“I know a cat named Way Out Willie/He's got a groovy little chick named Rockin' Millie/He can walk and stroll and Susie Q./And do that crazy hand jive. too/Papa told Willie, you'll ruin my home/You and that hand jive have got to go/Willie said, Papa, don't put me down/They're doin' that hand jive all over town,” sang Johny Otis in 1958.
The original version of “Willie and the Hand Jive” was written and released by in 1958. Driven by a Bo Diddley-style beat, the song reached the No. 9 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the No. 5 spot on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart. Eric Clapton did a cover of the same tune on his 1974 album “461 Ocean Boulevard.”
Clapton’s version, too, did well on the charts and continues to be played regularly on today’s top rock radio stations.
During the 1970s when live bands were still the prime source of entertainment, I remember those with enough rhythm to pull it off would eagerly hit the dance floor at nightclubs and perform the hand jive, essentially doing a mime-type vamp, which translated to hand-and-arm motions in time with the music.
It was cool to watch back then; it’s still cool to watch in 2013.
However, let’s take it a step further and talk about the latest, craziest, most phenomenal version of “Crazy Hand Jive,” ever. And they’re not just doing it all over town this go-around, they mimicking it all over the world: primetime news, late-night talk shows, “Saturday Night Live,” redneck beer dives, Ivy League universities ‑‑ from the starved plains of Africa to the gluttonous high rises of corporate America, I say.
The latest version of “Crazy Hand Jive” was released by none other than a black performer who goes by the stage name of “Thamsanqa Jantjie.” (Only God knows what his real name is.) He laid down this live version of “Crazy Hand Jive” at the First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Dec. 10 at the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela.
A short quote about this performance:
“He (Thamsanqa Jantjie) stood with a deadpan expression just inches from President (Barack) Obama and other world leaders speaking at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, dressed in a dark suit, with a blue security lanyard bearing the words ‘state funeral’ draped around his neck, flapping his arms and gesticulating in what was supposed to be sign language for the deaf,” according to The Age World website.
Of course, we now know that Jantjie is not a professional sign language interpreter, and what he did at the Mandela memorial was little more than fraudulent gibberish, bold though it was.
Jantjie, who says he suffers from schizophrenia, defended his bizarre behavior by claiming he started hallucinating, began hearing voices, and had visions of angels.
Of course, finger-pointing now is in the works, and the questions are many: At what level of South African security did Jantjie first emerge on the scene? At what higher level of South African security did Jantjie pass the security clearance necessary to be around world leaders and dignitaries?
Why didn’t the U.S. Secret Service, which is in charge of protecting the president, conduct a thorough background check on a man who was going to stand mere inches from Obama, the most powerful man in the world?
Why didn’t someone in Obama’s entourage put Jantjie through a quick sign language drill to ensure he had the skill set needed to effectively communicate with the onlooking audience? Geez!
While a few million might have listened to Johnny Otis and Eric Clapton sing this grooving tune, literally hundred of millions -- live, via television -- saw Jantjie do his own version of the hand jive.
I doubt Jantjie’s version will ever be topped.
You could call it the ultimate “jive” performance.