In 1953, James “Sugar Boy” Crawford wrote the words to a song he called “Chock-A-Mo.” It told the story of two young Native Americans a “spy boy” of one tribe and a “flag boy” of another and a stand-off between the two. When famed music producer Leonard Chess heard Mr. Crawford sing the song he misheard the lyrics and Chess Records issued the song as “Jock-A-Mo.”
It was a decent hit for Mr. Crawford, but it became a bigger success for The Dixie Cups in 1965. Unfortunately for them they never received Mr. Crawford’s permission to use the song and he sued them. Eventually the suit was settled but “Sugar Boy” gave up his rights to the song - a costly mistake as various artists would cover it including Cyndi Lauper, Dr. John, The Grateful Dead, and The Belle Stars.
"Sugar Boy" was born and raised in New Orleans and learned to play piano as a child. In high school he picked up a trombone for the first time and formed his first band Chapaka Shawee. Crawford and his band were discovered by Leonard Chess at a radio station and he created a demo album. The had several R&B hits but Crawford’s career was cut short in 1963.
While driving in northern Louisiana, Crawford was pulled over in his car by a local sheriff. With no known provocation, Crawford was beaten into a coma and was forced to have a metal plate placed in his skull. He lost his memory and had to re-learn to walk and talk. He would not perform outside of a church for three more decades.
"Sugar Boy" Crawford - nicknamed for his sweet temperament as a child - passed away at the age of 77.
One final note: Benny Goodman’s brother, Gene Goodman, met Crawford in 1984 and helped him regain lost royalties from “Iko Iko,” beginning with the Belle Stars cover which was featured on the soundtrack of the film Rain Man.
(“Jock-A-Mo” and The Chess Blues-Rock Songbook is copyright of Geffen Records, 1997)
Obit of the Day has featured two other gentlemen closely associated with “Iko Iko”:
- Wendell Querzergue, who arranged the song for The Dixie Cups. You can also hear their version of the song and decide for yourself whether it’s the same song.
- Jerry Lieber, better known as a songwriter (“Hound Dog”) he also produced the Dixie Cups’ version of “Iko Iko”