Highly respected saxophonist who had a somewhat peripheral role in rock ‘n’ roll over the years while recording extensively in blues, jazz and later gospel music.

Ed Wiley Jr. was born in Houston in 1930 and was influenced by the saxophonists who came before him from that area, most notably Arnett Cobb, who established the vaunted Texas Tenor sound of the 1940’s – a full-bodied tone, grittier and more direct in their playing. Though it had first appeared in the jazz scene with Cobb, Illinois Jacquet and others, the commercial downturn in jazz relative to the preceding era forced many up and comers like Wiley to turn to other forms of music coming along at the tail end of the decade, namely rock ‘n’ roll, to get their break.

Wiley was playing around Houston’s many clubs prolifically by 1948 and late the next year made his first recordings, most notably as leader on the Sittin’ In With label out of New York, for him he earned his one and only national hit with “Cry, Cry Baby” featuring pianist Teddy Reynolds on vocals. The ballad was somewhat atypical for Wiley but he soon began being drafted for a wide array of acts around the city, Goree Carter and Gatemouth Brown among the notable names he played alongside.

Though his recording contributions to rock in the mid-1950’s were rather limited, he continued to play the music in live settings and became a key figure in the early career of The Moonglows, as their two led singers Harvey Fuqua and Bobby Lester were allowed to sit in with Wiley’s band in their home state of Kentucky before being invited to tour the South with them, giving the two invaluable experience on stage as well as expanding their musical knowledge by being required to adapt their performances to suit different styles.

After subsisting mostly on rock and blues for his first half dozen years, Wiley shifted to jazz once that scene settled into a new phase that was widely accepting of a more aggressive sounding horn and helped to popularize the organ-led trios of the late 1950’s and 60’s, giving Shirley Scott her first opportunity to play that instrument along the way. By the 1980’s Wiley was recording gospel records to some acclaim before finally getting overdue recognition for his early days leading to a well-received “comeback” in jazz and alongside older blues acts, releasing the lauded In Remembrance album in 1995.

Wiley continued to tour for another decade before settling into retirement in North Carolina where he died at the age of 80 in 2010… never a star, but a valued musician across the years in every major black musical genre, from rock to blues, jazz to gospel.
ED WILEY DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Sittin In With 545; February, 1950)
The unlikely hit credited to Wiley featured him in a supporting role to singer Teddy Reynolds who delivers a sometimes shaky, but heartfelt, vocal on a rather by-the-numbers emotional ballad with a nice, though brief, mellow interlude by Wiley’s tenor sax. (5)

(Sittin’ In With 545; February, 1950)
A laid back and modestly pleasant instrumental is well played but doesn’t really give much indication as to Wiley’s preferred style, nor does it make much of a case for itself amidst the far more aggressive rock sounds of the day. (4)

(Sittin’ In With 550; April, 1950)
As sideman… for King Tut.

(Sittin’ In With 562; June, 1950)
Though he gets lead credit on this, Wiley’s languid tenor sax is actually the third of three vital components of this understated record after King Tut’s vocal and Willie Johnson’s piano with whom it interacts nicely while both keeping in their own lanes. (6)

(Sittin’ In With 585; November, 1950)
A good idea that falls short in execution as everything here, from the arrangement to the runaway vocals of Piney Brown and the lack of a deeper backstory, are just slightly off, making this listenable but still not all it could be with a tighter game plan. (4)