|Welcome to the Official Website of Big Jay McNeely|
"Rock ‘n’ roll saxophone pretty much begins with Big Jay Mc Neely. He’s the king of the honkin’, squealin’, bar walkin’, flat-on-his-back Blowin’ tenor men -the Number One “real gone guy” of the 50’s.-" Black & White Blues (the Book)
Tenor saxophonist Cecil "Big Jay" McNeely has been "the king of the honkers" for over 60 years, and he's still going strong. Born in Watts, California, on April 29, 1927, he formed his own band with jazz legends Sonny Criss (alto sax) and Hampton Hawes (piano) while still in high school. But in late 1948, when he was asked to record for Savoy Records, he abandoned jazz for something more raucous and struck paydirt when his second release, a honked-up instrumental called "Deacon's Hop," went to 1 on the national R&B charts in February 1949.
For the next several years, Big Jay, according to The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, "was famed for his playing-on-his-back acrobatics and his raw, hard-swinging playing." During his act he'd leave the stage, walk across the top of the bar, and sometimes walk out the door of the club, often with a line of people following him. Once, in San Diego, during one such "walk," he was arrested on the street for disturbing the peace; inside the club, his band kept playing until someone could rush down to the police station, post Big Jay's bail, and bring him back to finish his song.
In the early- to mid-fifties, Big Jay added vocal groups to his act, beginning with Four Dots & Dash, which included, at one time oranother, 16-year-old Jesse Belvin, Marvin Phillips (later of Marvin & Johnny fame), Tony Allen and Mel Williams. In fact, Belvin made his first recordings with Big Jay, including "All That Wine Is Gone." Big Jay also worked extensively with The Hollywood Flames, The Penguins and The Medallions up and down the West Coast. In 1955-56 he shared the stage with the Clovers, the Harptones (at the Apollo Theater), Bill Haley and His Comets, the Moonglows, Little Richard, and others.
1959 Big Jay enjoyed his biggest hit, a blues ballad called "There
Is Something on Your Mind," featuring Haywood "Little Sonny"
Warner on vocals. The record stayed on the R&B charts for six months
and reached as high as 44 pop. The song was later a hit for Bobby Marchan.
Other artists who have recorded Big Jay's song include B.B. King, Etta
James, Freddy Fender, The Hollywood Flames, Gene Vincent, Albert King
and Professor Longhair.