Sunday, September 16, 2018

Big Jay McNeely RIP

It's only four months since I was lucky enough to see Big Jay McNeely celebrate his 91st birthday at Joe's American Bar and Grill in Burbank. He had to be helped onto the stage, but his saxophone playing was still great, as were his vocals. Four years ago I met up with Big Jay at his home in Los Angeles and, together with Gordon Fleming and Paul Waring, we went with him to his local IHOP for a fascinating chat with one of the true greats of rock and roll.
Now Big Jay is dead. It comes to all of us but it's a sad day. At least, it can be said, Big Jay lived life to the full. He was still active until recently, both in terms of live performances and recording. He made an experimental album with an Austrian band shortly before I met him in his home in Watts in 2014. Jay began his career in the late forties and played as large a role as anyone in the birth of rock and roll. In addition to his exciting sax style, he was an innovator in terms of showmanship, lying on his back while honking his horn and painting it with luminous paint so that it would shine under black lights. It was a travesty that, despite his incredible influence on other artists, he was never admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite a campaign on his behalf. He certainly deserved such an accolade, as he was one of only a handful of artists who had been active before 1955 still performing.
I saw Big Jay in London 30 odd years ago, at Jazzfest in New Orleans and at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2011. At the Jazz Cafe in 1991, when he was a mere 64 (pictured below), he honked his horn at every girl he could find and even went outside and played his sax along Camden Parkway. When I saw him earlier this year (pictured above) he included some jump blues including Big Fat Mama and Flip Flop and Fly, his big hit There Is Something On Your Mind, some country and some blues, even some zydeco. Dressed in a red jacket and hat, he smiled and winked his way through his set and was clearly enjoying himself. It was a treat to see a living legend still sounding so good.
RIP Big Jay. We will miss you.
Here's one of Big Jay at the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp.


At 1:24 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad day indeed. I Remember the 2014 meet up with him in L.A., a fascinating evening. RIP Jay.



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