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Though people traditionally think of rock as one giant organism that envelops artists completely we know there have been some who’ve ventured outside the rock genre to tackle other types of music – Ray Charles for example who cut jazz and country records at his peak.

But it is true that most rock artists, while occasionally deviating from one rock subgenre to another at times, do tend to stay under larger rock umbrella for most of their careers, just as most blues artists remain firmly entrenched in the blues and country acts rarely leave behind the cowboy hats and western scenes to try their luck in other musical genres altogether.

Yet within rock there have always been those whose jobs actually require them to jump from one style to another with regularity. Such is the life of a session musician who needs to be able to play behind a pop singer in the morning and a rock act in the afternoon before appearing at a jazz club at night.

Rarely do these versatile behind the scenes characters get a chance for any glory on par with the headliners they support in the studio, but every once in awhile one of them manages to get a hit record of their own and earn themselves a fleeting moment in the spotlight.


One Of These Days I Wake Up
Though he was a professional musician for sixty years, winning praise for his impeccable skills on saxophone whether as a jazz musician or backing blues and rock acts, or even cutting gospel records later in life, Ed Wiley Jr. was never really a household name, even by those who were familiar with his work, if not necessarily aware of his contributions.

One of the many “Texas tenor” sax players who came out of that state in the 1940’s following the lead of Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet, featuring a big-bodied sound, gritty tone and aggressive approach, Wiley, then 18 years old, made his debut on record doing sessions for Freedom and Gold Star Records as well as playing locally behind nationally popular artists touring in the region.

A year later he cut some instrumentals with the New York based Sittin’ In With label and while he provided them with some usable performances, including the song we’ll see tomorrow, it was this vocal cut – Cry, Cry Baby – which turned out to be the hit, topping the regional Cash Box charts in Miami and cracking the national Top Ten in Billboard where it spent more than three months, peaking at #3.

But even here, while it was Wiley who got the official credit for the record it wasn’t Wiley who was the focal point of the performance, proving that when it came to soaking up the spotlight session musicians were rarely in it long enough to even get warm.

I’ll Be So Long Gone
Though the first sounds we hear are indeed Ed Wiley’s languid saxophone setting a mellow mood, he quickly takes a back seat to fellow teenager Teddy Reynolds whose voice isn’t always quite strong enough to carry this like he should.

As might be expected, the 19 year old Reynolds just doesn’t have the power to project himself adequately without straining his vocal chords resulting in what he’s singing having an altered meaning. Cry, Cry Baby was clearly designed to be equal parts mournful and soulful, something akin to a lot of Amos Milburn’s work to date and it’s easy to envision him doing wonders with this material. But Milburn was a relaxed vocalist by nature whose laid back tone effortlessly conveyed regret and sorrow and yet he possessed the strength to raise his volume without changing his delivery to show urgency and despair, thereby allowing himself to shift between the two perspectives within the same song without breaking a sweat.

By contrast Reynolds has no choice but to exert himself vocally to get across the pain he’s expressing but in the process he loses the subtler meanings that form the source of that pain. The consequence of this is you never quite become immersed in the emotions he’s sharing, coming across as merely a surface impression rather than a deeper felt condition.

Technical deficiencies aside, Reynolds isn’t bad by any means, just limited. He’s got a fair voice when he’s able to stay within his comfort zone lower in his range and isn’t rushing his delivery. Though he may not quite grasp the nuance of shading his lines properly, he fully understands the psychological attributes he’s being asked to bring to the table and you’re never lacking in the belief that he’s living out each line as he sings, making it a pretty impressive immersion into character for someone as young and inexperienced as he is.

As for what he’s singing… well, the story is hardly anything we haven’t encountered before – a breakup pushing the singer to the brink of emotional despair – but it works well within that limited (and redundant) theme, painting an effective picture of his despondency with a few lines that make this more than a simple cut and paste job from a thousand and one previous descents into lovelorn misery.

But as we know this wasn’t a record designed to push Reynolds’ nascent career – though he would remain a familiar artist over the years in his own right – but rather this was being cast as a way to elevate Ed Wiley. The question is though, despite its success, did it do enough to accomplish that?

The answer is no, it really didn’t.

You Can Cry All Night Long
For what the record contains of Ed Wiley’s saxophone you’d have to say you were fairly satisfied with his playing. Though there’s not any wild solos or showy tricks to be found, he’s a constant presence lurking in the backgrounds, peeking around corners and popping up into view enough to be remembered.

The opening is particularly nice, albeit too short, as the initial tone is warm and inviting, but as Reynolds comes in the horns are playing so slowly that it loses all of its melodic momentum and becomes aural wallpaper more than anything else.

This is an arranging issue not a playing one, though the crawling pace surely doesn’t help them stay firmly locked into their key as a few of the horns waver in this regard at times without ever slipping completely from their moorings. Their lurching gait however also trips up Reynolds a bit as he has trouble finding an appropriate tempo at first which makes the initial thirty seconds a little awkward to listen to, almost as if you were catching a pre-show rehearsal not meant for public consumption.

Once they get their feet under them Cry Cry Baby improves enough not to mind the meandering pace, the playing tightening up and Reynolds finding his marks with more confidence.

What we’re waiting for though is the instrumental break… or maybe considering the sonic structure of the song “interlude” would be a more appropriate term. It’s hard to imagine Wiley upsetting the delicate balance of the record with something too spry, yet it’s equally difficult to envision letting him lay back entirely to suit the mood when it’s his name on the label.

Sure enough when he comes into view he’s playing with more urgency, both in his horn’s tone and its quickened step, and the way in which he segues into that shows his deft touch and musical know-how. It’s not only a graceful transition but it leads into the best stretch of the record itself which features him stretching, flexing and massaging notes out of his tenor like a masseuse, ending with a delicate… almost whimpering… series of notes that makes for an unexpected delight of the senses.

As good as it is though, as much admiration you have for Wiley’s technique and restraint, it’s hardly anything that would get you to really take notice of it in a typical setting for rock records where its introspective vibe would be at risk for getting lost in the clamor of more assertive songs.


Don’t Want Your Money… Just Your Love
But since this record DID manage to make some noise it shows there were increasingly diverse tastes bubbling up within that constituency, room enough for sweaty honking on one hand and mellow ambiance on the other.

Then again, it’s worth noting that there were some outlets that confused the similarly titled Cry Baby by Johnny Otis featuring Mel Walker’s languid vocals which was released at the same time, and so apparently some jukebox operators were confused as to which records were drawing the most spins when reporting their action to the trade papers, as the titles were interchangeably used in the listings in certain cities, as if they were the same record.

That doesn’t explain how Cry, Cry Baby would get credited to Ed Wiley in those reports unless his record was also stirring interest on its own, but for the sake of historical accuracy it has to be mentioned even at the risk of downplaying Wiley’s lone commercial accomplishment to a degree.

Whatever the case though, while this record turned out to be something of an outlier for Wiley, both in terms of sound and sales, and may not be the best work he was capable of, it holds up nicely enough as a more tranquil alternative to the dominant sounds of the day.


(Visit the Artist page of Ed Wiley Jr. for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)