Immortalized by one all-time classic instrumental, Jimmy Forrest was a rock act by circumstances rather than choice and his time spent in the field was relatively brief, even though one record ensures he’ll always have a place in its history.

Jimmy Forrest was born in St. Louis in 1920 and just out of his teens was already working as a professional musician as a tenor saxophonist in Jay McShann’s band alongside altoist Charlie Parker.

His longest stint came in Andy Kirk’s band, one of the most popular jazz outfits during the 1940’s, before briefly joining Duke Ellington by the end of the decade. It was there that he learned the song that would guarantee his name lived on as Ellington’s “Deep South Suite” contained a section in which Forrest blew a sultry riff in the section titled “Happy Go Lucky Local” which gave the impression of a train pulling out of a station.

A few years later United Records in Chicago got off the ground and in search of artists signed Forrest to cut some instrumentals as well as to back vocal acts in the studio. One of the songs he came up with expanded on the Ellington riff, taking that brief section and stretching it out over two minutes.

Dubbing it “Night Train” the single took off in the winter and spring of 1952, topping the charts and briefly making Forrest a rock star, as the tenor sax – though not nearly as popular with instrumentals as it had been a few years earlier – was still primarily associated with rock ‘n’ roll, especially with an erotic performance such as this.

Some follow-ups managed to stir some interest as well, but it was largely based on the curiosity factor as fans couldn’t get enough of that sound. The song quickly became the go-to stage tune for strippers which is a long way off from what Ellington – or Forrest – conceived.

It wasn’t long before Forrest returned full time to jazz, playing with Harry “Sweets” Edison in the late 50’s and early 60’s and Count Basie throughout much of the seventies, but unlike most jazz sidemen, Forrest had a song to rival the popularity of anything in the repertoire of whatever band he was in at the time.

Forrest died of heart failure in 1980 at the comparatively young age of 60, having been a hitmaker only briefly, but a star thanks to one record for almost half his life.

JIMMY FORREST DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(United 110; February, 1952)
The all-time slow grinder rock sax instrumental had its roots deep in jazz but as played by Forrest with an emphasis on the erotic undertones it became a huge hit, an atmospheric classic and the stripper’s anthem for the rest of the century. (9)

(United 119; April, 1952)
A half-hearted attempt to connect with the rock fans who turned his first release into a smash, this uses some rock attributes in terms of tone and brief flashes of crudity in conjunction with a wandering melody that is of a decidedly jazzy mindset which means it satisfies no one. (3)

(United 130; October, 1952)
A completely unexpected vocal side from Forrest with a minimum of sax playing but containing a really infectious quirky beat behind the juicy story about infidelity, and while Jimmy’s only a fair vocalist it’s still a fun record and was a big hit (#3) besides. (6)