten 70's rock classics, this is one of those songs that when you hear it, you can't help saying to yourself, "Damn, that is a good song. Can't get tired of that one." This should be a staple of every 70's rock cover band.

Rick Derringer had himself quite rock and roll resume. As a member of the McCoys, he played on their one big hit, "Hang On Sloopy." He went on to join Edgar Winter's White Trash, which fused blues, rock and R&B, best known for their horn-driven FM cult favorite, "Keep Playing That Rock and Roll."

Derringer had originally written "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" when he was with the band, yet it was recorded first by Edgar's brother Johnny and then on the Edgar Winter's White Trash live album, Roadwork, with Johnny on guest vocals and absurdly Texas-fried distorted guitar.

With his boy-ish good looks, pop songwriting leanings and insane guitar talent, it was a no-brainer for Derringer to step out on his own with a deal on CBS-distributed Blue Sky Records. All-American Boy was a highly-polished affair that came bursting out of the gate like a rocket with a revved-up "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo," the one Derringer could claim as his own and the true classic. Producer Bill Szymczyk was already making himself known as a commercial rock producer, who would go on to produce The Eagles, Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg and others.

Derringer's version had hit written all over it -- boogie rhythm, catchy melody, nonsense "teen" lyrics about a night out listening to a band called the Jokers, picking up a girl and having sex with her "behind the barn," a ridiculous blues tag played after every verse line, and one of the best guitar solos laid down in the 70's.

Since I was teaching myself guitar in high school, I was picking up everything I could learn like a vacuum cleaner. One night I went to see a few guys jam in a neighborhood basement, led by a guitarist nicknamed "Mousy" (!) and they played "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" note for note. It was that night that I learned the power of the barre chord -- hammering the index finger down across the fret to create not only play inversions but fuller sounding chords. I discovered "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" was a barre chord field day from the very opening F chord to the slipping and sliding over the chorus.

In under four minutes, there were actually a lot of little catchy moving parts for a guitarist to learn: the bending G note on the bottom string that went down to the E just before every verse, the sliding E7th notes that started on one octave and zipped up another right that part, that A minor blues lick after every verse line, and the precision stops and starts of the final chorus.

While Rick never duplicated the success of "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo," he did pretty well for himself. He had the fortune (misfortune?) of marrying and eventually divorcing rock photographer/quasi-groupie Liz Derringer. I met Liz years later shooting concerts at Radio City Music Hall and she didn't have many nice things to say about her ex.

Derringer discovered Weird Al Yancovic (yep!) and played on and produced his first albums. And if you're a Steely Dan fan, he had his moments with them, adding slide guitar to "Show Biz Kids" on the Countdown to Ecstacy album and one of the many who contributed to Katy Lied. Not long ago on SiriusXM radio, I heard a cut from a recent blues album Derringer had recorded and it sounded so good, that it's on my shopping list now.

You want to get a dose of that dynamo in his prime, here is Rick doing "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" backed by The Edgar Winter Band (yes, that's Dan Hartman you'll see there). And that's followed by Johnny Winter sitting down playing a stripped-down electrified cover version with just a bassist.

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