Got My Mojo Working
|"Got My Mo-Jo Working"|
|Single by Ann Cole and the Suburbans|
|B-side||"I've Got a Little Boy"|
|Format||7-inch 45 rpm record|
"Got My Mojo Working" is a blues song written by Preston "Red" Foster and first recorded by Ann Cole in 1956. Muddy Waters popularized it in 1957 and the song was a feature of his performances throughout his career. A mojo is an amulet or talisman associated with hoodoo, an early African-American folk-magic belief system. Rolling Stone magazine included Waters' rendition of the song on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at number 359. In 1999, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave it a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and it is identified on the list of "Songs of the Century".
Origins of the song
The song was written by Preston "Red" Foster, an African-American musician unrelated to the actor of the same name. Music publisher and executive Sol Rabinowitz described Foster as "one of the shyest human beings I've ever met", and a judge in the early 1970s described him as "a Black man, about forty years of age... with bleached blonde hair and highly modish clothing [who] sat quietly in the courtroom...".
According to Rabinowitz, Foster approached him in the mid-1950s with several songs. Rabinowitz said:
I realized he had a way with lyrics, and felt that he might create something really worthwhile. One day he walked in with Mo Jo. I was planning a second session with Ann Cole, and the song seemed perfect for her. She loved it and learned it in an hour. We recorded the song a few days later..... She was booked for a tour throughout the South as the opening act for Muddy Waters. She performed with his band backing her up. I happened to see the show at a club... and heard her singing Mo Jo in the show. I had asked her not to perform any unreleased songs on stage, to avoid just this problem..... Ann Cole ignored me and was singing Mo Jo all over the South with Muddy's band. He went back to Chicago after the tour and told Leonard Chess of Chess Records he had written a new song that he wanted to record. It was recorded and released the same week as the Ann Cole version..... I called [Leonard Chess] to tell him he had recorded a song published by my company and that he owed us royalties for the sales of Muddy's recording. He signed a mechanical license agreeing to pay us royalties and I thought the problem was solved. Over the years we have had legal action concerning the song, but today, that is over, and the song is now acknowledged to be Preston Foster's.
Again according to Rabinowitz, royalties from the song amounted to between $20,000 and $30,000 a year in the 2000s. He said "Every six months I send Preston a check... He's basically still making a living from this song." Foster later set up GetIt Records in Jamaica, New York, and released singles under his own name and as "The Mojo Kid".
Music historian Larry Birnbaum states that the 1955 R&B hit "Hands Off", written by Jay McShann and recorded by him with singer Priscilla Bowman, was the "obvious basis" for "Got My Mojo Working", and the two songs were combined by Elvis Presley in some of his live performances.
Muddy Waters rendition
|"Got My Mojo Working"|
|Single by Muddy Waters|
|Format||10-inch 78 rpm & 7-inch 45 rpm records|
|Recorded||December 1, 1956|
|Songwriter(s)||Disputed, see text|
|Producer(s)||Leonard Chess, Phil Chess|
Muddy Waters' 1950 song "Louisiana Blues" includes a reference to acquiring a mojo: "I'm goin' down in New Orleans, get me a mojo hand, I'm 'on show all you good lookin' women, yes how to treat your love". His popular 1954 song, "Hoochie Coochie Man", written by Willie Dixon, also mentions it. According to Waters
When you're writin' them songs that are coming from down that way [Mississippi Delta], you can't leave out somethin' about that mojo thing. Because this is what black people really believed in at that time ... even today [circa 1980], when you play the old blues like me, you can't get from around that.
Waters recorded the song on December 1, 1956, for Chess Records in Chicago. It features one of the first recorded appearances with James Cotton, who replaced Little Walter as Waters' harmonica player. Otis Spann on piano, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Dixon or Andrew Stephen on bass, and Francis Clay on drums.
AllMusic critic Matthew Greenwald notes the song's influence: "A sturdy jump blues rhythm and tempo drive the song, while a basic 1/4/5 chord progression defines the melody. The meeting of these two styles is the basis for the rock & roll genre and makes the song one of the most influential."
This song has been the subject of copyright litigation. McKinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters, heard Ann Cole perform it while she was on tour with him in 1956. He modified the words, and attempted to copyright his own version. Dare Music, Inc., holder of the Preston Foster copyright, and Arc Music Group, holder of the Morganfield copyright, settled out of court, with Arc deferring to Dare's copyright. In Strachborneo v. Arc Music 357 F. Supp 1393 (S.D. N.Y. 1973), Ruth Stratchborneo sued co-defendants Arc Music, Dare Music, McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters) and Preston Foster, claiming that all had infringed on her copyright in the song "Mojo Workout". In disagreement with Plaintiff Stratchborneo's claim, the ruling held that the term "Mojo" was essentially in the public domain and that the various uses of it in recordings by Ann Cole, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Smith and Bill Cosby did not, therefore, constitute infringement.
"MOJO is a commonplace part of the rhetoric of the culture of a substantial portion of the American people. As a figure of speech, the concept of having, or not having, one's MOJO working is not something in which any one person could assert originality, or establish a proprietary right."
Importantly, the ruling also unequivocably established the copyright of Preston Foster and Dare Music, Inc. in the song “Got My Mojo Working”.
“I find that defendant Dare is the owner of a valid copyright originally issued to Foster on October 29, 1956 (No. EU 462214) and duly assigned to Dare, covering the words and music of "GOT MY MOJO WORKING," as set forth in a 1956 lead sheet filed in the Copyright Office and on the demonstration record, Ex. 6, and that such work is an original musical composition of words and music made by Preston Foster, which does not infringe any rights of plaintiff.” 
A discussion of the history of the song can be found on pages 173 - 175 in "The Judge Who Hated Red Nail Polish & Other Crazy But True Stories of Law & Lawyers".
|Lyric comparison in copyright case|
Foster lyrics excerpt
Got my Mojo working but it just won't work on you
Excerpt from Waters lyrics
Got my mojo working but it just won't work on you
Excerpt from Stratchborneo lyrics
I got my mojo working
- Rolling Stone (December 9, 2004). "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone (963). Retrieved May 22, 2015.
- "Grammy Hall of Fame Awards – Past Recipients". The Recording Academy. 1999. Archived from the original on July 7, 2015. Retrieved May 22, 2015.
- Dear Rich, "How Copyright Got its Mojo", 11 June 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2016
- "Strachborneo v. Arc Music". USC Gould School of Law. 2012. Retrieved 2014-02-28.
- Sol Rabinowitz on Mojo, http://rec.music.rock-pop-r-b.1950s.narkive.com/. Retrieved 2 March 2016
- GetIt Records, 45cat.com. Retrieved 13 March 2019
- Larry Birnbaum, Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013, p.182
- Palmer, Robert (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0-14006-223-8.
- Palmer, Robert (1989). Muddy Waters: Chess Box (Box set booklet). Muddy Waters. Chess/MCA Records. p. 28. OCLC 154264537. CHD3-80002.
- Greenwald, Matthew. "Muddy Waters: I've Got My Mojo Working – Song Review". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved May 22, 2015.
- Bray, Ilona; Stim, Richard; Nolo, the editors of (2010). "How Copyright Law Found Its Mojo". The judge who hated red nail polish : & other crazy but true stories of law & lawyers (1st ed.). Berkeley, Calif.: Nolo. pp. 173–175. ISBN 9781413311914.