“There is Something on Your Mind,” recorded by saxophonist Big Jay McNeely in 1959, stands apart from other slow-cruiser songs of the 1950s. The raspy final notes of Little Sonny Warner’s vocal lines add melancholic but defiant depth to a track that would become the biggest hit for both McNeely and Warner, reaching #44 on the charts. The song has been re-recorded by a number of artists including Bobby Marchan, B.B. King, Etta James, Freddy Fender, The Hollywood Flames, Gene Vincent, and Albert King.
McNeely popularized a sax style known as honking, which came to define a period of late 50s rock-n-roll. Incidentally, go here for a great list of 1950s rock-n-roll films. Hillarious to think what used to shake-up the establishment.
Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll notes McNeely "...was famed for his playing-on-his-back acrobatics and his raw, hard-swinging playing" He was known to "leave the stage during the act, walk across the top of the bar, and sometimes walk out the door of the club, often with a line of people following him." Classic. Angelo Moore from Fishbone might be a modern example in terms of stage bravado, ironically both sax players.
The track was recorded at Checker Record, a subsidiary of the Chess based in Chicago. Checker produced some golden artists that covered “a wide range of genres including blues (Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II), rhythm and blues (Sax Mallard, Jimmy McCracklin), doo-wop (The Flamingos, The Moonglows), gospel (Aretha Franklin, Five Blind Boys of Mississippi), rock and roll (Bo Diddley, Dale Hawkins), and soul (Gene Chandler).”
There is something really excellent about how the baritone-tenor saxes sync with the burlesque blues-stomp back-rhythm. Listen closely for the influences of Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young.
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