Mary Jane Hooper - Harper Valley PTA
Mary Jane Hooper
The history of New Orleans soul and funk is a mysterious gumbo. It’s indescribably delicious, but getting a handle on all the ingredients is likely to be a chore. Aside from the fact that clear and detailed records of recording sessions no longer exist (if they ever did in the first place) , memories have been clouded by the passage of time, and in many cases conflicting egos. Asking who played guitar on a particular session is likely to draw replies of: "I did. No, I did. Nuh-uh, it was ME!" And on, and on…. There are also the issues of contractual obligations, songwriting credits and publishing rights. These issues, passed through the looking-glass of 1960’s New Orleans display an infinite complexity. Authors listed under numerous pseudonyms to escape/circumvent existing agreements (Allen Toussaint and Chris Kenner are especially notable in this respect), songs that include names on the credit line that had little or nothing to do with the composing of the song and similar replacements/additions in production/arranging credits added by unscrupulous label owners, publishers, managers and disc jockeys on the take. In addition to all of this confusion, you must include artists performing under assumed names. Among New Orleans greatest mystery names are Little Buck (there’s apparently more than one Little Buck) , Roy Ward, Little Bo, Candy Phillips, and the artist we discuss today, Mary Jane Hooper. The conventional wisdom (as conventional as wisdom can be when shared by only a few hundred interested parties worldwide) is that performed under the name Mary Jane Hooper (and Inez Cheatham) was a woman named Sena Fletcher. That Hooper and Fletcher were one in the same is indisputable. The Hooper/Cheatham attribution is not as ironclad, though listening to the records under both names, the voice is just about identical. In the mid to late 60’s she made a few outstanding 45’s under the guidance of the mighty Eddie Bo (and often in duet with him). Their best known collaboration is the Seven B/Capitol single ‘Lover & a Friend’ which gained notoriety as one of the samples in DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's Brainfreeze mix (which also drove the price of the 45 into the stratosphere). One of their lesser known (but high quality) duets was released on World Pacific in 1968. ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ b/w ‘I Need A Hurt’ is a great uptempo soul tune with excellent vocal interplay between Bo and Hooper (the flip is a ballad). Back in New Orleans, ‘ That’s How Strong My Love Is’ was released on the Power label (also seen as Power-Pac, and home to two other outstanding 45s by Hooper, ‘I’ve Got Reasons’ and ‘I’ve Got What You Need’) with a different, much funkier flip-side, a cover of Jeannie C. Reilly’s ‘Harper Valley PTA’. Taken at a faster tempo than the original, with the addition of some funky drums and guitar, ‘Harper Valley PTA’ is a great showcase for Hooper’s voice. Despite that fact that Al Scramuzza is listed as producer on the label, this is clearly an Eddie Bo production (and it sounds like Bo backing Hooper up in chorus).
NOTE: Two different readers have e-mailed to say that Inez Cheatham and Mary Jane Hooper/Sena Fletcher were in fact two distinct people. I still think they sound like the same singer, but if Eddie Bo says they're different people (as Martin Lawrie of the great Soulgeneration site says he did), then I'll take his word for it.