Tuesday, May 30, 2006:

The Roots Canal: I'm a Woman

Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band (with Maria Muldaur) -- I'm a Woman
Peggy Lee -- I'm a Woman
While we're listening to Jim Kweskin (see The Wiyos, below), be sure to check out Maria Muldaur's great first recording of I'm a Woman. I definitely prefer the funkiness of this song to the overproduced version she later cut as a solo artist. (Nice washboard here, too, Tuwa.)

When she says "Come on, Mel" to the harmonica player, she's talking to Mel Lyman, the center of one of the more bizarre acid-drenched episodes from the acid-drenched 60s. Lyman was the charismatic leader of a Boston commune called the Lyman Family, which counted Kweskin as one of its members. In 1971, there was a long controversial expose in Rolling Stone that accused the Lyman Family of being a violent authoritarian cult that worshipped Lyman as the reincarnation of Jesus. Mel died in 1978, but the Lyman Family still survives and runs a successful construction business. Kweskin's still a member, I think. The whole affair is exhaustively documented at this site, or you can read the condensed version in Wikipedia.

And here's the original of I'm a Woman by Peggy Lee. If you only know the Maria Muldaur versions, it comes as a real surprise. I had always assumed it was based on an old country song, but this is a pop song with a hint of R&B styling (similar to but not as good as Peggy's hit version of Fever). My better half says she makes the song sound sexy, but I still prefer Maria's (original) version. It's the only one where I actually believe what she's saying -- especially when she sings, "I can make a dress out of a feedbag and make a man out of you." I'm still waiting, Maria.

[Jug Band Music]
[The Best of Miss Peggy Lee]
Peggy Lee is someone I've grown to appreciate over the years. Love Maria Muldaur; "Waitress In A Donut Shop" is wonderful. While not as raw as jug band music, I wouldn't consider her solo work, at least from the mid-70s, overproduced.

BTW, "I'm A Woman" was also recorded in the mid-50s by Etta James in her inimitably raunchy style; I'm not sure if it predates Peggy Lee's version (it may be a variation thereof).

I'm a Maria Muldaur fan, too, but have you listened to her solo version of I'm a Woman lately? It really doesn't stand the test of time. The jug band version feels less dated even though it's a decade older.

I'm a Woman was written by Lieber & Stoller, the white kids who wrote some of the biggest R&B hits like Hound Dog, Kansas City, Charlie Brown, Stand by Me, Spanish Harlem, Searchin' and many more. I don't know the Etta James version, but I'm pretty sure that Peggy Lee's was the version that made this song a hit.

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