Grazing In The Grass

Album: The Promise Of A Future (1968)
Charted: 1
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  • In his native South Africa, the trumpet player Hugh Masekela is esteemed for his huge catalog of jazz recordings. In the rest of the world, he's best known for "Grazing In The Grass," a song he considered a throwaway, recorded to complete the album.

    Masekela had been recording since 1962, but in 1967 he moved to the Uni label. When he was working on his third album for Uni, The Promise Of A Future, the label pointed out that it was 3 minutes short of the contractually agreed length of 30 minutes. Masekela's producer, Stewart Levine, suggested they fill the gap by reworking a 7-inch single that Hugh had bought on a trip to Zambia earlier in the year, a novelty tune called "Mr. Bull #5" that started with a cowbell. They banged it out in less than an hour; Levine said it was "a bit of a spoof," but when Uni Records executive Russ Regan heard it, he declared it a "smash." He was right: the song shot to #1 in July 1968 and became one of the all-time summer anthems.
  • There is only one credited songwriter on this track, and it's not Masekela. When they worked up the song in the studio, an African actor/musician named Philemon Hou was in the studio and came up with the melody. He was given the sole songwriting credit, which proved very lucrative.
  • "Grazing In The Grass" got its title because of the song it's based on, "Mr. Bull #5." That song takes place in a cow pasture, opening with someone yelling at the cow. That's also where the cowbell came from.
  • The guitarist was Bruce Langhorne, an American folk musician who was the subject of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."
  • Trumpet music was all the rage at this time thanks to Herb Alpert, whose song "This Guy's In Love With You" was knocked out of the top spot by "Grazing In The Grass" after four weeks at #1. Masekela's record company tried to position him as "the black Herb Alpert," and pushed for more hits. He never again cracked the Top 40, but remained very popular in the jazz community.
  • In 1969, a vocal version by The Friends Of Distinction charted at #3 in America. This version has lyrics about digging the mellow scene while grazing in the grass. The lyric was written by group leader Harry Elston, who was inspired by the many cows he saw from the tour bus when he was riding with Ray Charles' revue.
  • Hugh Masekela was originally introduced to the trumpet as a teenager by the British anti-apartheid campaigner Father Trevor Huddleston, who was at the time his school chaplain.
  • Hugh, who died in 2018 at age 78, is the father of Sal Masekela, who is known for his work as a commentator on ESPN's X Games and other events.
  • In 2021, this was used in a commercial for Allstate auto insurance where a small band materializes inside a woman's car and starts playing the song.

Comments: 15

  • Weefus from ColoradoOh yeah, it's about WEED!
  • Armin from Dallas/fort WorthI never heard so much ring from a cowbell. It's usually such a percussive instrument.
  • Randy from Houghton Lake, Miand now like a lot of other classic oldies it's a commercial tune
  • Alan from EverywhereHugh's version had more than enough 'Cowbell'!!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: {01-23-2018}...
    Jazz trumpeter Hugh Masakela died Tuesday (January 23rd, 2018) in his home town of Johannesburg, South Africa after a nearly ten-year fight with prostate cancer. He was 78...
    Inspired by Kirk Douglas' performance as jazzman Bix Beiderbecke in the movie, 'Young Man With A Horn', he took up the instrument himself...
    He left South Africa for 20 years because of aparteit and studied under Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, where he developed his own style. Hugh performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and a year later his instrumental, "Grazing In The Grass", went to #1 in the U.S.A. His son, Selema, is an actor, sports reporter an television host...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Mavis from Upper MidwestDefinitely a summer tune. Timeless! Love both versions.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 27th 1970, the Friends of Distinction sang "Grazing in the Grass" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    One year earlier on March 30th, 1969 their version of the song entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #80; and nine weeks later on June 1st, 1969 it peaked at #3 {for 1 week} and spent 16 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #5 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart and the Canadian RPM 100 Singles chart...
    Between 1969 and 1971 the Los Angeles-based quartet had six Top 100 records; with two making the Top 10, their other Top 10 record was "Love or Let Me Be Lonely", it peaked at #6 in 1970...
    Sadly, lead singer Jessica Cleaves passed away on May 2nd, 2014 at the age of 65...
    May she R.I.P.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhI wish Songfacts would include some facts of songs by "Friends of Distinction".
  • Julia from Allentown, PaI always thought this song was about getting high.
  • Jim from Raleigh, NcThis is about a bull grazing? Funny. I always thought "grazing in the grass" was referring to oral sex!
  • Minna from Joplin, MoI can dig it, you can dig it, we can dig,they can dig it...rock it to me sock it to me. WOW!!! Love both versions.
  • Carrie from Roanoke, VaWow, I didn't realize the song was that old. The cowbell opening is weird, but kind of catchy. I wonder if this song was the inspiration for the cowbell in "Don't Fear the Reaper"?
  • Kristin from Bessemer, AlLOVE THAT cowbell intro: "Chinga, linga, linga, linga, linga" FANTASTIC!
  • Camille from Toronto, OhThe instrumental: fabulous, a classic. The vocal version: the same. DEFINITELY one of the all time GREATEST summer anthems.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnHugh Masekela was the first South African recording act to reach number one on the pop charts. Who can't forget the opening cowbell? I also remember the Friends of Distinction's version and it sounded like a different arrangement.
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