A key figure in cementing rock’s image in the late 1940’s with a series of records that spoke to the growing identification of the music with the burgeoning audience that flocked to it.

Preston was born in Pennsylvania in 1913 and twenty years later started his career as a saxophonist as a local attraction in Philadelphia and surrounding areas. Like many he was increasingly drawn towards the records and style of Louis Jordan whose unprecedented run of hits throughout the 1940’s laid the foundation for much of rock ‘n’ roll down the road.

By the time Preston got the opportunity to record rock had arrived and his work on the Philly based Gotham label moved further into that realm, though with some Jordan-like sensibilities still apparent at times. Perhaps because of this schism in approach he never fully emerged as a major player in rock circles, especially once more artists who were not beholden to any prior stylistic compromises made names for themselves and took the music further away from its earliest influences.

Preston however proved more than willing to head that way himself as his records increasingly showed, as the backbeat was further emphasized along with grittier and wilder sax solos and a more raucous sensibility in the vocals.

They scored three national Top Ten hits, the second of which, “Rock The Joint”, quickly became a rock standard, covered immediately in an even more over-the-top arrangement by Chris Powell’s Blue Flames, then a few years down the road becoming the first noisemaker from Bill Haley & The Saddlemen, the record that convinced them to give up their cowboy outfits and country music leanings and fully dive into rock ‘n’ roll.

The Pennsylvania-born Haley had picked up on the song thanks to plenty of first-hand exposure to local hero Preston, who despite the national hits remained ensconced in the Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey region as a club attraction throughout his hit-making years.

Still drawing well, having moved to New York’s Derby Records in 1950 where he scored his third hit that year, Preston abruptly gave up music altogether in 1952 when he became a minister. A decade later he founded the Victory Baptist Church, his sinful life as a rock ‘n’ roller apparently forgiven in the eyes of the congregation.

Preston died in 1984, his role in rock music’s rise not altogether forgotten thanks to the connection with the more modernly known Bill Haley. Yet the scope of his own larger career which epitomized the shift from the Jordan-esque jump blues of the early to mid-40’s to the rock mayhem of the late 40’s has been largely pushed aside.
JIMMY PRESTON DISCOGRAPHY (Reviews To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):
(Gotham 166; November, 1948)
Sax-led rock instrumental perfectly suited for the fall of 1948, its churning groove elevating the performance while its jazzier inclinations drag it back down, but on the whole the epitome of an average rock release for the day. (5)

(Gotham 170; January, 1949)
Preston stretches out here showing solid vocal ability, selling this song with conviction and authenticity though ultimately as a song it doesn’t quite have enough oomph to be a great record, merely a good effort to keep him in the mix. (6)

(Gotham 170; January, 1949)
Not as bad, nor offensive, as the title would have it appear, but still a dish that doesn’t fill you up thanks to its childlike sing-songy melody and decidedly amateur lyrics as only the tenor sax leaves a good taste in your mouth. (3)

(Gotham 175; March, 1949)
Significant progress shown by the steadily improving Preston who unleashes frantic vocals on some suggestive lyrics over a rousing track replete with blaring horns and crackling energy. (8)

(Gotham 175; March, 1949)
For all the well-earned accolades earned on the top side Preston gives them right back on this poorly written and sung flip that calls into question the promise he’s been showing. (3)

(Gotham 180; June, 1949)
A cover of a current hit seems like a bad idea, as Preston lacks the arsenal of weapons with which Amos Milburn has to work, but he winds up holding his own by shifting the mood away from the sensuous vibe of the original and giving the band more of a muscular role to play. (7)

(Gotham 180; June, 1949)
A decent return to the sax instrumental realm for the group after a succession of vocal records, but while their commitment to it is genuine their skills fall a little short compared to those who’ve come into the field and raised the bar considerably since last fall. (4)

(Gotham 188; August, 1949)
Though not quite his biggest hit this was the creative pinnacle of Preston’s career, a rampaging record played with complete abandon helped along by guest sax player Danny Turner and featuring the wild vocal enthusiasm to match on a song celebrating life to its fullest. (9)

(Gotham 188; August, 1949)
A serviceable B-side that is carried out reasonably well but beyond that they don’t do much more than offer up a basic prototype with no details and a simple cut-and-dried arrangement. (4)

(Gotham 204; October, 1949)
A tale of two records: The vocals are far too rushed and lose all meaning as well as melodic qualities in the process, but the instrumental sections are hot enough to melt ice making this quasi-Christmas record something worth getting under the tree. (6)

(Gotham 206; November, 1949)
A strong follow-up to their enduring classic, this might be slightly generic by nature but perfectly satisfies the requirements for rock ‘n’ roll with an enthusiastic and fully committed band churning in unison and a great delivery by Preston. (7)

(Gotham 206; November, 1949)
A well told story featuring solid vocals and decent backing with an explosive opening, this might not try for too much but is satisfying in every way and shows that Preston had become one of the most reliable rockers on the scene a year into his career. (5)

(Gotham 216; January, 1950)
Another enjoyable party hosted by the genial Preston featuring great democratic horn work behind him, but once again as good as this is it’s not quite up to the decedent standards set by fellow Philly rockers Chris Powell & The Blue Flames on the same song a month earlier. (7)

(Gotham 216; January, 1950)
A rare display of braggadocio by the normally mild Preston is entirely justified as he delivers yet another flawless performance with a song that is as ruthlessly efficient in its execution as any and more proof he was indeed a contender for the mythical rock title. (8)

(Gotham 228; April, 1950)
A modest instrumental that features some good interplay between the musicians – with guitarist Bill Jennings standing out in his brief turns – the track itself isn’t urgent enough to captivate us, nor catchy enough to fully justify its subdued nature. (4)

(Gotham 228; April, 1950)
A re-working of a Louis Jordan record with a new story line that’s not nearly as good, nor is the style altogether appropriate for rock, so while Preston and company give it the requisite energy to come across fairly well it’s a release that makes little sense at this stage of his career. (4)

(Gotham 240; July, 1950)
Another raucous affair full of colorful descriptions of dancing… or sex… with music from his recently retooled band that matches it every step of the way creating a really vibrant scene for listeners to cut loose. (8)

(Gotham 240; July, 1950)
Quite possibly the best sounding record in Preston’s career, from the intriguing musical backing to the lilt in his voice as he half-sings, half-speaks some clever lyrical constructs… but the subject matter itself is truly reprehensible dragging this down from perfection. (7)

(Gotham 246; September, 1950)
Sort of a flavorless dish from Preston who returns to the instrumental realm with this fairly bland workout from the horn section… not inedible, but also not anything that you’ll be asking to have seconds of at the neighborhood cookout. (3)

(Gotham 246; September, 1950)
A fond farewell to the label he started with, as Preston oversees a solid workout by the band, particularly Benny Golson’s sax and Bill Jennings’ guitar, capturing the exuberant spirit of the music he helped to define over the past few years. (7)

(Derby 748; October, 1950)
Making the move to a new label didn’t change Preston’s approach as he and guest Burnetta Evans tear through this cover of Louis Prima’s hit, in the process ramping up the excitement and ultimately defining the song in what has become the most memorable version. (8)

(Derby 748; October, 1950)
A deceptively simple song with modest backing that is brought to life by Preston and Burnetta Evans who trade off accusations in a much different manner from one another while Benny Golson delivers a sax solo to raise the temperature on this overlooked treat. (7)

(Derby 751; December, 1950)
Another solid duet with Burnetta Evans, one with slightly racy undertones, that shows their comfort level singing with one another and if this could’ve used an arrangement featuring slightly hotter interludes to drive the point home, it’s still warm enough to sell it. (6)

(Derby 751; December, 1950)
A record that lives up to the expectations we have for Preston with its solid construction, energetic vocals and churning rhythm, so even if the theme and the music may be at odds with one another you don’t notice much because they pull it off so effortlessly. (6)

(Derby 755; March, 1951)
Preston bids adieu to rock ‘n’ roll and heads into his second career as a minister of all things with a juicy story about two women fighting over a philandering man that has Jimmy relishing every sordid detail while the band churns behind him, guilty bystanders to the end. (6)