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RCA 22-0104; OCTOBER 1950



You gotta hand it to him… as unsuited as he seemed as a rock artist Big John Greer has kept at it.

Surely this wasn’t his decision alone. RCA Records needed somebody fairly respectable they could use to try and get their foot in the door of this upstart music and the portly, bespectacled sax player with a long résumé in more straitlaced outfits was their best bet at the time.

It also provided his usual boss, bandleader Lucky Millinder, a way to appeal to the rowdier element in the audience if they could shove Greer to the front of the stage and have him try and meet their needs before the band returned to the older styled music they were most comfortable with.

But while Greer would never be mistaken for a legitimate rocker he never gave up trying to fit in and with this – or at least his parts of this record – he might actually succeed in winning us over at last.


Go! Go!
For what John Greer was usually called upon to do in Lucky Millinder’s band, sing a few plaintive ballads in his nasal tone and throw in a couple of moderately uptempo quasi-humorous sides to break it up, he was quite good. Not AS good as Bull Moose Jackson, the guy he’d replaced in that role, but Greer got the job done well enough.

Yet that job was still pretty far removed from rock ‘n’ roll by design.

On his solo efforts for other labels dating back to 1948 (albeit usually cut with Millinder’s crew in tow) the attempts to squeeze him into somebody else’s pants and have him portray a rock act didn’t work quite so well.

For starters he just wasn’t into that brand of music personally. This is a guy who came of age before rock reared its ugly head and so for him these sides always seemed like an obligation rather than a treat. His sax instrumentals had been milder than the brand that were scalding the jukeboxes and his vocals tended to be equally tame even when the subject matter promised something more risqué.

It’s almost as if they thought just a few honks here and there or a key word or two dropped into the lyrics on his vocal sides would be enough to convince listeners he was a legitimate contender for rock stardom, but like most who are prodded into something outside their comfort zone, Greer hasn’t shown he has the deep seated conviction to ply his trade in rock ‘n’ roll.

Until now.

Big John’s A Blowin’ does just what it says in the title, lets Greer – or perhaps forces him to – blow up a storm. That he does so seemingly without reservation is a surprise, but unfortunately what’s not a surprise is the rest of the band finding his display far too ostentatious to match him, meaning that even when Greer delivers the goods he’s let down in the end by forces out of his control.


Blow! Blow!
When Greer first ventured into the rock instrumental game back in 1948 the style was just starting to peak with cuts by Paul Williams, Wild Bill Moore, Earl Bostic and Hal Singer streaking up the charts over the previous few months.

Over the next year that style of uninhibited honking and squealing became rock’s calling card, a loud declaration to the masses that this music was looking to upend the status quo.

But by 1950 the racket had died down considerably. Even the signature artist in this realm, Big Jay McNeely, had just one lone release the entire calendar year, while others had traded in the furious roar of their horns for more melodic efforts.

Since Greer had been singing on record for awhile now the idea he’d jump back into the fray on instrumentals when they were no longer a strong bet for sales of jukebox spins was rather unlikely. Sure enough the A-side of this single, the provocatively named Red Juice, was more along the lines of what we could expect out of him. Written by the great Jessie Mae Robinson, this was a good song for 1946 maybe but it wasn’t nearly potent enough musically or vocally to pass muster in 1950.

Yet when you flip it over to hear Big John’s A Blowin’ you’re knocked off your feet when Greer kicks it off with a grinding riff, dirty in its textures, fierce in its power and unrelenting in its intensity.

When it segues into the more melodic passage Greer is still guides it with a firm hand even as the other band members are starting to weigh him down. Yet he presses on, weaving his way in and out of traffic with his eyes focused on what lays ahead.

Which is precisely when he’s blindsided by the others and knocked off the road into a ditch.

No! No!
If this were a three act play, the second act would find patrons streaming out of the theater in droves because following the great action scenes and conflict of the first act it suddenly turns into a farce in the middle section courtesy of the rest of the band who for some reason are given prominent parts rather than merely acting as scenery.

What’s worse is that it’s not different sections of the band who take the lead in this part, like say a piano getting a solo, or a guitarist, but instead it’s simply other far less potent horns.

The title is Big John’s A Blowin’, not little men with horns they can’t handle are blowing, yet here we have trombones and trumpets and probably flugelhorns and sousaphones too, all creating a decidedly different musical vibe.

The mid-section is pure jazz, and not very advanced jazz either. Though it’s not badly played or anything it’s completely out of character for a rock song and destroys the momentum Greer had been building.

After fifty interminable seconds of this, where only the plucked bass attempts to draw your angry glare away from the offending horns, we finally get to Act Three where our unlikely hero, Big John Greer himself, returns for a welcome coda.

But even here the others occasionally try and undercut his effectiveness. Luckily he’s not to be deterred now, realizing at long last that his chance to actually make the grade as a rocker is being severely threatened by the presence of these interlopers. He fends them off down the stretch as if his life – at least his musical existence in this field – depended on it and he manages in the end to emerge victorious over their nefarious plot to undermine him, but he had to be looking around after this and vowing revenge on them all.

Whoa! Whoa!
So just what should we make of this?

Though the effort Greer displays to commit to rock ‘n’ roll anarchy is most welcome, we’ll still temper our hopes going forward because Big John’s A Blowin’ didn’t make a commercial dent and therefore there was less reason to expect him, or RCA, to pursue it further.

But that said we’re definitely glad that we finally see some signs of life from Greer and some proof that he can blow up a storm when all is said and done. His parts are as good as anything we’ve heard this year from a saxophone and he needs to be commended for his efforts.

Which brings us to trying to reconcile the merits of his performance, the obvious focal point of the record, with the rest of it which finds his bandmates actively trying to sabotage his chances at succeeding by resisting everything about rock ‘n’ roll in favor of turning back the clock to an era and style that was best left packed away at the back of the closet.

Unfortunately for Greer we can’t pick and choose. A record is the sum of its parts and while Greer’s parts are exemplary the others are horrendous (for this genre that is) and no amount of hand-wringing over the unfairness of it all will change that.

This’ll still get you kudos Big John but if you really want to live up to your name, try throwing that weight around and toss some of those no good bums – or at least their horns – out a fifth story window before your next session.


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