(Music: "Mother-in-Law" by Ernie K-Doe)
May 22, 1961 - May 28, 1961
Let the record show that the Mothers-in-Law of America never expressed their appreciation to singer Ernie K-Doe or writer/producer Allen Toussaint for making "Mother-in-Law" the number one song in the land. Little wonder, considering it was the ultimate mother-in-law joke, suggesting she was "sent from down below."
Nevertheless, the song earned a place in rock history by spreading the gospel piano of the New Orleans sound, as championed by Toussaint. He was the head of A&R for Minit Records, a label formed in 1960. In March of that year, Minit scored with Jessie Hill's "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," which peaked at number 28.
Before "Mother-in-Law," Ernie K- Doe was Ernest Kador, Jr. Born in New Orleans on February 22, 1936, he was the ninth of 11 children. His father was the Reverend Ernest Kador, Sr., a Baptist minister, and young Ernest began singing in his father's New Home Baptist church choir at age seven.
His mother lived in Chicago, so Ernie was raised by his aunt in New Orleans. By the time he was 15, he was entering local talent shows and singing in nightclubs while finding time to letter in football, basketball and track at Booker T. Washington High School.
Ernie visited his mother in Chicago, where she signed permission slips for him to sing in clubs. After two years in the Windy City, he returned to New Orleans and joined the Blue Diamonds. They released one single on Savoy Records and performed at the city's famed night spot, the Club Tijuana. It was the same club where artists like Johnny Ace, Chuck Willis, and Little Richard had performed.
Talent scouts from record companies often checked out the performers at the Tijuana, and one of them signed Ernie to Specialty, the same label that had Little Richard under contract. Ernie recorded his first solo single, "Do Baby Do," the same day Little Richard recorded "Tutti Frutti." After another single on Ember, Ernie signed with Minit, a label owned by Joe Banashak. It was Banashak who suggested Kador was too difficult to pronounce, and the phonetic K-Doe would be a better stage name. Later, Ernie would legally change his name to K-Doe and copyright it as well.
Ernie found "Mother-in-Law" in Toussaint's trash --- it was a song he had written and thrown away. Ernie was having marital problems at the time and thought his mother-in-law was responsible for some of them, so he told Toussaint he wanted to record the discarded song.
The irresistable hook in the song is Benny Spellman's deep bass voice intoning "mother-in-law" after K-Doe pauses at the appropriate places. Ernie returned the favor the following year by singing on Spellman's "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)".
"Mother-in-Law" was K-Doe's only top 50 hit. His final chart entry was "Popeye Joe" in February, 1962. He continued to record for Minit until it was sold to Liberty in 1965, and then signed with Duke Records. After three years, he returned to producer Toussaint, but without productive results. K-Doe died of liver failure at University Hospital in New Orleans on July 5, 2001. He was 65.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.