BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

Immortalized for singing lead on one of rock’s most storied singles, Brenston’s career suffered immeasurably thanks to the inter-band fallout from receiving lead credit for the Number One hit and though he released other records he largely disappeared after the flurry of interest over that record had subsided.

Born in August 1930, Brenston had lied about his age adding two years in order to join the Navy after World War Two. Upon his discharge he returned to Mississippi and took up saxophone, eventually joining Ike Turner’s band playing alto sax and handling a few lead vocals, including a version of Jimmy Liggins 1948 classic “Cadillac Boogie”.

When Turner heard about Sam Phillips recording studio from B.B. King he and the band, minus their usual vocalist Johnny O’Neal who had just left them, traveled to Memphis where they cut four sides including “Rocket 88”, which was merely a re-written version of “Cadillac Boogie”, notable for its more aggressive sound thanks in part to a busted amp that gave the guitar a buzzing sound. The song was defined by Raymond Hill’s tenor sax and Brenston’s confident lead vocals however and when Phillips sold it to Chess Records to distribute it shot to #1.

Turner was upset that Brenston had gotten artist credit and that his band was re-dubbed The Delta Kings on the label and fired Brenston soon after as a result while taking his own services to Modern/RPM Records, the label that Phillips had been dealing with successfully before this first transaction with Chess.

Left without a quality band, yet with the biggest song in rock at the time, Brenston didn’t even get to sing on his follow-up as Phillips drafted local artist Billy Love and passed him off as Brenston on “Juiced”. Though Brenston did get to record for Chess in his own right after that the songs were largely trying to capitalize on his hit and did not advance his career any.

By 1958 he was back with Turner, playing sax but not even allowed to sing the one hit that he’d recorded with them. Sinking into alcoholism, Brenston got a few stray singles out written by Turner but none of them generated any interest and his career came to an end in 1963.

He moved back to Mississippi where he drove a truck for a living and by the seventies was interviewed some about his big hit that changed his life and ironically rendered his career still-born after that. He died of a heart attack in 1979, destined to not be forgotten altogether but not remembered beyond his fleeting moment in the spotlight.

ROCKET 88
(Chess 1458; March, 1951)
Featuring Ike Turner’s sizzling band with standout sax work by Raymond Hill and a buzzing guitar boogie by Willie Kizart, Jackie Brenston handles the singing with confidence, updating Jimmy Liggins’ rock classic from 1948 with new lyrics and getting a deserved #1 hit in the process. (9)

COME BACK WHERE YOU BELONG
(Chess 1458; March, 1951)
An utter mess as Brenston is so distraught over losing his girl that he forgets the point of a song is to convey a story, while the band is adding nothing of note and are clashing and out of tune… this is as bad as the top half is good. (2)