The nose of Johnny Jenkins might quite understandably have been put out of joint back in 1962. The young man who had been employed to drive Jenkins to a session with Stax house band, Booker T and The MG’s, ended up being signed to the fledgling soul label, having made the most of the remaining forty minutes studio time after Jenkins had finished recording. The driver had his chance to sing his own self-penned song, These Arms of Mine. Still, the man who was to become Otis Redding's manager (for it was Redding that had driven Jenkins that day), Phil Walden, went on to form a record label that would become synonymous with the Southern rock sound, Capricorn Records.
It was Capricorn that ultimately released the hugely influential solo release by Johnny Jenkins, Ton-Ton Macoute, in 1970. Ground breaking blues albums don't come around very often, as messing with the blues's ingredients, by nature a music steeped in tradition, soon means it ain't the blues no more. Although Jenkins didn't have a singing voice as exceptional as the aforementioned Mr. Pitiful, he did possess an authentic blues holler and a flashy, left-handed, funky guitar style that was a big influence on a young Jimi Hendrix. He was also aided and abetted by some heavy weight musical talent during the recording of Ton-Ton Macoute, including most of what went on to become The Allman Brothers band. In fact, Walden had initially intended the album to be a solo vehicle for the Southern rock godhead, guitarist Duane Allman. Together, they added a pinch of spice to the blues recipe and at times conjured up a humid heat haze that immediately transported the listener deep into a mythological Southern swamplands.
Opening up with a killer version of Dr John's voodoo anthem I Walk on Gilded Splinters, the groove they laid down was so timeless and seductive that a quarter of a century later it became the bedrock of Beck's breakout single Loser (the Beastie Boys and Oasis amongst others have also pilfered it's lazy rolling beat). Next up Leaving Trunk written by Tennessee blues man Sleepy John Estes shimmers with a hypnotic groove thanks to the interplay of Paul Hornsby's electric piano and Skydog's swirling slide guitar. Blind Bats & Swamp Rats has a fetid, funky vibe befitting of the title and some haunting vocals courtesy Ella Brown, who went on to sing with Southern rockers Wet Willie. Compared to the adventurous tone of most of the music here, side one's closer, Rollin' Stone, feels a little like treading water. It's a decent take on the country blues, but nothing more really, especially when compared to the more radical sound of timbale-tinged groovers such as Sick and Tired or the skipping rhythms of the Bob Dylan ditty Down Along the Cove.
The selection of songs picked for this album really are a key factor in its success. John D Loudermilk's Bad News has been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Pat Boone, but here Jenkins really makes it his own. The John Lee Hooker classic, Dimples, is attacked with such gusto it could almost be a blueprint for the kind of yobbish rhythm & blues that Dr Feelgood would later hone to great effect. Ending up with Voodoo In You, the second offering on here written by Jackie Avery, husband of the aforementioned Ella Brown. There's an otherworldliness that really intrigues on this record, but the real mystery here is why Jenkins didn't release another album for over 25 years. Maybe he knew himself that the stars would never align in such a musically fortuitous way for him again.