BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 


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):
 
 
I CAN’T STOP IT
(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)

TROUBLES GOODBYE
(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)

CADILLAC BOOGIE
(Specialty 521; January, 1948)
A brash, defiant and joyful call for freedom, Liggins celebrates, even flaunts 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)

MOVE OUT BABY
(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)

HOMECOMING BLUES
(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)

CAREFUL LOVE
(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)

LOOKIN’ FOR MY BABY
(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)

NITE LIFE BOOGIE
(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)

DON’T PUT ME DOWN
(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)