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Strange Fruit is a happy-go-lucky song written and performed by buck-toothed funny man Ken Dodd. Originally just a song he used in his stand up shows, the song soon became a fan favourite and was released on record in 1939 selling over 1 million copies in it's first week of release.
edit Lyrics and compositon
Dodd reportedly spent 4 months writing the song whilst recovering from cancer in his family home in Devon. It was there he came up with the idea of a tree in the middle of an orchard, in the height of summer, which produced strange and wonderful fruit, tasty and succulent and never ending. The lyrics to Strange Fruit were described by Dodd himself as – "Light and fluffy and smelling of something sweet, like a stick of candyfloss up your mother's skirt on a warm summers day!"
Written in the time signature of 4/4, Dodd, a classically trained brick-layer, knew that by sticking to a signature in which most pop songs are written he'd have a chance for a top 10 hit. A chronic insomniac, Dodd wrote the music to Strange Fruit over three sleepless nights surviving on a diet of black coffee, aubergines and some H2O, some horsemeal and some boiled coffee, several cocaine flakes, a flagon of cheese whiz and some chocolate dippers.
This perplexing diet, inspired by his own father's diet during the Boer War, lead to severe diarrhea on the third night forcing Dodd to shed 40lbs in weight in just 9 hours. The unexpected results of his diet was said to have "inspired" Dodd as his wife Guther Dodd confirmed in an interview with Michael Barrymore in 1989 – "When he finally got off the shitter and realised he couldn't cope with another bout of galloping gut-rot, he sat down tentatively on one cheek looked at me and said: 'It's got to be just me doing it, in F probably maybe F minor, at around 500 bpm". True to his word Strange Fruit is played solely on the guitar (by Dodd) in the key of F-Minor at a BPM of 504.
Strange Fruit was recorded at The Wrecking Balls Studios, Liverpool, UK on September 12 1939. Lead producer at the time Rupert Cribbins was said to be "amazed" at Dodd's vocal range and rated him as one of the best overall musicians he'd ever worked with putting him along side Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. The song (and poem) was recorded over three weeks in the 'Dilkush' room (also famous for hosting Tom Jones' Mother Black Box recordings in the 50s) at Wrecking Balls Studios. Four different versions of the song were recorded although only one was released.
edit Mixing and mastering
The final mix and mastering procedure was created by Bertie Hiddink using his custom built rig containing a Casio Techspeak 410c, an 12k Fiorentina Immobiliser, 2 inch MagTap Delux (for spooling) on his 3 track Stereo Pak. The final mix took Hiddink two weeks and was overseen by Dodd throughout the process. Dodd likened Hiddink's final mix to Tom Jones' cover version of Delilah in the early 1930s exclaiming that it had – "somehow achieved the same resonance and tonal dexterity of Delilah, yet managed to keep the innocent and honest meaning of the lyrics."
The lyrical content of Strange Fruit is widely regarded as one of the most influential songs of the 1930s. Dodd's dreamy words of boundless fruit, summer meadows and childhood memories struck a chord with his audience and is said to created the worlds first hippy and prominent Rastafarian in John Lennon. Many musicians, bands and performers acknowledge Strange Fruit as a cultural influence on them both lyrically and musically including:
- The Beatles
- Wayne Rooney
- Jimi Hendrix
- Limp Bizkit
- Tina Turner
- Spongebob Squarepants
- Yosemite Sam
- Michael Laudrup
edit Notable live Performances
In 1993, Dodd performed Strange Fruit on the popular prime-time BBC program: Terry Wogan: Musical Spud-Gun in front of a live studio audience. Dodd played lead guitar during this performance and was backed by his band The Plodd who in 1993 comprised of Tubbs Turner Hooch (Bass), Fermentation Dobson (Guitar), Spangle (Drums and Percussion), Minge McRuby-Tits (Oboe), Glyph Sheet (Harpsichord) and Marilyn Manson (Piano). This particular performance was notable in that it was the first to feature a black musician (Fermentation Dobson) live on stage. Terry Wogan later commented; "I remember the audiences initial reaction to Fermi Dobson… they were shocked and frightened and clearly confused as to why the BBC had let this big jiggaboo on the stage." Contrary to popular belief, Wogan later denied he made this statement and later accused the BBC of 'putting words in his mouth'.
Another notable performance was recorded during the famous 'Live 8' concert in 2005, where Dodd, who by now was in his late nineties, projectile vomited blood on stage during the climax of his song. Long time collaborator Fermentation Dobson was said to be "disappointed" after his blood-soaked guitar short-circuited, blowing an amp and combusting in his arms live on stage.
Dobson was rushed to hospital after receiving second-degree burns to his arms, torso and penis. He retired from the music industry whilst still in hospital.