|Born in Cleveland in 1919,
Benjamin Clarence Jackson took up the saxophone instead of the
violin that his parents wanted him to play. He started his first
band, The Harlem Hotshots, while he was still in high school,
with his friend Freddie Webster. Returning to Cleveland in 1943
after a brief stint in Buffalo, Jackson caught the eye of bandleader
Millinder. It was the musicians in Millinder's band that
gave him the unforgettable name "Bull Moose." One night
while on tour in Texas, the scheduled singer Wynonie Harris didn't show up to sing. Jackson
was pulled out of the sax section to croon the song "Hurry,
Hurry," and a new career was born.
|Syd Nathan had an interest
in the Lucky Millinder Orchestra. Nathan was interested in expanding
his small country & western label, King Records, and the
newly developing form of music called rhythm & blues intrigued
him. Millinder, already signed to Decca Records, encouraged his
sax player/vocalist to record for Nathan. Bull Moose Jackson
never looked back.
||Over the next five years,
Jackson recorded every style of popular music. In 1947, his recording
of "I Love You, Yes I Do" became the first rhythm &
blues single to sell a million copies. He followed this milestone
with a continuous string of hits including "I Want a Bowlegged
Woman," "Nosey Joe," and perhaps his best known
song, "Big Ten Inch Record," and forever left his mark
on the history of rhythm & blues.
|Moose toured and recorded
with his band "The Buffalo Bearcats" throughout the
late `40s and early `50s, and in 1961 he re-recorded "I
Love You, Yes I Do." Tired of the road and the expense of
traveling, the early `60s found him limiting his performing to
private engagements and working for a catering firm at Washington
DC's Howard University. That's where Carl Grefenstette found
him in 1983.
|Grefenstette's band, The Flashcats, were a popular R&B act
around Pittsburgh and tri-state (PA, OH, and WV) area. They routinely
played several of Bull Moose's songs in their act. "We did
'Big Ten Inch' and we'd always introduce it as a Bull Moose Jackson
record," Grefenstette recalls. "A lot of the people
in the audience probably thought we were making the name up."
But one person didn't. In the audience one evening was Howard
Kozy (aka Bumblebee Slim), a local R&B disc jockey, who not
only knew who Jackson was, but where.
Grefenstette immediately contacted
Moose, and coaxed him into appearing with the band. "We
admired him," Grefenstette says. "He was one of the
last living members of an influential era of R&B. The impact
of that music on rock 'n roll can't be measured. We brought him
to town because we thought it would be the thrill of a lifetime
to play with him."
The resulting series of sold-out concerts
with The Flashcats made Bull Moose a cult hero in Pittsburgh,
and lead to his first new
recordings in over 30 years. "I'm elated that I can
still perform, and I'm very proud that people still remember,"
Moose told the Associated Press in a 1984 interview. "They've
resurrected an old man. I had one foot in the grave and the other
on a banana peel. They dug me out and here I am."
With Grefenstette as his manager,
Bull Moose and The Flashcats recorded first a 45, "Get Off
the Table Mable (The Two Dollars is for the Beer)," and
then an LP, "MOOSEMANIA!" Overwhelming national response
lead to appearances from New York to Hollywood. In 1985, Moose
performed at New York's Carnegie Hall, and toured Europe with
Johnny Otis. Jackson's re-entry into show business brought calls
and letters of support from fans around the world.
Moose continued to perform regularly until
1987, when his health began to fail. He gave his last performance,
a birthday concert with The Flashcats,
in Pittsburgh on April 23, 1988. He spent the last year of his
life in Cleveland, being cared for by an old girlfriend -- someone
who'd renewed contact with him after reading about his new-found
Bull Moose Jackson died of cancer
at Mt. Sinai Hospital
in Cleveland on July 31, 1989. He is survived by
worldwide legions of rhythm & blues fans, and
thousands of dear friends who had the privilege
to know and work with him.