Title - 'I'm Still Here (Big Jay Sings The Blues)'
Artist - Big Jay McNeely
For those not in the know, Cecil James McNeely (April 29, 1927 – September 16, 2018), better known as Big Jay McNeely, was an American rhythm and blues saxophonist.
Inspired by Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young, he teamed with his older brother Robert McNeely, who played baritone saxophone, and made his first recordings with drummer Johnny Otis, who ran the Barrelhouse Club that stood only a few blocks from McNeely's home.
Shortly after he performed on Otis's "Barrel House Stomp," Ralph Bass, A&R man for Savoy Records, promptly signed him to a recording contract.
Indeed, it was Bass's boss, Herman Lubinsky, who suggested the stage name "Big Jay McNeely" because Cecil McNeely just didn't sound commercial enough
McNeely's first hit was "The Deacon's Hop," an instrumental which topped the Billboard R&B chart in early 1949.
Thanks to his flamboyant playing, called "honking," McNeely remained popular through the 1950s and into the early 1960s, recording for the Exclusive, Aladdin, Imperial, Federal, Vee-Jay, and Swingin' labels.
But despite a hit R&B ballad, "There Is Something on Your Mind," (1959) featuring Little Sonny Warner on vocals, and a 1963 album for Warner Bros. Records, McNeely's music career began to cool off.
Furthermore, he actually quit the music industry in 1971 to become a postman! However, thanks to an R&B revival in the early 1980s, McNeely left the post office and returned to touring and recording full-time, usually overseas.
His original tenor sax is enshrined in the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and he was inducted into The Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.
In 1989, Big Jay McNeely was performing with Detroit Gary Wiggins (European Saxomania Tour II) at the Quasimodo Club in West Berlin the night the Berlin Wall came down, "and Cold War legend has it that they blew down the Berlin Wall in 1989 with earth-shaking sonic sax torrents outside the Quasimodo Club in West Germany".
McNeely and Wiggins toured in Germany and Italy with The International Blues Duo, Johnny Heartsman, Daryl Taylor (who worked with Arnett Cobb and Archie Bell & The Drells), Roy Gaines, Christian Rannenberg, Donald Robertson, Billy Davis, "Hyepockets" Robertson, Lee Allen.
Big Jay McNeely regularly performed at the International Boogie Woogie Festival in The Netherlands, and recorded an album with Martijn Schok, the festival's promoter, in 2009.
The album was entitled Party Time, and one track from the album, "Get On Up and Boogie" (Parts 1, 2, and 3)", was featured on the vintage music compilation This is Vintage Now (2011).
Sadly though, all good things must come to and end and McNeely died in Moreno Valley, California on September 16th, 2018 of prostate cancer, at the age of 91.
The just-released I'm Still Here (Big Jay Sings The Blues) is the final album from the R&B/jazz/early rock saxophone legend. Recorded earlier this year just months before his passing, this is McNeely's first ever true blues album.
1. "You Never Miss the Water (Till the Well Runs Dry)"
2. "Baby, Please Don't Go"
3. "I'm Still Here"
4. "Once I Had a Woman"
5. "Please Don't Turn Me Away"
6. "I Was Too Blind to See"
7. "I'm Gonna Make It Alright"
8. "Woman, Woman, Woman"
9. "I Love to Feel Free"
10. "For My Baby"
11. "Way Back in the Old Days"
12. "Still Got a Long Way to Go (Going Back to L.A.)"
Using each and every one of the 12 tracks to reflect back on his life growing up in Watts (none more so than "Way Back In The Old Days"), his many loves get nods too ("You Never Miss The Water" and "Once I Had A Woman"), along with his career ("I'm Still Here" and "Still Got A Long Way To Go").
With a singing vocal presence that belittles the fact he was 91 the time, McNeely breaks headlong into the blues on the slow-roll opener "You Never Miss the Water (Till the Well Runs Dry)" before strolling neatly into the oft-covered "Baby, Please Don't Go" (actually first recorded by Big Joe Williams in 1935).
The slow slide blues guitar and sax-enhanced beauty of the title track "I'm Still Here" is one of the obvious highlights, and that's backed by the upbeat "Once I Had a Woman" before he heads back into the deep, thoughtful blues of "Please Don't Turn Me Away."
That same musical vein continues on "I Was Too Blind to See" and then we get my own personal favorite on this album, the distinguished early '60s vibe of "I'm Gonna Make It Alright." That's backed seamlessly by the duo of "Woman, Woman, Woman" and "I Love to Feel Free,' before the brilliant deliberately slow slide guitar work on "For My Baby."
The album then, sadly, rounds out with the reaching vocals of a storyteller in full swing on "Way Back in the Old Days" with the deep south blues grind of "Still Got a Long Way to Go (Going Back to L.A.)" wrapping the album in fine style.
With this album, Big Jay McNeely proves he is indeed still here, that his music lives on and is still as vibrant as ever, and that in fact, he will never die within our minds and hearts.
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