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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Big Jay McNeely.....'Cuz you probably need a little good sax in your life this afternoon... :)

Big Jay McNeely

Big Jay McNeely (born Cecil James McNeely, April 29, 1927, Watts, Los Angeles, California, United States) is an American rhythm and blues saxophonist, known as the King of the Honking Tenor Sax.

Inspired by Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young, he teamed with his older brother Robert McNeely, who played baritone saxophone, and made his first recordings with drummer Johnny Otis, who ran the Barrelhouse Club that stood only a few blocks from McNeely's home.   Shortly after he performed on Otis's "Barrel House Stomp." Ralph Bass, A&R man for Savoy Records, promptly signed him to a recording contract. Bass's boss, Herman Lubinsky, suggested the stage name Big Jay McNeely because Cecil McNeely did not sound commercial. McNeely's first hit was "The Deacon's Hop," an instrumental which topped the Billboard R&B chart in early 1949.  The single was his most successful of his three chart entries.

Thanks to his flamboyant playing, called "honking," McNeely remained popular through the 1950s and into the early 1960s, recording for the Exclusive, Aladdin, Imperial, Federal, Vee-Jay, and Swingin' labels.  But despite a hit R&B ballad, "There Is Something on Your Mind," (1959) featuring Little Sonny Warner on vocals, and a 1963 album for Warner Bros. Records, McNeely's music career began to cool off. He quit the music industry in 1971 to become a postman.  However, thanks to an R&B revival in the early 1980s, McNeely left the post office and returned to touring and recording full time, usually overseas.  His original tenor sax is enshrined in the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and he was inducted into The Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

The honkers were known for their raucous stage antics and expressive, exhibitionist style of playing. They overblew their saxophones and often hit on the same note over and over, much like a black Southern preacher, until their audiences were mesmerized. The style began with Illinois Jacquet's lively solo on Lionel Hampton's smash 1942 hit "Flying Home." Jacquet refined the honking technique in 1944 on the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Los Angeles. Among the other saxophonists who started having honking hits in the late 1940s were Hal Singer (with the number one R&B hit "Cornbread", Lynn Hope, Joe Houston, Wild Bill Moore, Freddie Mitchell, and many more.

McNeely was credited with being the most flamboyant performer. He wore bright banana- and lime-colored suits, played under blacklights that made his horn glow in the dark, used strobe lights as early as 1952 to create an "old-time-movie" effect, and sometimes walked off the stage and out the door, usually with the club patrons following along behind. At one point, in San Diego, police arrested him on the sidewalk and hauled him off to jail, while his band kept playing on the bandstand, waiting for him to return. The honking style was fading somewhat by the early 1950s, but the honkers themselves suddenly found themselves providing rousing solos for doo wop groups; an example was Sam "The Man" Taylor's eight-bar romp on The Chords' 1954 "Sh-Boom." Bill Haley also used honking sax men Joey D'Ambrosio and Rudy Pompilli on his rock and roll records, including "Rock Around the Clock." However, the rise of the electric guitar essentially ended the dominance of the tenor sax in rock and roll by 1956.

Just a couple songs.......

All that wine is gone
Barrelhouse stomp
Big Jay Shuffle
Big Jay's hop
Deacon blows for Ray
Deacon's hop 1
Deacon's hop 2
Flying home
Hometown jamboree
Hot cinders
Insect ball
Jay's rock
Let's work
Nervous, man, nervous
Striptease swing
Tall brown woman
Teen age hop
The goof
There is something on your mind
Wild wig


  1. hi, barberella:

    this is one great blog!

    my 3 younger brothers and I, around 1961-2, decided to pick the five greatest rock'n'roll songs of all time. we had been collecting them, as 45s, from about 1954 unto the time of our poll among ourselves.

    Here are our top five of all time:

    1) Lonely Teardrops by Jackie Wilson
    2) A Fool in Love by Tina Turner
    3) Over the mountain, across the sea. Johnny and Joe (?)
    4) ? -- can't remember.
    and last but not least:
    5) There is something on your mind by Big Jay Mc

    growing up in the LA area we heard the latest and the bestest. there were at least three versions of Big Jay McNeely's song on the air. Obviously we liked his version the best.

    steve heeren

  2. got me wanting to know what #4 was! :0

  3. Hi, again:

    I checked with my brothers and they both remembered that the missing song on the list above was "Searchin'" by the Coasters. we loved that song. btw we were snobs of a sort -- we only considered music by black artists as deserving the label of R&B (of course) and Rock and Roll. even though we were caucasian we sneered at white artists (except elvis) like rick nelson, pat boone, the beachboys, etc. I don't hold that view anymore.

  4. Big Jay McNeely will be play the next february in this festival...
    The place is in the south of Spain (Torremolinos, Malaga - SPAIN)

    Viva BIG JAY McNEELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. The would be sooo very cool to see :)