In rock’s first few years the prominent tenor saxophonists were best known for their own records, but once the Nineteen-Fifties dawned instrumental hits all but dried up and the sax men began to make their names playing behind others.

Willis Jackson was among those for whom that new paradigm applied, but that didn’t mean he still couldn’t boost his reputation with a scintillating solo track or two along the way.

If that was your aim then it’s hard to find fault with a song who makes its intentions perfectly clear with a title like this (and its ascending exclamation points to leave no doubt as to its goal). But while the title may draw you in it’s the contents that will determine whether or not you come back for more.


One Exclamation Point
With the departure of Frank “Floorshow” Culley from Atlantic’s roster, the role of primary sideman in the tenor sax department went – temporarily – to Willis “Gatortail” Jackson.

With his budding romance with the label’s star performer, Ruth Brown, the brain trust at Atlantic certainly were going to make sure that he was satisfied with his own opportunities as an artist, even though he was soon destined to go out on the road with Brown and lead her band rather than stay behind in New York to cut sides with everyone else on the label. Eventually that’s what precipitated the move to bring Sam “The Man” Taylor into the fold to handle the majority of the studio work, but Jackson had already made his presence felt with some scalding instrumental breaks on vocal hits.

Yet for his own sides he was faced with the same dilemma as every other horn player in rock, which was that hit instrumental singles were now few and far between and the types of songs that became hits were becoming much harder to predict.

Still, if you were going to place your bets on which side of this single would do the trick, nobody in their right mind would choose the sappy Here In My Heart with a vocal obbligato by Gladys Bruce. Then again, we know that musicians love showing they have class so perhaps that was done in an effort to keep Jackson content with how Atlantic was letting him branch out.

But even if that were the case, he had to know that his reputation with the type of fans he was attracting would rest entirely on Rock! Rock!! Rock!!!, a song that isn’t quite as straightforward in its rocking approach as its title would lead you to believe, but which may benefit from its more diverse sonic palette… at least in theory.

Besides, it’s not as if Gator is exactly taking it easy once the record gets up to speed, which is what the rock fan has come to expect.

Two Exclamation Points
The biggest disappointment here isn’t what is found on the record per say, but rather the fact that we don’t have enough information as to who plays ON this record, because right away we’re hit with the unexpected blast of a Hammond organ which immediately throws us off course just a little.

It’s not that the Hammond organ hadn’t made a few appearances on rock records before this. Buddy Lucas’s band was featuring one for Jubilee as of late, and it’s more than likely the same musician here because it wasn’t a very prominent instrument in rock… or any other style as of yet.

Bill Doggett had just made his first rock single for King Records, but Cincinnati is a long ways off from New York so we probably can rule him out.

Whoever it is, the organ’s presence gives Rock! Rock!! Rock!!! a much different feel than most sax barnburners, although whether that’s a good thing depends on your willingness to accept such experiments.

The horn section eases you into it, playing in unison on the intro with the organ lurking behind them before it pushes its way to the forefront after which they share the stage in pretty good fashion. The arrangement is definitely pushing the excitement hard with its frantic pace and overlapping sounds, but because the instrumental lineup is unusual for rock at this point, it’s only natural if you want to hear more before committing to the game plan.

Fifty seconds into Rock! Rock!! Rock!!! Willis Jackson elbows his way to the front of the stage and confirms this belongs firmly in the rock camp with a diverse and powerful performance of his own. Nobody ever doubted his abilities, but even here the one thing this is lacking early in his showcase is a firm sense of direction when it comes to melody or rhythm.

It’s almost like he’s stretching his muscles, warming up before the big game, but a little past the halfway point everything starts to gel. His finds a consistent tone, his playing shows its fangs and the lines themselves have plenty of bite. The pace never slacks off, putting the pedal to the floor in grand fashion but even so the song never spirals out of control. The anonymous band behind him are plenty wild though with the crashing drums, the loudly responding horn section and the organ now reduced to filling in the blanks in a way that adds depth without distracting you at all from the histrionics Jackson is displaying.

It builds and builds, never going for the cheaper gimmicks of the crude honks or false endings and it’s that more focused structure of the song itself which gives this added impact. Your appreciation of it grows with each passing second until it has made any reservations you started with when hearing its unusual instrumental lineup a moot point.


Three Exclamation Points (Hah-Hah-Hah)
Back in 1949 this would have had all the makings of a chart hit, at least when it came to stirring up excitement in an ostentatious way.

But in 1952 this kind of thing now served more as a calling card to a musician’s ability to whip up a crowd on the road than as a stab at commercial glory. Though it took an alternate route to get there, this definitely served its purpose in that regard.

Though it’s highly doubtful that Willis Jackson was able to lug a Hammond organ from town to town while on tour with Ruth Brown to faithfully replicate the arrangement here, the fact remains that there was still plenty of mayhem being unleashed on Rock! Rock!! Rock!!! to bring audiences to their feet – and then promptly wear them out so they had to be helped off their feet by the time it ended.

Whatever the year, whichever instruments you used, when it came to rock ‘n’ roll that was always the most reliable prescription for getting the job done.


(Visit the Artist page of Willis Jackson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)