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MERCURY 8226; MARCH 1951



Imagine you see something that no one else sees, feel it in a way that no one else feels, understands it in a way that nobody else can comprehend… at first.

Then everybody, all at once it seems, jumps on board, takes it over for themselves and leaves you behind.

Saxophonist Big Jim Wynn didn’t have to imagine it, he lived it, grasping the theatrical side of rock ‘n’ roll before rock ‘n’ roll itself even existed, as he blew his sax while walking the bar, dropping to his knees and performing in a manner that was just as much of a an attraction as the notes coming out his horn.

Too bad he could never replicate the excitement that caused whenever he was in the studio.


Backbite If They Can
It’s hard not to feel for guys like Jim Wynn… or Joe Lutcher for that matter… acts who envisioned future events before anyone else without being able to master the traits that would figure into its rise to prominence themselves.

Sometimes it pays to be ahead of your time, Roy Brown was and because what he was doing was radical compared to what preceded it he was given more leeway when he took a wrong step and afforded more time to tighten up his presentation and walked away a star.

But Big Jim Wynn had no such good fortune. Saxophonists were a dime a dozen in pre-rock circles as it had become the centerpiece of many a jazz session and Wynn wasn’t a good enough technician to compete on those terms so he resorted to theatrics and made a name for himself.

Big Jay McNeely saw him when he was starting out and swiped many of his tricks, but then when given the chance on record in 1948 McNeely backed that up by playing far better, not just more technically complex parts, but also in a far more powerful and ostentatious manner in the bargain.

Wynn, by contrast, was trying to get by with more controlled music, thus not taking advantage of the excitement he generated on stage with his antics while blowing up a storm, yet the dialed down performances weren’t musically interesting enough to suffice.

Like many sax players during this period when the honking and squealing died down, Wynn turned to a vocalist, drummer Snake Sims, and released a bunch of vocal records to try and stay relevant. He may have gotten lead artist designation but essentially he’s taking a back seat to Sims on Dog House Blues, an interesting theme – perhaps one “borrowed” from Hank Williams’ 1947 country classic Move It On Over – but which doesn’t really go anyplace lyrically, nor does it go anyplace musically… which has to be placed at the feet of Big Jim.

No wonder he’s in the dog house with rock fans.


Try To Make You Move Out
The snake charmer sax horn intro might be appropriate for a record featuring Snake Sims, but while it’s intriguing they quickly revert back to a more basic musical structure that eliminates the sense of exotic mystery that lead-in might’ve suggested.

Sims is a tolerable vocalist, but not one that really should be carrying a record unless the lyrics are a lot more quirky, or funny, or compelling than Dog House Blues.

He’s whining about the treatment he gets from his girlfriend, the one who put him in the dog house, but his glum delivery, while sounding authentic as can be thanks to his nasal vocals, doesn’t engender any sympathy.

On the surface it absolutely SHOULD have us rooting for him, as he’s down in the dumps because his girl thinks he’s been “running around”, a serious charge that probably spells doom for the relationship if she really believes it to be true. He insists “she won’t find a truer man in town” and by the sounds of it I think we can believe that.

But in real life there’s not much chance to convince somebody of your faithfulness if you’ve been wrongly accused. The more you protest, the more guilty you may seem, as if you’re trying to reverse the charges in a sense and make it about them rather than you. But while his despondency is certainly understandable if he is innocent, the sad sack routine doesn’t give him much more to do from a musical standpoint.

Hell, we could care less about his extracurricular activities provided that the way he tells it, and the music that goes along with it, are compelling. He could be having nightly orgies with aliens from Jupiter and Mars for all we care, so long as the record is sending us into orbit with him.

But this is close to the blues with its downbeat vocals, methodical pace and lack of fireworks… which, come to think of it, is where Big Jim Wynn should step in and rectify that impression.

Unfortunately he doesn’t. His is a supporting role for the most part, and even there he’s sharing the stage with other horns. The arrangement itself is well conceived, but just not all that great for stirring excitement, a prime rock ‘n’ roll component when it comes to saxes, or for creating the kind of agonizingly mournful scene this story needs.

Without one or the other the smaller details that are reasonably impressive – the guitar fills, the piano flourishes, the horn beds that are dropped in and pulled out in the blink of an eye – are appreciated more from a compositional point of view, rather than by giving you a gut reaction.

It’s a fairly well done record but a story that didn’t need to be told, making it far too easy to not even notice as it plays. That’s not what an artist desperately in need of a hit wants to hear.

According To The Authorities
Because it’s obvious this isn’t going to do that well from an objective standpoint – giving up any chance it had to coax us into be generous by copping out with a weak final stanza where he just pleads for her to forgive him for doing absolutely nothing wrong – we can look instead at how this could’ve been made to work.

For starters, if you’re going to use such a draggy tempo and play into Sims’ woe-is-me delivery, then you need to make Dog House Blues funny. Have him complain about being wrongly accused after his girl caught him with two naked women, as he tries to claim he was merely being neighborly by doing their laundry for them.

Should his girlfriend later find him slow dancing with another woman, he could attempt to say with that same hangdog expression that she was a narcoleptic and fell asleep on her feet walking across the room and he gallantly was holding her up so she didn’t fall and break her nose on the hardwood floor.

Basically a Dusty Fletcher routine that was sung rather than spoken.

Or come to think of it since they have a saxman who reputedly was a holy terror on stage, they could just take another approach entirely and just have Sims whooping it up, scoring with every chick in town while Big Jim blew up a storm.

After all, in rock ‘n’ roll half the fun is in causing trouble and then celebrating it without any guilt or shame rather than making excuses for your misdeeds while the band looks to avoid being hauled in on conspiracy charges by toning things down.

Some things just don’t work as rock songs and this, unfortunately, is one of them.


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