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RCA 22-0066; FEBRUARY, 1950



Wherever you live you’re bound to notice new stores or restaurants springing up every so often that have you wondering how realistic the proprietor’s expectations for success are.

Just at a glance you can tell there’ll be no market for whatever it is they’re selling or you know they’re in some remote out of the way spot that will get no traffic to support it as you think back to all other shops that opened there over the years and went under before long.

Yet you know that even as these places close their doors as quickly as they opened them there will be another intrepid entrepreneur moving into the same location in a few months time, desperately hoping to buck the odds and become a success with an equally far-fetched business plan.

In rock ‘n’ roll that was shaping up to be RCA Records and their designated sacrificial lamb, Big John Greer. Yet somewhat surprisingly a year after they opened shop their doors are still open and miraculously they’re still in business.


A New Technique
Even though none of Greer’s forays into rock have met with verifiable success as evidenced by appearing on any official trade paper charts, either national or regional, obviously RCA must’ve been getting some positive commercial response to keep promoting Greer as a rocker, at least making sure that each release had one rock tune coupled with a more sedate pop offering that was more the company’s speed.

Since Greer was still pulling double duty, playing sax and singing for pre-rock bandleader Lucky Millinder both on stage and on record, it was also imperative that he establish his own persona which could give him a distinct image separate from Millinder, which began with his “Big John” appellation upon recording his first solo records awhile back.

At every stop along the way, including now major label RCA, this difference in musical approach was further emphasized with the group being dubbed The Rhythm Rockers and by coming up with song titles designed to give any skeptical listeners who’d seen the portly affable looking Greer crooning on stage with Millinder that he was taking a different tact under his own auspices.

Needless to say he’s not the most convincing reprobate you ever saw and so maybe in an attempt to convince you otherwise on Rocking Jenny Jones we find Greer corrupting an impressionable young lady who is being exploited for his own shallow attempts at career advancement… which is exactly the kind of thing we expect from rock ‘n rollers come to think of it!

Good job, Big John, maybe there’s hope for you yet!


Beats Their Time
Of course, now that we’ve hyped him up ourselves we’re forced to tell you that as sincere as he may have been in his endeavors to pass muster as a rocker, it takes more than just a gung-ho spirit to make the grade and unfortunately he and the band are still outsiders looking in when it comes to the type of gritty, hard-as-nails musical attitude they require to win us over completely.

The first offenders in this well-meaning charade are – not surprisingly – the horn section. Though the instruments used in this arrangement might be the same chosen for a song that actually lived up to the Rocking Jenny Jones title, the manner in which they’re played here varies greatly from what we’ve come to expect from more authentic rock ‘n’ roll.

As befitting a Lucky Millinder drilled squad they play in the upper register – so as to not alarm the blue-blood patrons of the swank clubs they usually appear at – and are in tight formation without so much as a reed out of place, the brass polished to a sheen and no spittle flying in all directions as they blow.

Because of this it’s safe to say that this horn section is merely out to tickle your ears, not grab you by the crotch, and so already their greatest chance at making a strong first impression fade into the smoky lounge room atmosphere they feel most comfortable in, all while you and your degenerate pals – already drawing harsh stares from the management for entering this room to begin with, lured in on the promise of hearing something more off-color – furtively eye the joint looking for the exits.

But running out on them just eight seconds in would hardly be fair to Big John Greer, the polite unassuming star of the show who invited you to check out his act and tell him what you think. You’d hate to turn your back on him while he was just about to start singing and in the process let him know you find him and his brigade of impostors were hardly worth the cab fare it took to get down here, so you settle in, order the strongest drink allowable under local ordinances, and hope things rapidly improve once he opens his mouth to sing.

Better make that a double, bartender, with a floater no less, because you’re gonna need all the help you can get to stop yourself from rolling your eyes and laughing as Greer’s pleasant non-threatening voice reaches your ears.

Truthfully he doesn’t have a bad voice, but it’s hardly a very commanding one and instead of compensating for this lack of gruff resonance by injecting a sneer into his lines or putting an intentionally raspy edge to his voice, he instead focuses on his elocution to further discredit himself as a rock performer.

He’s quite successful in that regard too, at times coming across like he’s the whimsical member of the Singing Accountants Recreational Glee Club, not quite as stuffy as the rest of the group thanks to the added pep he puts into his lines, much to the consternation of the other members no doubt.

What all of this means of course as he attempts to court the rock audience is that the fate of the record will hang with its lyrical content if we’re to believe these guys are not just putting on an act or that they lost a bet and are being forced to embarrass themselves by discarding the Rogers and Hammerstein playbook for rock ‘n’ roll.

Actually, come to think of it, we’d be relieved if they HAD some plausible excuse for this, because the more you listen the more you just feel sorry for them.

That Jive That She’s Got
Though we’re about five or six years away from the influx of white pop acts attempting to latch onto the “rock fad” with original songs that are so artificial and contrived they’ll be laughed off stage, this is perhaps the record where that mentality first appeared.

Now to be fair there are SOME aspects of Rocking Jenny Jones which have a little substance to them, although the best lines are lifted from generic tunes with free-floating lyrics adaptable to lots of different melodies and even so these still get amended to sidestep more risqué meanings, such as him saying she “make a tadpole want to hug a whale” rather than engage in a hug of a different sort involving legs, hips and groins.

But we’ll at least say that the general idea behind this song is alright, as far as it goes, as Greer is telling us that Miss. Jones, a rather shapely girl he assures us, tends to catch the eye of passing men which naturally leads to a lot of jealousy from the wives and girlfriends OF those men.

Now anyone taking notes on these things over rock’s first thirty months knows this situation is apt to result in screeching accusations of X-rated affairs, threats of retributional violence and at the absolute minimum vows to leave any such man who exhibits lustful desire for ol’ Jenny… except here that is.

Nope, not in THIS telling of the tale, which had to be cleared by RCA’s internal censors after strenuously parsing each line of the song over seventeen arduous hours before giving it their G-rated stamp of approval.

So shorn of any fireworks Greer is left to inform us that the only thing all of Jones’s coy smiles, swinging hips and enchanting come-hither stares result in are a few huffs out of the other ladies on the block, maybe an eye-roll or two and whispers about her “character”, which truthfully makes her sound like nothing more than the adult equivalent of the eight year old girl who swipes a handful of hard candy from the dish on her grandmother’s coffee table after her mother told him to only take one.

In other words, this is the Sunday School edition of rock ‘n’ roll.

Break Out Of Jail
In spite of its many – almost intentional – shortcomings, Rocking Jenny Jones doesn’t descend into total parody thanks to Greer’s own entirely competent sax solo, which combined with the fact his melodic singing is at least moderately catchy. In that sense he’s the best aspect of a record that would otherwise make for Exhibit A in the case against the major studios when it came to their efforts to suppress honest to goodness rock ‘n’ roll in favor of something treacly and lightweight.

Then again, that’s hardly an inducement to actually listen to this voluntarily.

As always Greer seems to not have any say in the matter, he’s merely a puppet, willing to do what you ask of him, a smile on his face as he sways back and forth with no opinion on the subject if you were to sit down and put him under rigorous questioning under the hot lights, trying to learn who put him up to committing this farce.

Yet maybe because he doesn’t have a vested interest in the artistic side of the equation he’s able to go about his business, blissfully unaware of his standing – or lack thereof – within the rock community. He goes to his vacuum cleaner store or discount mattress emporium each day, opens the door and waits for customers to show, sometimes for hours on end. When one wanders in he straightens his tie and dutifully shows them his inventory but doesn’t push too hard to make a sale, then smiles politely as they leave without buying anything.

Tomorrow he’ll do the same. The store stays open month after month only because its funded by a big conglomerate called RCA-Victor who, unbeknownst to him, is merely using it as a tax write-off.


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