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Big Jay McNeely as an example of style and homework

3805 Views 11 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  Melanie Koenig
New to the board but I wanted to share this. I've been playing Bari Sax for 13 years and have always listened to old R&R and R&B. I'm 25 and have had the privilege of playing with Big Jay McNeely, Ruth Brown, Barbara Lynn, Young Jessie, Joe Houston, and Roy Gaines to name a few. I don't consider myself a professional musician by any means but I KNOW ORIGINAL R&B. I just wanted to share this story...

Three years ago I had a band in Los Angeles and all we played was late 40's the mid 50's rhythm and blues, r&r, etc. We had a pretty good following in the rockabilly/r&b scene. We covered some of Big Jay's music such as 3-D and Deacon's Hop. It wasn't long before we recieved a phone call from a promoter who wanted to book Big Jay. He asked us if we would like to back him up for the show. AWESOME!!

So we get in contact with Big Jay and arrange a rehearsal at our bass player's house. We were all there early and decided to start while we waited for Big Jay to show up. We played and waited and played and waited and no Big Jay. Finally right as we finished running through 3-D Big Jay knocks on the door. We were wondering if he had trouble finding the house or had problems with traffic or something. He said, "Nah man, I just been out here listenin' to y'all. Y'all sound great! This is gonna be fun!" There were times in the middle of the songs that instead of soloing, he'd let us do our thing and he'd just be bobbing his head with his eyes closed and a grin on his face. We could tell he was relieved that we knew exactly what style he wanted.

He didn't have a specific set list. Rehearsal just consisted of him saying, "Y'all know this one?" And we'd rehearse it once and that was it. He said he doesn't like set lists cause he just picks out songs as he sees fit from the feedback he gets from the crowd, so we just went with that.

That show was the funnest I've ever had. We played for an hour and a half straight and Big Jay looked like he could go on for another three. The rest of us 20-23 year olds were wasted but kept it up. It was a blast. We backed him up one more time after that but the first show was the best.

About a year later, I backed him up in Vegas. Not with my own band but with another band that I subbed for. This band was full of top-notch jazzers. These musicians were much better than I'll probably ever be, BUT THEY HAD NO CONCEPT OF WHAT STYLE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE PLAYING!! Rehearsal was like pulling teeth. Big Jay kept stopping songs and explaining style. I wanted to chime in and open their eyes but I was the sub and didn't feel it was my place. It was apparent that they didn't really listen to the old R&B music. It was fine when we backed up Roy Gaines earlier that night but when Big Jay was up, you could tell that he wasn't very happy. When the band came in for 3-D it instantly fell off about 70bpm. I thought it was pretty ambarrasing for the band but Big Jay still made the most of it. Even though all these players were very seasoned, they sounded terrible compared to the band that I had, which consisted of rookie players, but we knew the style and we had the sound and most importantly we knew Big Jay. It's always important to do you're homework when you're going to back someone up.

If you ever get the chance to see Big Jay, take it! Have a lookout for Easter weekened in Vegas. He's played the last two years at the Rockabilly Weekender at the Gold Coast Casino. You can also still find him playing in Los Angeles once in a while.

-Alex Hernandez

some music to look for: 4 CD box Set: History of the Honkin and Screaming Saxophone. 13 cd Box set: Bump, Jump, and Jive. 8 CD box set: STOMPIN'
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great story Alex. Big Jay is one of my faves, hoping he gets back to the east coast one of these days.

Wonderin if Big jay even called Flyin Home with that Vegas band? what a tempo!!
Alex -

Great story! There's no question that having an understanding of the style is a critical component to "getting it right".

Any more information on "Bump, Jump and Jive" or "Stompin'"...I couldn't find either on eBay or cduniverse?

Yeah, I doubt you'll find this stuff on those sites. This is the real-deal, obscure stuff that you'll have more luck finding on a site that is more dedicated to that style of music.

Some info on the Stompin' set. I thought I had acquired the whole set(8) from a friend in Los Angeles. I thought it was a box set, but now that I found this on the net I found it's a series of CD's totaling 32 cd's! It's pretty obscure roots rhythm n blues. I'll have to buy one a month from now on. Some great stuff among the collection that I have so far.
Scroll down to about 3/4 of the way down and you'll see the Stompin' series begin.

Info on the Bump, Jump, Jive set. I'm pretty sure this IS a box set of 13 cds. I only have the first 10(again that was given to me by a friend in LA) but the music on these is a little more well known. Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Wynonie Harris, Calvin Boze, etc. Great stuff!
Again, scroll about 3/4 of the way down. This site only has the first 6 of the 13

Have fun all!

-Alex Hernandez
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Thanks for the links! Looks like there is all kinds of good stuff on both. In addition to all kinds of obscure R&B, the first site also has a big listing of surf and instrumental stuff:D
Great story! What fun. Did you guys (the first group that is) manage to record any of that playing with Big Jay?

Yes we did. The promotor who put on that show hired someone to come and video the whole thing. It was supposed to be for some kind of documentary on the scene in Los Angeles or something but I don't think that ever happened. He still has a DVD of the show and I've been trying to get it from him this whole time. I've left messages and emailed him but it's always so hard to get a hold of him. Before I moved out to Texas I'd ask him about it and he'd say, "I'll bring it to The Doll Hut on Friday," or whatever show happened to be that weekend, and then something would come up and I couldn't make it. Other times I'd see him at shows and didn't know he was gonna be there so he didn't have it with him. Since I moved to Texas I haven't even been able to get in contact with him. I'll keep trying but at least I have pics for now. I have some posted on my MYSPACE page.

-Alex Hernandez
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Hey Alex, welcome aboard. Look forward to hearing more from you, you made a great entrance.

I lived and played in LA back in the 80s, but had never heard of Big Jay. Our piano player insisted on taking me to see him, and I was up for it. We drove what seemed like hours, winding up at a funky little bar in a questionable neighborhood. We went inside and got settled in with some drinks, and Jay's set started about twenty minutes later. Needless to say, he blew the roof off of the joint! Besides his playing, the one thing I remember is that several times during the show he took a walk through the crowd while he was playing, and people would stuff bills down the bell of his horn! When he finished his solo and made his way back to the bandstand, he'd turn the horn upside down and shake all the money out, along with a few gallons of liquid. The bills were completely soaked from being stuffed down the horn, but a buck's a buck, right?
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that's a great story. there are a few good videos on youtube with Detroit Gary Wiggins too... from the 80's
and he's still out there doin it!!! from August of 2008 in Spain.
Big Jay very kindly donated an MP3 to SOTW's support of the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund.
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