A.K.A. “Jay’s Frantic”


ALADDIN 3050; MARCH 1950



For an independent spirit the very idea of being a professional musician is probably a liberating one. After all, your success or failure seems largely determined by simply your own skills, work ethic and your ability to connect with listeners.

Big Jay McNeely thrived in all three of those areas… he was one of the most dynamic and versatile sax players to ever appear on the scene, he was a prolific writer, gifted arranger and a respected bandleader and he was arguably the most important showman in rock history, the guy who set the bar that every future stage act would attempt to meet.

Yet the one aspect of his career where McNeely was dependent on others was with his records. Like every other artist he needed record companies to help him reach the masses with his music and that’s where he seemingly always got let down in the end.


Record Company Roulette
Usually the guys hopping from one label to another are struggling club musicians with just enough promise to draw interest but never enough talent to make that interest pay off, while the others falling into this category are former hitmakers whose name recognition still is worth taking a chance on but whose best days are behind them and so they don’t last very long at each stop.

Big Jay McNeely is neither of those things. A young, vibrant and successful artist at the forefront of the rock revolution he was in a different class altogether yet all the same he continues to find himself on the move.

After making some initial appearances recording in Johnny Otis’s band while Johnny was cutting tracks for Excelsior, McNeely found himself signed in late 1948 to Savoy Records where his first two singles both hit the national Top Ten, with The Deacon’s Hop going all the way to #1, the defining record of rock’s tenor sax mania. That should’ve been the start of a long partnership with the East Coast label but disagreements over McNeely’s trip to New York – which he was told to make without his own band – led to Big Jay looking elsewhere for a place to call home.

He quickly landed at Exclusive Records which while not quite as formidable a company nationally as the one he had just left was still a competitive label and being in Los Angeles it also was right down the street from where McNeely had grown up making it a comfortable situation for all involved.

But Exclusive ran into financial problems soon after Big Jay joined them and after cutting back on promotion for Jay’s fall releases hoping to reduce costs – albeit reducing sales in the process! – Exclusive abruptly closed up shop in December 1949 making McNeely a free agent for the second time in a year.

Keep in mind that his records for both companies were big sellers and while he hadn’t had a national hit with Exclusive he’d scored a few big regional hits during his time there, so it’s hardly surprising he’d have other companies knocking at his door, nor is it surprising that he’d choose to stick with a local Los Angeles label in Aladdin, one of the most solvent of the indie labels nationally to boot. They were home to Amos Milburn, probably the top rock act in the country over the past three years, and their records were a constant presence on the charts, well made (thanks to Maxwell Davis handling production), well distributed and well promoted.

It seemed to be a perfect fit and they wasted little time getting him in the studio and getting his first record on the streets. But while on the surface Jaysfrantic would seem to be the ideal way to keep McNeely’s momentum surging – a wild, chaotic, frenzied performance put to wax – it would in fact mark the only release on Aladdin during his brief tenure with the label before moving on yet again.

So just how did it go wrong once again for Big Jay?

Splitting The Difference
The answer to that question is found lurking in the preceding paragraph, though admittedly only the most dedicated and obsessive rock history lunatics would probably notice it.

This record was in fact McNeely’s only release for Aladdin DURING his brief tenure with the label, as noted, but it was not the only release of his that came out on Aladdin from the time he spent with them in early 1950 and therein lies the root of the problem.

Jaysfrantic (often spelled the more traditional way in the years since, as Jay’s Frantic, for those with passing grades in English class who are looking it up ) was originally conceived as a “live in studio” type performance designed to replicate Big Jay’s legendary stage show on record.

Remember, this was before live records were a ‘thing” and so considering how popular his shows were, how totally over the top they sounded when you were there amidst the howling masses, they came up with a plan to try and recreate that feel on a studio cut by letting the band go wild in a more freewheeling unrestrained fashion. Naturally that meant it wasn’t going to easily confine itself to a typical three minute record which should’ve been okay since you have two sides to a single, and thus six minutes with which to play.

But that’s where Aladdin screwed up. Rather than release the results as a two-sided single they went with a more traditional studio cut on the flip side – Deac’s Blowout – which we’ll cover tomorrow, and put the other half of the manic live-sounding jam, later entitled Real Crazy Cool, on the shelf until years later, long after McNeely had left, when they finally decided to put it out in 1954 simply to clear it off their shelves.

Had they issued it as a two-sided single in 1950 it may have still proven too avant garde for the general populace not accustomed to such things, but at least it would’ve fulfilled McNeely’s vision for it. Instead we’re left with half of a performance taken out of context to try and make some sense of.


Time To Panic
With its dueling horn lines, one sounding like an alarm at full volume, the other like a distant siren in the background racing to the scene, the record starts off in full panic mode. It’s almost TOO frenzied by nature to give anyone listening a chance to get their bearings. There’s no lead-in, no real melody, no sense of any structure whatsoever.

It’s a heart-attack put to record.

But was it designed that way? Or rather, was this how Jaysfrantic supposed to even begin?

Maybe not.

The record is clearly edited but what was taken out remains a mystery, as does – to a degree – the situation within the studio at the time when four “sides” were cut, yet seem to be, at least in part, a more cohesive movement. There are moments where they stop playing which would indicate where a natural cut for a side would be, yet there are related elements that then continue in the next song.

But THIS record, as released, features everyone already at full throttle as it kicks off which is disconcerting to say the least. It begins to morph into something more organized then stops cold for a good five seconds before launching into a different idea, one that is interesting but simple. The parts which follow have some typical creativity in the playing itself but not so much in the construction which would indicate they had a basic framework and were freestyling throughout the performance.

The excitement never lets up, but it batters the senses. What it needs – on record anyway – is more structure, yet in a club it would actually work better with LESS structure and even more mayhem which is exactly what you get when you combine this with Real Crazy Cool which has the exact same siren-like backing which indicates they were part of a longer performance with the front end snipped off.

The session sheets indicate they were cut separately but that’s somewhat dubious. What’s most likely is when the post-production editing was finished they simply gave names to the various parts and then sequenced them on the paperwork after the fact. After all, who really cares about that technical stuff… besides us I mean.

Whatever the case though what we’re left with is the feeling we were dropped into a club (through the roof no doubt) and landed on the floor in the midst of a whirlwind performance with an audience that was about to stomp our heads in unless we could scramble to our feet in time.

We manage to make it upright – just barely perhaps – but we have no idea where we are, who we’re with or what on earth we’re all doing.


A lot of the work trying to put the rock history puzzle back into some semblance of order is tricky business but usually it’s at least pretty straightforward in theory. Even most record companies boneheaded decisions are fairly easy to decipher if you just know what to look for and as such you can usually make a pretty educated guess as to what went down years before.

But when it comes to trying to put this session into focus we’re dealing almost entirely in speculation, aural clues and vague suggestions made by others over the years and so what we’ve added today could be insightful and revelatory… or it could be misleading and only add to the confusion.

What’s indisputable however is this: Big Jay McNeely was still at the top of his game in 1950, the style he perfected was still commercially potent and Aladdin Records were well-equipped to keep him in the spotlight had they just been on the same page as their artist.

Jaysfrantic captures one aspect of what McNeely did so well but even there does so in a way that reduces his ingenuity to an afterthought at best… or a farce at worse.

We know by his track record that Big Jay wasn’t the crude honker that his critics made him out to be, yet as crude honkers go this record fits that bill and does so just well enough, even with its seeming lack of focus, to be modestly appreciated.

But we’d still like to have heard what it all sounded like in the moment when he was given full reign to go on and on rather than make a series of futile efforts to imagine that concept unadulterated by yet another record company that let him down in the end.


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