One of the first rock stars, Jimmy Liggins established much of the formula for success in the rock world as it was taking shape. His songs were raucous celebrations of life on the edge featuring wild tenor sax interludes conveying a constant feeling of propulsion.

Liggins was the younger brother of bandleader Joe Liggins, whose pre-rock style of music was far more refined, though not without its own influence on the music over the horizon. After working as Joe’s chauffeur Jimmy started his own band and immediately made his mark by scoring four hits on Cash Box’s territorial charts in his – and rock’s – first full year.

Though possessed of a nasal baritone, a somewhat limited vocal delivery and often recycled melodies, Liggins’s songs nonetheless perfectly epitomized the thematic and musical freedom of rock ‘n’ roll. His lyrics spoke to the restless ambition of his generation and his attitude was decidedly forward thinking in its brash optimism.

While his own solid electric guitar was only occasionally highlighted over the years, his first band The Drops Of Joy featured the dual saxophones of Charlie Ferguson and Harold Land whom he turned loose at every opportunity, helping to establish the excitement inherent in the music from the start.

In April 1949 while still at the peak of his popularity Liggins was shot through the mouth on stage causing extensive damage to his jaw, teeth and tongue. Though he survived he was out of the recording studio for more than a year and after his return – despite some strong records – he couldn’t quite reclaim his stature, at least consistently, as he scored just one additional national hit, ironically with what would become his signature song, “Drunk”, in 1953.

Like many other first generation rockers Liggins faded into history as the audience rapidly expanded mid-decade, recording with diminishing returns for successively smaller labels. In the 1960’s and 70’s he operated his own record label with no notable success, and later opened a music school to pass along a lifetime a wisdom gained in the industry. Liggins died in 1983 at the age of 60 and other than some posthumous recognition for his “Cadillac Boogie” as it related to a later more acclaimed song (Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” which stole shamelessly from it), his role in the birth of rock has been largely forgotten.

JIMMY LIGGINS DISCOGRAPHY (Reviews To Date on Spontaneous Lunacy):
(Specialty 520; November, 1947)
Setting the bar extremely high for debut records Liggins comes out of the gate rockin’ in an unhinged hang-on-for-dear-life style. The excitement generated here is what will set rock ‘n’ roll apart from all other music. (7)

(Specialty 520; November, 1947)
Similar in construction to the top side but without the edge of your seat vitality, other than the sax solos which if anything ramp up the excitement to the breaking point, before cutting the momentum with an ill-advised downshift to more a pedestrian approach. (6)

(Specialty 521; January, 1948)
A brash, defiant and joyful call for freedom, Liggins celebrates his success in no uncertain terms in a record fueled by a generational demand for rights long denied, all while the music behind him never lets up. A defining rock song for the ages. (9)

(Specialty 521; January, 1948)
Inexplicably this was Liggins’ breakthrough on the national charts, a mournful song that he can’t quite pull off vocally and which doesn’t contain much in the way of musical highlights to bolster it… not awful, but hardly worthy of being a hit. (4)

(Specialty 525; March, 1948)
Too melodically similar to his earlier gems with just serviceable lyrics to compensate for an arrangement that doesn’t improve on any facet of what came before, Liggins seems as if he’s resting on his laurels rather than trying to put distance between him and his competitors. (5)

(Specialty 525; March, 1948)
The good and the bad of Liggins rolled into one starting with a very vivid lyrical composition which goes beyond simple euphemisms to tell the story, yet which is hampered by almost identical framework to his other mid-tempo songs both in arrangement and vocal delivery. (5)

(Specialty 319; December, 1948)
Though a well-conceived record with its music effectively matching the lyrical sentiments, the specifics of those lyrics are too generalized and the music isn’t arresting enough – or dejected enough – to completely win you over. (5)

(Specialty 319; December, 1948)
Despite an interesting perspective and suitable accompaniment Liggins offers up another song with a downbeat outlook which is a chore to get through, especially with his never-changing vocal approach which is growing tedious by now. (4)

(Specialty 332; March, 1949)
Another song cut from the same template as his earlier work without the awareness of how to alter it enough to keep it fresh, or the knowledge of how deliver the lines in a way that sells them properly. (5)

(Specialty 339; October, 1949)
An insightful hard-charging song which sounds completely up to date despite it being two years old, only dragged out of mothballs out of necessity when Liggins was sidelined after a shooting, but showing why at his best he was always a formidable presence. (7)

(Specialty 339; October, 1949)
A welcome respite from similar styled songs, Liggins eases off on his approach to deliver something more introspective and does so quite well – lyrically, vocally and musically – even if it doesn’t contain the edge of your seat excitement found on his best uptempo sides. (6)

(Specialty 353; March, 1950)
A chance for Liggins to finally show what he’s capable of on guitar as he provides a harsh but effective solo to close out one of his better sides and while it may have been more than a year old when it was finally released it shows he was looking ahead stylistically all along. (7)

(Specialty 353; March, 1950)
Liggins “revisits” the state where he almost lost his life a year earlier but the content of the song – recorded before the incident occurred – is fairly generic, albeit with some clever lyrics and an efficient backing track, but it’s hardly noteworthy beyond the grim irony of the setting. (4)

(Specialty 362; May, 1950)
Opportunistic and shallow on its surface, it benefits greatly from a thorough analysis of the original’s flaws which this eradicates thanks to Maxwell Davis’s more economical arrangement that allows Liggins to smoothly navigate a tighter more upbeat story. (5)

(Specialty 362; May, 1950)
Cut way back in September 1947 the song was ahead of its time then (when it’d have earned another point, if not two) as it presages the entire rock movement in precise terms, but can’t help but show its age in mid-1950 when it impresses in concept more than execution. (6)

(Specialty 374; September, 1950)
Though in essence this is a re-worked Amos Milburn song replete with Maxwell Davis producing and playing sax, Liggins manages to add enough variations in his delivery to make it seem somewhat new and the model itself is hardly wearing thin. (8)

(Specialty 374; September, 1950)
A record which lays bare Liggins’s deficiencies as an artist from his nasal vocal tone to using the same melody and lethargic pace he recycled so often for his slower songs with the added detriment of him occasionally breaking into tears to convey his sadness. (3)

(Specialty 380; November, 1950)
Though the song as written is pretty solid and the record features good performances all around even if the arrangement is too cut and dried, the lack of any seasonal touches makes this one Christmas record that feels out of place. (5)

(Specialty 380; November, 1950)
A more energetic cover of a Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers instrumental, this is more of a Maxwell Davis record than Liggins, as Davis’s sax replaces Moore’s guitar in the arrangement and does a pretty good job of stirring some mild excitement. (6)

(Specialty 397; March, 1951)
All of the attributes of this kind of song that you’ve come to expect from Liggins are here and that’s the problem, for while he tells a decent story and it’s all ably carried out, his structure and delivery remain identical from past efforts which lessens the impact. (5)

(Specialty 397; March, 1951)
A mirror image of the top side – same key, same tempo, same theme, same structure – and the mirror is cracked besides, as this one has a weaker story and arrangement and Liggins’s sad weary tones on this kind of delivery are becoming tiresome. (3)

(Specialty 406; July, 1951)
While technically there’s nothing really wrong with this, there’s also absolutely nothing fresh about it… it’s the same sad sack vocals with the same cadences and same arrangement as countless other records of his making it unambitious and redundant. (4)