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Not that long ago the name Jimmy Liggins was a regular presence on these pages. He was one of the artists who first defined what rock ‘n’ roll was… and what it could be down the road.

The frequency in which he was featured here wasn’t necessarily because he was more prolific than he is now, but rather that in the late 1940’s when rock began there just weren’t as many artists in the field and many of those who tried to join the party quickly thought better of it and moved out again.

A lot has changed though since those halcyon days starting with the fact that there’s so many rock acts on so many more labels nowadays that it can seem like years since we last heard from somebody, especially if their songs aren’t among the biggest hits of the day.

But just in case his more sporadic appearances here of late have caused you to forget about him, or downplay his importance, here Jimmy Liggins comes again to remind you all what you’ve been missing.


Time Just Can’t Be Beat
Maybe the sheer number of records we have to get through now between releases for ANY artist is ultimately a good thing for keeping their music fresh, for while there’s always a chance we’ll tend to let their charms slip from our memories as more time passes, when we do encounter them again their work should have a better chance to surprise us than if we’re constantly revisiting them every few weeks as it seemed in the past.

Certainly for someone who could be a bit one-dimensional in his writing style – frequently employing the same vocal cadence over a similar musical structure even at his best – it’s to Jimmy Liggins’ advantage to let our impressions of him begin to fade just a little before giving us another song to consider.

Of course the downside to this is that with so much competition out there now, with each new artist bringing something different to the table, it might make Liggins’ tried and true methods seem a little out of date by comparison, particularly since he didn’t have a flexible enough voice to change up his presentation all that much.

But what he had was Maxwell Davis in his corner and the best rock producer on the planet at the current time could conceivably add just enough wrinkles to something like That’s What’s Knockin’ Me Out to keep it from seeming stale.

Then again, maybe time is the best teacher after all and everyone involved realized that rather than reinvent yourself, you work with what you’ve got, maximizing your strengths and making sure that the prime driving force behind everything you do should be to hit the audience squarely in the gut and command their attention from start to finish by never letting up.


I’ve Got Something To Shout About
Back when he started Liggins’s band, The Drops of Joy, was centered around the twin powerhouse saxophones of Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson and Harold Land, but after the spring 1949 shooting incident on the bandstand that severely wounded Liggins and took him off the road for a year, the original band went their separate ways and though he’s replaced them on the road, he’s now supplementing the newcomers with studio ringers, including Maxwell Davis himself on sax.

With one saxophone to focus on rather than two – and with Davis wisely realizing that the sonic fabric of rock had more threads to it now – he’s given Jimmy’s guitar a more prominent role in the arrangements and that’s what kicks this off with some stabbing notes squeezed between the barrelhouse piano, immediately establishing an aggressiveness that never lets up even as Liggins shifts his attention from his axe to his vocals.

It’s fair to say that while Liggins was a good songwriter with varied ideas, he more or less took a simple approach in the execution of the songs in which he’d establish a strong theme, color it in with some vivid imagery, then let the band fill in the blanks rather than delve deeper into the story.

On That’s What’s Knockin’ Me Out that formula is run to perfection as Davis’s arrangement makes sure that Liggins never goes too long without making an appearance, eschewing longer instrumental solos in favor of shorter responsorial bursts from his own sax in between the stanzas.

Nobody filled these types of holes better than Maxwell Davis, as the grinding riffs of his horn with its slightly dirty tone add more suggestiveness than two dozen words ever could. Read into this what you like, but with the information Jimmy has offered us about his woman coming home after an extended absence we don’t need a map drawn to find the treasure he’s seeking between the sheets.

What makes this work so well is how his enthusiasm is measured which keeps the entire record from spinning out of control, in the process allowing the tension inherent in his anticipation for her return to manifest itself further with each subsequent line.

You can practically envision him staring out the window, furtively searching the horizon for the first sign of her car, ready to unfasten his belt before she’s halfway up the driveway. Meanwhile Davis is egging him on while the drummer is thwacking away on a metronomic beat that reveals exactly the kind of action Liggins is fantasizing about.

When the vocals cease Liggins joins in on guitar, never coming to the forefront but doubling down on that thrusting groove in which only the overmatched pianist is trying to cool them off before clothes start getting shed before the front door opens.

It may never have the kind of exhibitionist instrumental display that a squealing sax or ferocious guitar solo would bring, but it’s all the better for it because they get their point across subliminally just as well, never derailing the song’s drive for a detour into the alley even though we all know that’s where they’re heading once his girl gets home.


A Whole Lotta Lovin’ To Talk About
On paper this might not look like much. There’s not a lot to it – a basic premise, a few snatches of lyrics that get repeated and no real chorus, just the title acting as a tag line to the stanzas and not a real instrumental solo anywhere to be found.

The entire song is a nothing more than couple of compact riffs played over and over again a top a steady pounding beat and a vocal that tells us nothing much, but tells us everything at the same time.

But if you ever needed an example of why rock ‘n’ roll is so addicting in spite of its simplicity, That’s What’s Knockin’ Me Out might be Exhibit A.

It’s got exactly the right ingredients a rock song needs to connect, right down to the promise of sex that will surely be taking place before the record even stops spinning. It’s direct and to the point almost to a fault, yet just ambiguous enough in never explicitly revealing his intentions to let the audience feel as if they’re in on a dirty secret. The music meanwhile is focused and efficient with a primal energy that always seems on the verge of tearing loose but never does.

We still reserve our right to praise the more elaborate tracks that will come along and to celebrate the songs with deeper lyrics that reveal important messages or present deeper psychological problems to be hashed out before the fade with intricate vocal arrangements and meticulous production to highlight it all. In fact some of those records will be among our very favorites here over the years and be responsible for moving rock forward creatively by leaps and bounds.

But Jimmy Liggins was never very complex and as such he knew better than anyone that sometimes all you really need are the essentials.

In this case, anything else would be superfluous.


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