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One of the eternal struggles rock musicians have had over the years is attempting to find ways with which to deliver songs about sex in ways that simultaneously skirt the censors enough to not be banned outright while still being able to titillate audiences who easily see through the thin veneer meant to imply harmless allusions to something OTHER than the bedroom topics the songs are actually about.

If you make your references too vague you lose the shock value and thus the immediate reaction of those listening who all get the joke at the same time when done unambiguously. Yet if you make it too blatant to guarantee the response you want from your audience you’ll also be guaranteed a red flag be handed out by censors and thereby lose a lot of the potential exposure the record otherwise might enjoy.


What’s To Eat?
One of the methods of distraction Otis was undoubtedly counting on regarding the contents of this are the different possibilities concerning the subject of this record.

Jelly rolls are a sweet treat that are good to eat.

…Then there are also the kind made in the bakery.

(C’mon, no groaning, that’s a good, if obvious, double-switch joke)

The fact that the first usage, the X-rated one, is simply a euphemism while the second is a proper noun affixed to a widely known desert means that Otis could attest that the record was about the kind that is served on a plate.

Otis and company had another potential meaning with which to play with here, giving them additional terms to (a-hem) fool around with, as well as to throw the guardians of good taste off the scent a little more. The Jelly Roll was also a dance, certainly named for, or at least with recognition of, the slang referring to female genitalia, but without the direct association which could be otherwise damning.

With all these options at his disposal you’d think he’d come up with a better – or certainly more… ahh “stimulating” record than what he delivers.

Dream About Jelly
The record jumps right into bed with no foreplay – via a musical intro – as vocalist (and nominal baritone sax player of the group) Lem Talley leaves no doubt that this particular culinary delight is not served on a plate but rather is a different type of desert, though he keeps switching up between alternative meanings which keeps it from building upon the last refrain until everything is laid bare as it were.

Still you don’t misread the underlying topic of The Jelly Roll when Talley says to his baby “lock up all the doors“.

What you expect, whether in the song or in the actual events inspired by such proclamations, is a loud and uninhibited assault of the senses, be it physical or merely aural. Instead the momentum is immediately stalled as the accompaniment emerges in surprisingly subdued fashion.

Not surprisingly it’s the infernal trumpet as the focal point of the arrangement which acts as the cold shower to this potentially steamy encounter, sort of akin to having your mother drop in for an unannounced visit just as you and your significant other are undressing each other in heated passion.

Talley’s descriptions do their best to reignite the smoldering fire with references to blowing a fuse and then, in what is by far the most explicit passage, he reports:

I went to see my baby
She said Daddy I’m so cold
Put some heat in my furnace
Throw in another lump of coal

All of that is well and good, you shouldn’t need a translator to explain the meanings which remain pretty obvious for anyone who’s made it to third base, but none of this gets you excited which is the main requirement for both the act itself as well as for listening to a record about said act.

John Anderson’s trumpet is again the culprit here, his instrument possessing a virginal sound by nature, one as straitlaced and non-suggestive as a milquetoast seminary student who’s never been kissed. His prominent role in this makes for a curious, almost indefensible, decision on the part of Otis, who as we know from past excursions has no trouble coming up with rousing and intoxicating arrangements when called upon to do so.


I Heard My Baby Scream
Just when you’re about to cry foul though salvation comes in the form of a familiar face, Big Jay McNeely, whose presence reaffirms your faith in Otis, in male-female dynamics and in humanity itself.

Though his solo takes up all of twenty-three seconds, they are the 23 seconds which form the orgasmic climax of the record. A bed-rocking, headboard banging, springs squeaking carnal display which while not even close to his own precedents in this field, are still impressive when dropped in the middle of an otherwise prim and proper musical setting as The Jelly Roll was shaping up to be.

Then just as suddenly as McNeely arrived he bows out again and leaves the rest of the song to the others, which comes as quite a let-down, even though to be fair Otis’s drums and Devonia “Lady Dee” Williams on piano are seemingly getting it on in the shadows with appropriate enthusiasm to at least reassure you that everybody involved with this instrumental affair aren’t completely inexperienced between the sheets.

Considering what you were hoping for heading into the record and what you get instead you’re bound to be let down, even if when peaking through the bedroom door there are still a few moments to stir your musical nether regions.

Do Like You’re Told
Naturally without more suggestiveness at play there wasn’t going to be enough attention paid to this record to run afoul of whoever was in charge of dispensing morality lectures at the time and so it never even got the underground notoriety it was probably hoping for, then or in the years since.

That might be a good thing in retrospect considering some of the ideas are still behind the times and thus it wasn’t going to do Johnny Otis much good in advancing his career as a rock visionary. In spite of some definite strong points courtesy of McNeely and Talley this record has too many outdated flaws built in for it to fully overcome. It’s not something that you’ll necessarily ever object to hearing and might even get some enjoyment out of, but considering the promise that lay within such a song it hardly lives up to its billing.

How you react to this effort may say more about you than the record itself. For those lacking in more… umm… satisfying experiences, you might easily be convinced to overlook the somewhat unappealing attributes of the object of desire here just to get to The Jelly Roll itself.

But for those who’ve had their share – of more appropriate rock songs that is (wink, wink) – you know that occasionally the effort to get some jelly roll is really not worth the trouble and ultimately this is one of those instances.

Sorry ladies, but no doubt it’s the same for you when it comes to what the fellas have to offer from time to time as well.


(Visit the Artist page of Johnny Otis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)