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Jessie Hill

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Jessie Hill (b 9 December 1932, New Orleans – d 17 September 1996, New Orleans) was an American R&B singer and songwriter, best remembered for the classic Ooh Poo Pah Doo.

By his teens Hill was playing drums in local bands, and in 1951 he formed his own group, the House Rockers. After periods performing as drummer with Professor Longhair and then Huey “Piano” Smith, he formed a new version of the House Rockers in 1958, which enabled him to focus on singing with the band.

The origins of “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” reportedly lie with a local pianist known only as Big Four. Hill scribbled down the lyrics and melody, later fleshing it out with an intro cribbed from Dave Bartholomew. It was honed to a fine edge on stage, before Hill cut a demo that he shopped to local labels, finally recording a session at Cosimo Matassa’s studio produced by Allen Toussaint. Upon its early 1960 release, it emerged as a favourite at Mardi Gras, eventually selling 800,000 copies on its way to cracking the Billboard R&B top five and the pop top 30.

Further recordings in New Orleans were less successful, and he moved to California to work with fellow New Orleans musicians including Harold Battiste and Mac Rebennack. In this period he wrote songs recorded by Ike and Tina Turner, Sonny and Cher, and Willie Nelson.

A 1972 solo album was unsuccessful, and he began to suffer financial difficulties exacerbated by a drinking problem. These problems continued after his return to New Orleans in 1977, and several benefit gigs did little to revive his personal or professional fortunes.

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