page was created because I received an e-mail one day in October 2002 from a
28-year old woman I did not know asking me the strangest question. She wanted to
know the meaning and origin of the word, "googamooga."
She was searching this out on the internet when she found it quoted on the
Jocko page of our website. She said, "I'm
trying to find out what in the heck the word
GOOGAMOOGA means! My boss is driving me nuts by singing the
Temptations "Ball of Confusion" song."
So here is an updated version of
essentially what I told her:
you are right. Yours is probably the weirdest question I have
received in relation to my class website.
must tell you, I do not know the true origin of "googamooga"
(alternatively, "googa mooga" or "googa-mooga"), and I can
only surmise its meaning from the context in which I have heard it used. I am not familiar with the Temptationsí 1970 record, "Ball of
guess I am too old for that.) I will tell you what I do know and what I
have learned as a result of your inquiry.
likely, "googamooga" is derived from black musician's jive talk or street
might get a more authoritative response from a black history or language
professor at a university.) Like other white youths of the time, I first
heard the term around 1954 as used by the great, black, pioneer, rock 'n' roll
DJ, Douglas "Jocko" Henderson, as you read on my class website. The only other use
of the word I was familiar with before today was in the lyric of the Cadets' 1956
recording of "Stranded in the Jungle,"1 as follows:
had a strange feeling I was with cookin' gear
I smelled something cookin', and a-a-a-h looked to see
That's when I found out they was ah-cookin' me
that "googamooga" has no particular meaning by itself but when
combined with the word, "great" as in "great googamooga" (or the significantly less
well-known but possibly older variation, "good googamooga"),2 it is an
exclamation of either shock and dismay or extreme appreciation, similar to
"Wow!" or "Goodness Gracious!" or, as Clark Kent's boss at the
(or are you too young for that?) always said, "Great Caesar's
ghost!" According to David Fairweather, a jazz musician who wrote me in 2005, it is
an invocation of a folk voodoo deity3
"in the vein of black folk superstition/spirituality," similar to
"Oh, my God!"
In doing research to address this question, I found an article
online by a
white, syndicated, blues DJ from Boulder, Colorado, known only as "The Red Rooster."
It suggests that our Jocko may not have been as original as he claimed, as
he was given credit for, or as
we believed he was, but rather that he copied much of his style and
expressions from another black
radio pioneer, a contemporary
and mentor of Jocko's who
never seemed to achieve
Jocko's widespread recognition, respect and notoriety outside Baltimore and Philadelphia. His name was Maurice
"Hot Rod" Hulbert, Jr., or "The Rod." Quotes
from the Red Rooster's article (http://www.bluesaccess.com/No_29/rooster.html)
"Hot Rod" Hulbert
there was 'great googa mooga,' the '50s equivalent of
'awesome,' an expression that was first immortalized in song by the
Magic Tones in 1953 as 'Good Googa Mooga'."
HotRod [sic] was the first to say, 'It's good googa-mooga,' which means 'ain't
she nice.' "
phrase turned up again in the Cadets' 'Stranded in the Jungle' in
1956 and later on the Temptations 1970 hit, 'Ball of Confusion'."
the same article, Hot Rod also influenced another one of our top New York
jocks, who copied Hot Rod's version of Pig
Latin called "ee-us" talk. "It
simply consisted of inserting 'ee-us' in almost every syllable, as in 'Get
the nee-us-od from the Ree-us-od.'
The author was
talking, of course, about
Murray "the K" ("Mee-us-urray
Rod, The Red Rooster's article also said:
'Commander HotRod and the Rocket Ship' show not only nabbed the
black audience WITH was looking for, it turned young white listeners -- yours
truly included -- on to a world of music known until then only by the tame
cover versions recorded by the likes of Pat Boone and Peggy Lee.
mommios and daddios, keen teens, ladies and gentlemen. Commander HotRod moving
and grooving, wheeling and dealing, hop, skipping and jumping here, there,
each and everywhere bringing you the best in music, oyay, the best in songs,
the best in jive, the best in helpful information, dedicated to you, the
greatest people in the world, my listeners, as we move and groove, wheel and
deal, hop, skip, jump here there and everywhere, I gotta say this is without a
doubt the High Priest of Space, not the flower, not the root, but the seed,
sometimes called the herb, sometimes called the burner. VOSA!
the early '60s, HotRod was a sizzling commodity throughout the airwaves of the
Northeast, thanks to the fact that he was simultaneously doing shows on WHAT
in Philadelphia, WWRL in New York and on Baltimore's WWIN. New Yorkers,
however, missed out on the [Rod's] Rocket Ship show: Another DJ named Jocko had
essentially stolen elements of the shtick and set up shop before the Rod got
As to who stole from who (who first used "Great
"Mommy-Os and Daddy-Os" or the "Rocket Ship Show"
on radio, who really knows? We do know that Hot Rod Hulbert was
an early influence of Jocko's, sometimes called "Jocko's idol," and, in fact, got him started in radio. But as for me, who was a pre-teenager in 1954 New York, I have to say
that for all of us New Yorkers, the late
Jocko Henderson owns "Great
Click to hear samplings of rare audio clips (called
"airchecks") of portions of
Jocko's "Rocket Ship Show"
(the "hottest show on the radio").
original, far less successful (and in my opinion, inferior) version by the Jayhawks did
not contain the expression, "great googamooga."
Another variation, "great googly moogly," appeared in 1961 in
"Goin' Down Slow" by Howling Wolf and again in a 1974 Frank
Zappa song called "Nanook Rubs It."
David refers us to a 1986 sculpture that is pictured in a book entitled The Art of Johnny Otis,
©1995 by Johnny
Otis. The sculpture entitled "The Great Googa Mooga" (shown at right), depicts a
white-haired black man kneeling
before an idol of the voodoo deity. The accomplished rhythm and blues musician/songwriter/ painter/sculptor
is best known by our rock 'n' roll
generation for his 1958 hit record, "Willie and the Hand Jive."
© 2002-2007 by Howard B. Levy and
1960 Sailors Association Inc. All rights reserved.