Thursday, October 22, 2009

Big Jay McNeely's R and B, Motorhead's Metal

Originally posted on November 6 and 7, 2007

By now, if you've been following my blog you may have gathered that I listen to all kinds of music. What about rhythm & blues from 1957? When I was a kid the local 5 & 10 was still selling 78 rpm records that were remaindered—for 9 cents each! At that price I could afford two. One day they had something by Big Jay McNeely & Band on Swingin’ Records. I grabbed it, thinking anything on a label called Swingin’ had to be cool. I took it home and listened. I was flabbergasted. It was high-energy r & b, proto-funk and it really was very cool. Years went by before I figured who Big Jay was. McNeely was a proto-rock big deal in the very early ‘50s as a kind of madman, a bar walking, bend-over-backwards tenor sax player with a screaming and honking thing happening that had some relation to Illinois Jacquet and his playing. But Big Jay was just wild. By 1957 he had a band with two saxes, electric guitar, bass guitar and drums. On the vocals was Little Sonny. McNeely still did the rabble-rousing, wild instrumental numbers, but with Little Sonny (almost a proto-James-Brown) he could expand into more of the Soul bag.

He made an album’s worth of material for Swingin’ which eventually popped up on the Collectibles CD label. And right before that he recorded a session live (Live at Birdland) which never saw the light of day until Collectibles put it out a while ago. That’s the one I’m listening to now and it is very cool. The tune that hit me on the 78 I bought for nine cents is here in its live incarnation: “Back…Shack…Track.” Funny, turns out that was the “B” side, but for me it rules. You have nifty sax lines, early funk drumming and an interlocking guitar and bass riff. And the vocals—electric!! If you can find this one, you might want to get it. It has all the table walking crazy sax stuff and this proto-funk too. Little Sonny was a gas!!

For contrast, what about Motorhead? They had been together for ages when they recorded Everything Louder than Anyone Else live at a concert in Hamburg in 1998 (2CD SPV). Man, they exhaust me just listening. There may never have been a rock group that had so much power in their playing. It’s a guitar-bass-drums trio with electricity coming out of their toes. Metal with a punk and thrash influence, death rock without much of the death or the exorcist vocals, that’s what it all sounds like. The group kicks into overdrive from the very first cut and does not let loose until the final zonk. These guys you either love or hate, there can be little indifference. I am in awe.

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