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.

JACKIE BRENSTON DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(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)

(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)

(Chess 1472; July, 1951)
Since this is NOT Jackie Brenston singing or playing or in the studio at all for that matter, this sloppy mess is not his fault or responsibility, but rather Billy Love who Sam Phillips hired to “impersonate” Brenston and defame his reputation in the process. (2)

(Chess 1472; July, 1951)
The more deserving follow-up record to his hit finds Brenston sticking a little too closely vocally to the melody of the first song, but the story and especially the way it’s carried out with the ominous music triggering the plot twist makes this rewarding in its own right. (5)

(Chess 1469; September, 1951)
A much more fitting and exciting follow-up to his hit, even if it is far too shallow and exploitative in what it steals to be truly transcendent on its own, but Brenston throws some good lines around and Ike Turner and company whip up a storm musically to keep things humming. (6)

(Chess 1469; September, 1951)
Having a fairly insipid song foisted upon him by Sam Phillips, the record gets all it can out of Brenston’s subdued vocals and the professional backing by the Newborn brothers on piano and guitar, but even so it’ll put you to sleep quick. (3)

(Chess 1496; January, 1952)
Although the individual attributes of the song range from okay (Brenston’s delivery) to really good (the band is cooking), they don’t really come together well because it’s taken so fast that it overwhelms their attempts at humor in a song that’s not all that funny as written. (5)

(Chess 1496; January, 1952)
A slightly derivative song that works thanks to the sheer exuberance of the performances as Edna McRaney and Brenston trade off nicely and the band is smoking from from to back, the only flaw being the overly loud vocal responses in the choruses that throws off the balance. (7)