No tags :(

Share it




There’s been a running question around here contemplating just how long tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest would continue to attempt to court rock success.

Remember, like so many of his horn playing brethren, Forrest had a jazz background and loftier aspirations than honking away in dingy juke joints night after night, where sometimes not getting hit with flying beer bottles was as much of a consideration as getting paid.

So while his first release had been a massive hit for which he had to be glad, it was probably only a matter of time before he grew tired of the demand for earthier material and he gave up on the idea altogether.

However we’re happy to tell you that time has not yet arrived.


What’s That You Say?
Considering that the sax instrumental craze which dominated the last two years of rock in the 1940’s had more or less run its course by early 1952, the success of Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train – his first release no less – had to be considered something of an anomaly.

Of course it didn’t hurt that it was based on a classic jazz riff and emphasized a late-night seductive groove – the stripper’s anthem as it became known.

But still it was a pretty impressive feat all the same for a new artist, or at least an artist stepping out under his own name after long apprenticeships in jazz bands, and one who was appearing on a brand new label to boot, giving them the single which put both he and United Records on the map.

But how likely was it that he’d follow it up with something that drew in enough listeners to give him a second hit?

Or more pointedly, how likely was it that he’d do so months later with a song that was nothing like that first hit, starting with the fact that Hey Mrs. Jones is a vocal performance, not an instrumental, and Forrest’s saxophone, while present on the record, is obviously not the focal point considering he can’t very well blow it while he’s singing.

Taking all of that into consideration… the comparative lack of his featured instrument and the somewhat amateur vocal skills he possessed, plus the fact that he was probably hoping to be appreciated for his more sophisticated playing on the flip side, Blue Groove, a pure jazz workout on his sax, it’s actually rather odd that he’d even bother cutting something like this.

At the very least he probably assumed this was too unusual to find an eager audience and thus in a roundabout way he could satisfy the request for more rock material while at the same time ensuring that it wasn’t very successful so that he could return to jazz-based music and leave the tawdry rocking to someone else.

Little did he know that the rock fan, maybe initially giving this a chance just because of his name alone, stuck around because in the process he somehow managed to give them a such catchy groove that made the record hard to resist.

Can I Tell You You’re Looking Fine?
Admittedly this is the type of song where genre classifications can be disputed if not thrown out altogether.

Not that it necessarily sounds like a jazz, pop, blues, gospel, folk, country, polka or a classical piece, but rather it doesn’t exactly call to mind anything specific.

Yet Jimmy Forrest is, for the time being at least, more or less a rock act and the song has such a vibrant rhythmic presence to go with a somewhat racy story that it qualifies under that heading. Maybe hearing it out of context you wouldn’t be inclined to call it a rock song per say, but if you tried calling it anything else you’d have a much harder time justifying that decision, so here it will remain.

In other news we’ve had a number of examples of sax players trying to diversify their catalog with the inclusion of vocal numbers, some of which hire an outside singer to handle the part, but many which feature the sax player doing their best to convince you that they’re qualified for the role themselves.

This makes sense in a way, for while they may not be any great shakes as a vocalist, if the record in question gains some measure of popularity they’d have a hard time replicating it on stage without keeping the singer on payroll, as fans have a tendency to want an authentic recreation of the record they’re partial towards. So why not just keep it all in house and tackle the vocals yourself?

Usually that means the vocal performance is said record’s weak spot, sort of defeating the purpose of doing it in the first place, but that won’t be much of a problem with Hey Mrs. Jones because of the way Forrest makes this less about singing and more about conveying the plot using a choppy delivery that may be rhythmic in nature but is really semi-spoken at best.

Yet because the story is so good it works just as well, giving us a fairly juicy plot about an extramarital affair between the aforementioned Madame Jones, and Jimmy himself. He’s clearly no novice at this sort of thing, and by the sounds of it she’s no stranger to his touch either, as it seems as if this is an ongoing dalliance… maybe even something of a game between them as he’s cheekily inquiring about her husband’s health before making his pitch to stop by and pleasure her while her man is away.

Though it never gets too salacious beyond the taboo aspect of the subject matter, the song does follow through on the premise with a creative and satisfying conclusion to the story which is much appreciated for those of us who like happy endings. Even so it’s not that aspect which will capture most of our attention… not with the music being as catchy as it is.

The record kicks off with some quirky drumming in isolation before the piano and horns come in playing a more refined version of the same basic pattern. When the singing starts obviously Forrest can’t contribute instrumentally so the horns drop out and we have the piano and drums picking up the slack nicely. It’s simple but really effective. Even the switch to a different, more complex and less addictive, pattern in the bridge still works because of the way it’s used to buffet the vocals.

When Forrest does get to play his sax we don’t even get a wild solo, as the other horns are playing a staccato intro that leads into Forrest’s riffing which is well played, if a little meandering, but hardly memorable. But while we’re glad for the sonic shift he brings, we really want to return to that beat-heavy backing and the conclusion of the tale.

None of the individual components in this song might be too impressive on their own, but they all work well together to create an unexpectedly fun record from someone we didn’t think cared about such things in the first place.


Back Door Slam
Considering that Forrest’s other hit record was one of the defining sax instrumentals in rock history and this is a off-beat vocal record from a guy who’s not even a singer by trade, it’s a little hard to believe that it reached #3 on the national charts.

Granted it only stayed on those charts for a scant two weeks, as opposed to the twenty of his immortal side, which might lead you to believe it benefited from brief curiosity thanks to his name recognition before people realized it wasn’t like his first hit, or that it only enjoyed strong regional action rather than widespread appeal. But neither is true, for while it excelled on the West Coast (topping the Los Angeles charts and spending weeks at #2 in San Francisco), it did just as well in St. Louis and spent more than a month on the lower reaches of the Newark listings on the East Coast as well.

Heck, in Chicago, where United Records was located, Hey Mrs. Jones didn’t even make it onto their regional charts until after it had fallen off the national best sellers list in Billboard and the same was true for Houston as well.

So yes, this was definitely a legitimate hit and while it’s a little out of the ordinary, that doesn’t mean it was popular on something other than its musical merit.

It may not have been what we’ve come to expect out of Jimmy Forrest, but then again by this point we hardly expected Jimmy Forrest to still be dirtying his hands playing anything resembling rock ‘n’ roll.

This side won’t be what he’s remembered for of course, but it’s always nice to at least be able to insist you weren’t a one-hit wonder when all is said and done.


(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy Forrest for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)