Mary Lou was one of the seminal rhythm and blues songs originally written by rhythm and blues/ jazz singer Obediah Donnell “Obie” Jessie ( aka Young Jessie) (below) and Saul Bihari, who owned the record label on which it was recorded, and took a writing credit as was the customary practice at that time. It was released as a single with production by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller on the Biharis’ Modern label in 1954 by Young Jessie, and was subsequently re-arranged by rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins who had the US hit version of the song with his band the Hawks in 1959 (#26 US).Young Jessie had been inspired by stories of femmes fatale with wicked and manipulative ways, and although history doesn’t identify a specific girl who inspired him to write the song, there was no doubt that Mary Lou was the embodiment of several women of whom Young Jessie was aware, who used their wily charms to relieve men of their cash, car, watch and chain, and diamond ring, as the lyrics so graphically depict.
Mary Lou was mature, swampy rockabilly with carnal overtones, so it’s slightly uncomfortable watching Hawkins and the Hawks, who were no teenybopper band, churn this one out in front of a studio audience of naïve, gum-chewing, name tag-wearing prepubescent fans at a US Bandstand performance. Would the juke box jury that day agree that it “had a beat and was good to dance to” and what about those lyrics “Put a detective /On her trail/The post office thought/They’d chase her by mail/ She got picked up/And then was put in jail/ Stroked the judge/Just to go her bail/ Mary Lou.” The Hawks drummer was Levon Helm who in 1963 would ultimately join with Robbie Robertson and others to form the legendary Bob Dylan backing group The Band, who would also be influential as country rock crossover performers in the next decade, with their seminal country rock album Music From Big Pink.
The Changing Times were a popular Melbourne beat combo whose original lineup was Alan James (bass), Alan Elliott (drums), Barry Gallagher (guitar), and Willy Fehres (lead guitar), their cover of Mary Lou featured a bluesy harmonica refrain where Hawkins had used saxophone, which was faithful to the original Young Jessie version which had been arranged by saxophonist Maxwell Davis. Both versions made good use of call and response harmonizing and the Changing Times took this into the top thirty in April. Personnel changes later transformed the band into The Dream and then into the bubblegum outfit The New Dream