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SUPREME 1522; JUNE 1949



Considering the fairly lackluster records – both aesthetically and commercially – that saxophonist Big Jim Wynn has been issuing over the past few years – at a time when that instrument is leading the charge for rock ‘n’ roll’s ascent no less! – is it really the smartest move to title a song in a way that might possibly be misconstrued by critics as him bidding farewell to this profession?

Probably not.

But before WE bid adieu to the mercurial saxman we need to be able to definitively explain why someone who had foreshadowed so much of the style that would find favor in rock’s first decade of action was somehow unable to provide much compelling evidence as to his own artistic merits and stylistic qualifications to fully succeed in rock ‘n’ roll. Not only did he fail to make much headway in this realm, when he was eventually shown the door nobody really missed him and most probably didn’t even realize he’d left the rock scene because so few had noticed he was there to begin with.

Hardly the most promising start to a review of one his records, but in the matters of musical forensics it always helps to start with the corpse when you’re searching for clues as to how his career as a recording artist got snuffed out so quickly.


You’re Holding Back My Progress
We’re being a little harsh on poor Jim Wynn, a dutiful foot soldier in an musical army that has no shortage of Generals, Majors and Captains getting all of the praise.

To be fair some of his records in this field have been perfectly alright… nothing special mind you, but nothing awful either. It’s just that considering his reputation on stage we just were kind of expecting a little bit more out of him. Instead we’ve gotten a string of fairly uninspired ideas played with only modest enthusiasm and halfhearted conviction for the approach he’s expected to adopt to make it in rock ‘n’ roll.

The biggest disappointment with him is that Wynn seems ambivalent at best when it comes to his recording career. You can’t claim he’s merely not interested in this type of music either because though his records sure don’t show it, Wynn was an incredibly influential sax player in the days leading up to rock, most notably in his flamboyant stage show in which he pioneered the routine of walking the bar, dropping to his knees, laying on his back with his feet in the air all while blowing up a storm.

He was a showman, the prototype for the kind of “look at me” attitude that rock embraced so fervently from the start.

While giving him proper credit for that aspect of his career shouldn’t be reliant on finding merit in his recorded output, you gotta admit it becomes a helluva lot easier to promote the idea that he was an important figure in rock’s development if some of his records were a lot more invigorating than Farewell Baby, which becomes yet another missed opportunity for Jim Wynn to convince us he should be more than an historical afterthought.


You Got A Lot To Learn
The idea is right – pair and instrumental with a vocal side for diversity’s sake – but the problem is that Jim Wynn is not a singer.

When they were tackling a vocal usually it’d be drummer Snake Sims who’d step out front to sing a few tunes over the years, but on Farewell Baby the entire band all join in on one of those chanted numbers that might go over well at a club after everybody has been drinking for hours, but on record they usually are much trickier to pull off.

Why is that? Vocals have a few obvious responsibilities in a song, particularly to convey the story via the lyrics. But while that might be the most obvious role they play they also are trying to impart a specific mood and at least hint at the underlying motivations in the lyrics, something which requires far more subtle shadings than group chanted vocals can deliver. It’s one thing if it’s a rousing party anthem they’re singing, but this song actually has a more complex perspective it needs to get across and the methods they use, by nature, are going to be incapable of fully exploring those sentiments.

That conceptual complaint aside however, the vocals that make up the first half of the record are sung better than you’d have much hope to expect. They’re showing plenty of enthusiasm without letting their exuberance get the best of them.

It’s not the clearest sound thanks to the logistics of using too few microphones for too many instruments and voices, but that’s forgivable to a degree. What isn’t is the content itself which is generic – a put down from a guy to a girl, albeit more than likely a braggadocio’s cover for being dumped themselves – and includes some scatting gibberish during the middle eight.

It’s all nothing more than meaningless filler, non-essential vocal interludes between their soloing which makes you think that their primary job, playing music, will surely have to make up for their shortcomings in this department.

Think again.

Make My Time Worthwhile
The intro is pretty good, if just a touch behind the times in the make-up of the brass section, but when Wynn enters with a long siren call on his sax the fervor with which he hits that extended note is a welcome sight… err, a welcome sound?.

Sadly, that’s the best part of the entire first half of Farewell Baby because when the vocals start the backing drops out other than the faintly heard rhythm section which is hardly doing anything to stand out lest they overwhelm those distant voices that are entrusted to carry the song. Wynn’s sax plays the fills in between stanzas but his parts aren’t long enough to draw much notice, nor exciting or interesting enough to really care if you DO notice.

When the blaring trumpet arrives to kick off that mid-section that contains the worst run of vocals that follow you wish they’d have excised it altogether. Trumpets are not what a lusty sax record calls for and as it is the track is almost a full minute longer than the flip side, so none of it would have been missed.

Wynn’s eventual return on sax after the back and forth exchange between horns is the best part of the record musically and has you wondering why they didn’t simply turn this into a quasi-instrumental by excising most of the lyrics, just keeping the opening and closing refrains, or maybe more pertinently why he didn’t play with this much drive on the instrumentals they DID cut.


Cramping My Style
Though this is hardly the type of material that Wynn should’ve been focusing on, and certainly isn’t the direction rock itself needed to head, as least we can admit they’re playing and even singing with a conviction that’s somewhat admirable all things considered.

They had to know that Farewell Baby had no chance of being a hit and was going to be little more than B-side filler for the instrumental showcases, but they do a slightly better job on this than they do on their primary objective on the other side. Not enough to best that score, but if we were grading in increments this would come out on top by a few tenths of a point, more if you chopped the middle out completely.

Of course that also means it’s nothing to rave about and isn’t going to be doing Jim Wynn’s dwindling reputation any favors. It seems that even when he does something right, as his playing here is worth hearing, he’s doing something else wrong at the same time, or least overseeing something that was going to undercut the record’s potential.

What all of this only reinforces is that if you didn’t know the pre-rock contributions Wynn made on the stage to the development of rock ‘n’ roll you’d surely have little reason to bother with him, or probably these reviews, other than just giving them both a cursory glance before moving on. But if you do bother delving into either of them a little deeper you’ll see that there’s enough hints scattered throughout them that give some indication that he’s salvageable as a rock artist if only somebody can come along and ruthlessly trim the excess fat and get him to focus on what we’re all hoping he can still deliver with that once mighty horn.

Time however is growing short and the stage is getting mighty crowded for him to be heard. Come to think of it, “farewell” might have been fairly appropriate for him to be saying after all.


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