“I fell for yo’ jive
An I took you in
Now, all you got to offer me’s
A drink of gin”
–Why Don’t You do Right? by “Kansas” Joe McCoy
“Why don’t you do right?” I went back looking one night on YouTube for the old Jessica Rabbit version. I remember, vaguely, Peggy Lee had done it. Every song has a story. I was always interested that while I knew the voice of Jessica Rabbit to be Kathleen Turner, I knew the vocal was not her. No match at all. Fast as you could Google, I found that the recording was actually of the then, Mrs. Steven Spielberg, the actress Amy Irving. Irving’s career, had already hit an odd note. Having been so fetching in Carrie, she never achieved the stardom one would have thought. Touching in Crossing Delancey, and having been nominated for Yentl, her film career seem to drift away.
There were two Peggy Lee versions on YouTube. One with Benny Goodman, which was the big hit, and a later version shot live somewhere. Lee in a goofy dress with add-on on shoulders and hips, worked well with beautiful electric guitar work. This was before she hit that Basin Street East phase, where she was a hot, full figured gal in red. Although this version is pretty hot. Story had it, she loved a record version of the song and played it so much when she was working with Benny Goodman, that he wrote an arrangement.
Both Peggy Lee and Sinatra, were disciples of Billie Holiday. That beautiful phrasing and sing behind, and ahead of, the beat was her signature. I often wondered if it was from a certain delay that happens from heroin. Both disciples, sounded more like Billie in early work, Sinatra singing some of the same songs. So you read a little of that in this version. But the real model goes to Lil Green, and the story gets more interesting.
Green was a Mississippi teenaged orphan, who found her way to Chicago. It is very interesting how Southern based blues and jazz went. One group of artists in Chicago. One group in New York. Bessie Smith called home New York, although I think part of the time in Jersey. Her mentor, Ma Rainey, mother of the blues, wound up in Chicago. Lee acknowledged the 1941 original by Green as the model of her cover for the song. But even Green, although the lyrics written for her to deliver, the story gets better.
But the original song was by Joe McCoy, husband of Memphis Minnie, who originally wrote it as a novelty song. So a pop song, comes from a blues based song reborn. And as Matt would say, does everything have to be a history lesson. Cool stuff.
“Why don’t you do now
like the millionaires do?
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too”
–Weed Smoker’s Dream, Why don’t You do Now? by “Kansas” Joe McCoy
For more on the subject: