Indian Battle Song

In 1965, The Dixie Cups a black girl group trio from New Orleans made up of Barbara Ann Hawkins, her sister Rosa Lee Hawkins and their cousin Joan Marie Johnson were recording in a New York studio for Red Bird Records, a label founded by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and George Goldner.  They had just finished recording ‘Chapel of Love’ and during a break the girls began singing a number they’d learned from their mother called ‘Iko-Iko’, using only a chair, drumstick, Coke bottle and banging on ashtrays as the drums.  The song tells about a parade collision between two tribes of Mardi Gras Indians and it describes a playful taunting chant that this Mardi Gras Indian tribe used.  The Dixie-Cups got their name from a brand of disposable drinking cup.  In 1965, this song became the Dixie Cups’ final Top 40 record, before they began to drift away into obscurity.

This song was originally titled ‘Jock-a-Mo’, and it was written and recorded by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford with his Cane Cutters in 1953 for Chess Records under the title ‘Chock-a-mo’, however they made a mistake and printed the wrong title on the record.  Sugar Boy was watching these Mardi Gras Indians parade and dance around, and he wrote down a phonetic interpretation of their humdrum chants, and then Lloyd Price added music to it.  Crawford sued, but he did not receive any royalties from the Dixie Cups’ version, despite it being a clearly cut-and-dried cover of his original work.  In 1967, the case was settled with him winning no claim to authorship, but he was credited with 25% for public performance of ‘Iko Iko’ in the United States.  In the end he felt that he did not get his just dues, but he figured that getting 50% of something is better than getting 100% of nothing.  At least he felt that they were not able to abscond with something that belonged to him.”

The song is about a parade collision that occurs between two Indian tribes at the Mardi Gras.  There’s a “spy boy” or “spy dog” (a lookout for one band of Indians) encountering the “flag boy” for another band.  He threatens to set the flag on fire.  The song is filled with drama and “Iko Iko” was a victory chant that the Indians would shout.  “Jock-A-Mo” was another chant that the Indians used when they went into battle.  There is a wager of five dollars that jock-a-mo will be able to kill the red king dead.  Did you know that the Mardi Gras radish is perfectly sized to be served as an appetizer or crudité?  You can believe me or not, but I had some of these tasty, crunchy, salad vegetables the last time that I was in Lisbon.

My grand-ma and your grand-ma were sit-tin’ by the fire.
My grand-ma told your grand-ma: “I’m gon-na set your flag on fire.”

Talk-in’ ‘bout, Hey now! Hey now! I-ko, I-ko, un-day
Jock-a-mo fee-no ai na-né, jock-a-mo fee na-né

Look at my king all dressed in red I-ko, I-ko, un-day.
I bet-cha five dol-lars he’ll kill you dead, jock-a-mo fee na-né

Talk-in’ ‘bout, Hey now ! Hey now ! I-ko, I-ko, un-day
Jock-a-mo fee-no ai na-né, jock-a-mo fee na-né

My flag boy and your flag boy were
Sit-tin’ by the fire. – My flag boy told
Your flag boy: “I’m gon-na set your flag on fire.”

Talk-in’ ‘bout, Hey now ! Hey now ! I-KO, I-KO, un-day
Jock-a-mo fee-no ai na-né, jock-a-mo fee na-né

See that guy all dressed in green? I-KO, I-KO, un-day.
He’s not a man, he’s a lov-in’ ma-chine
Jock-a mo fee na-né

Talk-in’ ‘bout, hey now! Hey now! I-ko, I-ko, un-day
Jock-a-mo fee-no ai na-né, jock-a-mo fee na-né

Written for Sheryl’s Daily Word Prompt – Abscond, for the Daily Spur prompt – Drama, for FOWC with Fandango – Humdrum, for Ragtag Community – Drift, for Paula’s Three Things Challenge – number radish Lisbon and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Wager.

6 thoughts on “Indian Battle Song

  1. I like the Dr John Version best also. Thanks, Jim…I always wondered what this song was about. The one I knew well was the Cyndi Lauper version.

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