Jessie Hill at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 1996.
December 9, 1932|
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
|Died||September 17, 1996
New Orleans, Louisiana
Hill was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. By his teens he 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, Hill 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" were apparently created from a tune played by a local pianist, who was known only as Big Four. Hill wrote the lyrics and melody, later expanding the work with an intro taken from Dave Bartholomew. It was further honed on stage, before Hill recorded a demo that he shopped to local record 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, selling 800,000 copies and reaching the Top 5 in the US Billboard R&B chart and a Top 30 slot in the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.
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.