Now this is more like it!

Just when we thought that rock’s most flamboyant instrumental showman may have been running out of ways to astound, delight and impress you, here he comes with something that, if nothing else, is guaranteed to at least get your attention.

Records like this may no longer be a threat to score on the charts and this kind of manic performance might not even be something bound to get him headlines anymore, but this shows that Big Jay McNeely still has what it takes to incite a riot with his playing… and with that, all is again right with the world.


Not Goofing Around
When it comes to audience expectations, not all rock artists are alike.

There are some who change their approach so much over time, or even from one side of a single to the next, that we rarely let our preconceptions interfere with our appreciation of whatever new idea they come up with.

But then there are those whose most indelible moments are so engrained in our collective consciousness that we find it hard to think of them in any other way.

Big Jay McNeely obviously falls into the latter category, even though he’s done far more than simply honk and squeal up a storm. In fact some of his best efforts have been much more subtle, almost impressionistic pieces that are a long ways off from the records that were the aural equivalent of lighting TNT with a flame thrower.

But no matter how good his quieter more discreet offerings may have been from time to time, the thing that had made him a star… the image that was going to make McNeely go down in rock history in fact… was his ability to replicate a hurricane or tornado with his saxophone… lots of wind, immense power and inevitable destruction.

He no longer had to deliver this kind of organized mayhem every time out, in fact that’d be rather redundant and extremely limiting artistically, but every so often – just to remind us what he was capable of – he had to unleash the dragon as he does here on The Goof.

Maybe the fact it was his first session with Federal Records meant they asked for something this outrageous to get his stint with them off on the right foot. Or it could just be he knew they’d be expecting it out of him, as that was surely the primary reason they had signed him, hoping for something that would blow the roof off the studio.

To his credit, he not only gave it to them, but did so in a way that wasn’t a rehash of past performances, nor was it just a lot of empty noise, but once again showed he knew full-well how to construct these things in a way that actually made musical sense as well.


High On Goofy Dust
This wastes absolutely no time in getting started, ripping through a high-pitched repeating riff like hyperactive kids who’ve just ingested pure sugarcane, but there IS something slightly unique about it besides the higher register of his horn.

We’ve seen him incorporate a vocal group in the recent past, Three Dots And A Dash, which included future stars Jesse Belvin and Marvin Phillips, but this is different, as there’s nobody singing anything, just answering each frantic riff with a collective shout or cry, as if a compacted audience response.

The voices are exuberant, but still controlled and very precise – at least in that intro before getting more unhinged – and is almost serving as punctuation, sort of like another instrument in the band. Rather than being cloying it adds an immediately distinctive calling card to the track, a way to get you to remember just what it is you’re hearing in lieu of lyrics which usually act as a song’s identifier.

I can’t say The Goof is the best title for a song that is as wild as this one, but then again the entire performance does have an almost cartoonish quality to it. Seeing as 1952 was in the golden age of animation with Warner Brothers and Terry Toons at their creative peak, you could easily picture some out of control animal on ice skates or rolling across the countryside in a barrel set to this music… although you might actually have to speed the film up to capture the sensation created by McNeely and company.

The reason why this works isn’t JUST the speed of the playing however, as impressive as that is, but rather the way the overall arrangement gives parts to the other band members which bolster the overall effect.

The handclaps are constant throughout this helping to give it somewhat of a beat, but also the kind of communal response that makes you feel a part of the festivities. Bob McNeely’s baritone is playing his own deeper intermittent pattern which holds things in place while at the same time playing off Jay’s more insane riffing. We also get random surfacing of the guitar, bass and drums, all of which are present throughout but simply get drowned out in the madness most of the time.

A little past the midway point the record somehow manages to increase the chaos and reach its fever pitch. Instruments are swirling together until you’re almost surrounded by sound, yet each part still retains its sense of order, even within a record that seems to define disorder. As the pace gets faster and the pressure they build gets higher, you practically expect to see some mad scientist in a 1950’s sci-fi film cackling as the liquid from his test tubes mix together to blow up the universe.

In that scenario I’m not quite sure if McNeely is the intrepid hero coming to the rescue and save mankind, or if he’s the fiendish mad scientist attempting to melt of our minds, but either way nobody is going to ask for their money back when the end credits appear on the screen.


Goofin’ Off
It should go without saying that we don’t take hit status into account when handing out grades for records – a big hit doesn’t get extra points added, nor does a single that sold all of a dozen copies get penalized for it – but we DO take an interest in the charts simply because the hits of today determine in large parts the records of tomorrow.

In that vein we would’ve really liked to have seen The Goof claw its way into the Top Ten for a week or two, just to make sure that the industry as a whole didn’t get any ideas about toning the music down in an effort to make inroads into the pop territory the independent labels all fantasized about conquering.

Don’t get the wrong idea… we’re not longing for a return to the dominant sounds of 1948-49, wishing that the music didn’t change. Music HAS to change in order for it to remain relevant and older styles giving way to new ones is natural evolution and should be celebrated.

But since the tenor sax still has a ways to go before being replaced as a key component of rock, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt their cause to prove that when it came to scaring the pants off the mainstream, guys like Big Jay McNeely not only were still present on the periphery of the genres, but still had their place in rock ‘n’ roll’s inner circle.


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