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RCA 20-5037; NOVEMBER 1952



Just after confidently informing you that RCA Records purposefully chose polite demure artists like Big John Greer to politely flirt with rock ‘n’ roll for years on end in the hopes of winning over a few of its less discerning fans without risking having him embrace the seedier aspects of the music that it might cause the entire company’s foundation to crumble, here he comes to try and convince us he might just be the man for that job after all.

No wonder RCA stuck it on the B-side.


He’s A Two In One
With only one official national hit to his credit, a ballad no less in Got You On My Mind, the name of Big John Greer doesn’t register too highly in rock history chronicles.

He’s there… on the outskirts… always putting forth a serviceable effort but more often than not he’s undercut by his own musical upbringing in Lucky Millinder’s band and by his own more mild persona that was hard to shake.

Even when he was blowing his tenor sax on instrumentals though, the goal always seemed more about merely suggesting rock mayhem than actually inducing it by his playing.

So the idea that Greer was going to upend that policy now… and with a vocal performance at that… was pretty far fetched. And yet here we are.

Maybe RCA was sort of placated by the title, I’m The Fat Man, and the thought that an unwary rock fan might somehow think that this record had something to do with Fats Domino who was in the process of scoring his sixth Top Ten hit as we speak.

Then again, maybe after hearing Greer bellowing like a mad man they were simply hiding under the desks, too scared to tell him that they were shelving this song while giving him his unconditional release and then calling in the swat team to forcibly escort him from the premises.

Luckily for them, but unlucky for us, the bomb squad that doubled as the company’s more traditional horn section, defused this record before it blew a hole in the studio floor and sent them all tumbling into the depths of hell for letting him rock his head off for once.


I’m A Rockin’ Daddy
The question we have going in with every record we review is to find out how all of the elements work together – or fight against each other in some cases – to produce a final definitive statement on that artist at that time.

The best sides of course have everything working in cohesion, building off one another to come up with something magical. The worst sides by contrast find subpar, even off-putting, components combining to sink the final product and render it all but unlistenable.

More often than not however we have some good and some bad comingling which can’t help but compromise the final results. The more offensive the bad parts are, the more likely they’ll overwhelm the good parts that have the misfortune of sharing space with them and it’ll result in a record that is below average.

But we DO use a sliding scale on these things at times, as various factors tend to weigh a little more than others depending on the artist in question. A great singer delivering bad lyrics might get a pass, but a great singer toning down their usual approach for pop aspirations won’t be so fortunate because it was an intentional move on their part that could’ve been avoided.

On I’m The Fat Man the reverse is true, as Big John Greer decides to finally unlock the cage he’d been confined to and come out roaring, trying once and for all the convince us that he’s not a mere shill put forth by RCA who didn’t truly belong in rock conversations.

Throughout this he’s singing – or shouting – with a demonic glint in his eye. It’s unlike anything we’ve heard out of him before and he seems pretty comfortable with it, only easing off a handful of times at the end of certain stanzas, maybe because he felt his heart was about to explode, or more likely because he didn’t want to leave the band too far behind.

Therein lies the problem though, as Howard Biggs and Joe Thomas give this an arrangement that largely tries to contradict everything Greer is saying. The biggest offenders are the horn section which in the first half are blaring away rather than blasting away, a tonal difference that is hard to overcome because their brand of playing has its home in outdated styles compared to the sax solo that thankfully comes along midway through and is much more at home in this current brand of music.

From that point forward this shores itself up, as the outdated horns give way to other instruments, including a subtly used guitar, while Greer himself never lets up vocally and wins you over by sheer effort and enthusiasm. But even so you never shake the feeling this is trying to hedge its bets stylistically rather than place the whole pile of chips on rock ‘n’ roll.

With a fairly on-note story suggesting that fat men are better lovers, something that could’ve used raunchier examples to match his vocal heat and convince us of his prowess in more ways than just singing, this is a record you want to say is better than it really is.

But considering how long we’ve waited for this kind of performance out of the mild-mannered Greer, we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt as he shows that he may have had his heart into this vocation more than he’s let on at other times. As such it serves as a potent reminder that with enough exposure anyone could be thoroughly corrupted by this music after all.


You Can Have A Lot Of Fun
Since we stated earlier that Big John Greer had just the one national hit to his credit, that tells you that this side failed to make much of a dent at the time, though it probably is among his most recognizable songs historically which tells you that people wanted more of what he was dishing out here.

The problem though is if this HAD connected in a big way it might’ve actually had a somewhat negative effect on the course of rock ‘n’ roll in general, even if it boosted Greer’s visibility in the process.

The reason for this is simple. By nature I’m The Fat Man was a conflicted record, which poses problems that are rather obvious should it succeed.

A rock fan would’ve propelled this onto the charts based on Greer’s lusty unbridled vocal performance, thereby hoping that their interest would spur him on to give them more of this in the future.

But we know damn well that RCA would think that what caused it to be successful was in reining in the rock aspects with a more sensible old school horn chart and consequently they’d double down on that in the future, maybe even telling Greer to ease off the rawer singing style a little so as not to scare away their preferred demographic who they’d remain convinced were the key to becoming even bigger down the road.

In other words, both sides would think that their preferred approach was wholly responsible for it being acceptable and the debate inside RCA’s studios as to which direction to head would be no closer to a definitive resolution.

Of course, because it didn’t become a hit the same was true in a different way, as both sides could claim that the other facets were responsible for curtailing its action, the rockers saying that this would’ve been a big seller without those infernal horns, while RCA insisted that it was Greer’s thundering vocals that scared off a bigger audience.

The frustrating part is while we know full well who’s right in that debate, we also know the wrong side is going to win that debate and so this becomes Big John Greer’s last best chance for lasting acclaim as a rocker, done in once again by those around him.


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