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RCA 22-0108; DECEMBER 1950



After having just gotten done eviscerating major label Decca Records for essentially telling an entire market comprised of a widely persecuted minority that their musical and cultural tastes are not worthy of respect, we’re back to take a look at a different major label with a similarly suspect history regarding their own disregard for Black America’s needs.

Surely this one will end no differently… with us launching a fusillade against their tyrannical practices while a few lingering advocates of systematic cultural whitewashing will come rushing to their defense, all while poor John Greer is left with a subpar mark for a song he was coerced into performing.



While we’d never let anybody off the hook for crimes against humanity, or for that matter simply crimes against music, every so often an artist like Greer comes along who is so blissfully unimposing to the record companies that they let their guard down just enough for him to slip one past them.


That’s The Thing For Me To Do
Even more so than The Blenders, a group who was formed in the wake of The Ravens and initially set out to replicate their style – and hopefully their success – in the burgeoning rock field only to be drafted by Decca to make inroads into the market without actually giving those fans who comprised that market the kind of records they desired, Big John Greer was a different case altogether.

The veteran saxophonist with Lucky Millinder’s pre-rock styled band, Greer had also been drafted by a major label – RCA, after a few stops at smaller companies – to try and give them an entry point into rock ‘n’ roll and the untapped resources their fans commanded.

The difference was that Greer’s background – and indeed his primary occupation still, as he remained a loyal member of Millinder’s band even with his own deal on a rival label as a solo act – made him something of an opportunist himself.

Call them co-conspirators in deception if you want.

Both RCA and Greer were looking to hint at rock while keeping things respectable enough not to upset the pop community who viewed rock ‘n’ roll as something analogous to herpes or head lice. It was a thin line they had to walk and usually, from our perspective in the rock community, they mostly failed on an aesthetic level, even with occasional glimpses that Greer was indeed capable of passing muster with a bit of effort.

That they also mostly failed commercially meant that maybe this kind of scourge on rock ‘n’ roll would run its course and we’d be left to our own devices without having to worry about the major labels making disingenuous incursions into this territory to dilute and clean up the music for their shallow gains.

But as they kept missing, Greer kept trying. Maybe sometimes his ideas fell short, but at least his efforts didn’t and if he remained stuck in the recent past conceptually, he – unlike those who employed him – was at least respectful of what was shaking up the younger audiences who made rock so exciting.

And so every once in awhile inspiration and perspiration mixed together to come up with something like I Want Ya, I Need Ya, hardly a song poised to spark a revolution, but at least one that you could envision playing while the revolution already in progress played out in the streets.

Don’t Come Back ‘Til Late At Night
One thing Big John Greer does not have is a big voice. Whereas a lot of the best rock singers tackle their vocals with freewheeling abandon, Greer seems to be intently concentratiing, almost like he was taking an exam after studying all night, trying to remember each detail while nervously chewing his pencil at his desk.

As a result his performances weren’t always the most comfortable to listen to even though his voice itself wasn’t bad, a little higher pitched than you’d think to look at him, but he had good control, decent resonance and a natural sense of rhythm.

Still, all things considered, he was a saxophonist who sang, not a singer who occasionally picked up a horn, and so his vocals – while comprising a larger share of his releases – were sort of designed to give the songs structure so he could frame his sax solos… or at least that would be the case if he was going to be allowed to rock.

I Want Ya, I Need Ya is a self-composed song that attempts to do just that, but even so it has to use trickery to get us to the point where we actually get what we came for. Greer pulls off this charade nice enough, his vocals are a little livelier than that sort of thing may call for but he’s not yelling, screaming or shouting, nor is he advocating anarchy in his lyrics. As such the first part of the song is… pretty lame.

Not awful, just awfully dull, at least for 1950 rock ‘n’ roll.

He’s complaining about his wife who’s playing around on him and rather than dump her he’s admitting he’s powerless to stop yearning for her, in spite of his better judgement reminding him what he’s a sucker he is.

It’s not the position we like to see our singers in, but it’s also not an unfamiliar position for them, especially amiable pushovers like Greer or Ivory Joe Hunter and a few others. The story is well written though and if we don’t exactly sympathize with him, not after we find he’s been putting up with this behavior – and thus condoning it in a way – for far too long, we at least get a sense of the internal conflict he’s trying to convey which is real enough for us to be interested in his fate.

But maybe he’d have a better fate if instead of whining to her, hoping she’ll take pity on him and stop her philandering, he picked up his horn and… no, not bashed her over the skull with it, but rather blew up a storm and reminded her that he might in fact be plenty man enough for her after all.


I’ll Try And Find Somebody New
While everything leading up to the horn solo is only tolerable thanks to its stylistic compromises, we know the verdict with this record is going to lay with what excitement Greer can whip up with his sax and whether that alone will be enough to off-set the inherent weaknesses of the milder attributes it’s being housed in.

At his best Greer was never a rowdy ostentatious bar-walker, honking and squealing up a storm, so we certainly don’t expect that here. But considering the position he’s put his character in on I Want Ya, I Need Ya, he does have an incentive to let ‘er rip for once, either to vent his frustration over having a wife who began looking for loopholes in their marriage vows before the preacher closed his Bible, or to use his horn playing as a stand-in for the tougher attitude he needs to take in order to get his life in order so this kind of thing won’t happen with the next woman he shacks up with.

To that end we get two solos actually, played back to back with just a brief vocal shout to split them up. Greer takes the second most likely but both are hard grinding rock showcases, hampered just a little by the other horns providing ill-chosen recurrent accent riffs that are mercifully brief, but even they can’t detract from the gutsy sounds gotten by the tenors, the first digging deeper while the second reaches higher to cap the break off in style.

Just as a bad instrumental refrain can pull a good song down with it, a good one can lift an otherwise modest track and give it some respectability… or in this case some entirely welcome impropriety, letting Greer walk away with a record that isn’t a blight on his name or on the rock landscape, probably in spite of the wishes of his benefactor, RCA.

If I Quit Ya, I’ll Miss Ya
Though Greer had a fruitful career for much of the late 1940’s and into the late 50’s it couldn’t have been an easy one to navigate. By all accounts a quiet unassuming man, he was thrust into the spotlight by Lucky Millinder and began to fortify his nerves with booze which eventually took a toll on his career and his health and ended his life at the age of 48 in 1972.

Likewise his musical schizophrenia was never allowed to resolve itself, as he continued playing milder parts behind Millinder and raunchier more aggressive styles on sessions for a lot of King Records artists now that the boss had jumped ship to that label.

In between those two extremes was his own solo career that was trying to split the difference. Sometimes he managed to pull it off in a modest way with records like I Want Ya, I Need Ya, while other times he was in a no-win situation, not allowed to rock hard enough to stir interest in that field while being equally unwelcome in more dignified settings.

This one just manages to surpass expectations but when those expectations are low to begin with due to circumstance, that’s still not quite enough to rid him of his problems.


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