When reviewing the flip side of this, a good performance if not a particularly memorable record, we pointed to the lack of catchy hooks… an absence that’s hard to get past when it comes to instrumentals making a splash with listeners.

Well, I hate to break the news to you, but this one might be a little short of catchy hooks too.

But trust me when I say it makes up for it with everything else… and I mean EVERYTHING ELSE… up to and including the kitchen sink.


Blowing In The Wind
There are words that are usually intended as putdowns – such as pretentious or sarcastic – that technically are just descriptive and can be used in situations where there is no offense intended. The putdown therefore is in HOW they’re said.

Ostentatious is another that falls into this category. When we think of that word it conjures up somebody who has no restraint, no sense of decorum, no shame in making a spectacle of themselves.

Someone like Big Jay McNeely at his best.

We’ve missed that Big Jay around here to be honest. Oh, he’ll poke his head out every once in awhile and honk or squeal with the same fervor as he did when he shocked us so back in 1949, but you can tell he got a little tired of being expected to do nothing BUT those things, especially since he was highly trained, extremely versatile and had far more technical abilities as a musician and arranger than most of his brethren.

Besides, once you’ve wailed away like a madman, where else is there to take it? So he’s calmed down… quieted down really… and while he’s still capable of impressing you with his sheer ability, the records he’s put out as of late were never going to quite capture your attention.

Blow, Blow, Blow doesn’t capture your attention either. It seizes it. From the first squeal to the last honk it assaults your senses, never once letting up on the frenzied intensity that characterized his playing.

Ostentatious? Sure. I don’t think you could call it anything else, but for once it’s not a putdown in the least.

In fact, it’s the highest compliment we can possibly give for a record like this.


Blowing Up A Storm
I’m assuming those who lived in ancient times got some emotional release when listening to music, but somehow unless you were seated next to the guy firing the canon in The 1812 Overture I’m not convinced you’d know precisely when that response was supposed to come in most classical music pieces.

Similarly as much as I admire the technical skill of restrained pop vocalists of this era, be it Perry Como or Doris Day, I find it hard to settle on an opportune moment to let out a bloodcurdling scream when listening to their songs.

But in rock ‘n’ roll those reactions are commonplace and often considered a prerequisite for some of the louder, more insistent musical displays over the years.

Anyone and everyone who attempted to draw that kind of a response out of an audience at any point in rock in the years since has had Big Jay McNeely to try and live up to and though it may not be his absolutely best record in the usual way such things are assessed, Blow, Blow, Blow has few if any rivals for sheer explosive force.

To call it unrelenting and cacophonous would be an understatement of almost epic proportions. This is ground zero of a nuclear explosion… one that happened to have been detonated in key and on rhythm if that’s any consolation to you or your insurance carrier.

This is what McNeely had to be dreading in a way… not on stage, where he’d know that this kind of display was the expected climax to a show and would leave the audience gasping and in possible need of medical assistance… but on record an unhinged performance of this nature may only serve to confirm the negative image of all of rock ‘n’ roll, and saxophonists in particular, as musical anarchists.

The sax brigade, especially with so many jazz-trained musicians among them, could be a snobbish bunch, but if you can’t join them, BEAT THEM… over the head that is and leave them in your wake.

He does that here and then some, starting off in high gear with one squealing note that lasts an eternity and then somehow ramps it up from there. Yet thanks to his equally frantic, but never out of control, band they hold firmly to the melodic thread with their insane riffing as he keeps squealing like a maniac until transitioning on the fly to take over that riff himself while the others catch their breath and then fill in around him with various parts, all of which change repeatedly, yet fit perfectly.

It only drops below a hundred miles an hour once during the main thrust of the song, and just briefly at that, but then just as you’re envisioning the record spinning off the turntable, flying through the air and slicing someone’s head off, he pulls the ripcord to deliver a surprisingly wistful finale that wraps it up with understated grace. Scoff all you want at how insanely wild this all is, but I defy you to find a tighter arrangement than this in rock music’s rear view mirror.


Blowing Down The House
If there were any listeners who doubted the visceral power of Big Jay McNeely on stage based on reputation alone, feeling those claims had to have been at least somewhat hyperbolic, those reservations would have to be put to rest with the sheer sonic fury of this track.

Tapping into that reputation, a year or two later these Imperial tracks were leased to Franklin Kort who ran a budget label called Bayou that re-issued this with overdubbed crowd noise as Hometown Jamboree. But it’s hard to fathom how pre-recorded screeching could possibly add to something already so over-the-top as this.

It’s safe to say that virtually no song we’ve heard yet in rock’s story has taken things to the extremes that are found on Blow, Blow, Blow, and that’s what makes it so exhilarating. In just two minutes they give you the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll – an onslaught of sound that is wild, uninhibited and yes, ostentatious.

In the right setting and in the right frame of mind, rock music should make you lose your mind and there’s little doubt that this is the song to do it.


(Visit the Artist page of Big Jay McNeely for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)