Born Benjamin Clarence Jackson, Jr., 22 April 1919, Cleveland, Ohio
Bullmoose Jackson was a respected jazz saxophonist who became a singer more or less by accident. As a vocalist he had a split personality, who could handle both smooth pop ballads and wonderfully risque jump blues like “Big Ten Inch Record” and “Nosey Joe”. Record buyers loved both sides of the Moose.
Jackson was a child prodigy on the violin and his parents wanted him to become a concert violinist. However, he felt more attracted to the saxophone and switched to that instrument while in high school. Following graduation he moved from his native Cleveland to New York City, where he joined Freddie Webster’s jazz band, The Harlem Hotshots. After playing with several other bands in NYC and Buffalo, Jackson returned to Cleveland in 1943 and was hired as a saxophonist in Lucky Millinder’s orchestra. Some band members gave him the nickname “Bullmoose”, due to his resemblance to a comic strip character of that name and the colourful moniker stuck.
One night in 1945, Millinder’s vocalist, Wynonie Harris, failed to show up for a show in Texas. Millinder chose Jackson to replace Harris in the featured vocalist position. “They had to do a little coaxing to get me up there to sing … After I got out there, I loved it.” Soon afterwards, Jackson was signed by Syd Nathan of King Records. At first his recordings (a mix of vocals and sax instrumentals) were issued on King’s Queen subsidiary. Jackson’s first chart entry was “I Know Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well” (# 4 R&B, mid-1946), an answer to a Wynonie Harris record. In August 1947, Bullmoose was moved to the parent label and his first 78 for King proper became the biggest hit of his career. A fine example of Jackson’s crooning, “I Love You, Yes I Do” (written by his A&R man, Henry Glover) was a # 1 R&B hit in February 1948 and also crossed over to the pop charts (# 21). It was by far the biggest hit in King’s short history, sold more than one million copies and was (allegedly) the first gold record ever awarded to an R&B song. Jackson left Millinder’s orchestra and went out on his own. Nine further hits followed in 1948-49, including another # 1 (“I Can’t Go On Without You”), but after his cover of Wayne Raney’s big country hit “Why Don’t You Haul Off And Love Me” (# 2 R&B, late 1949), the good times were over, chart-wise. The major hits were mostly romantic ballads, with the jump and blues numbers hidden on the B-sides.
From his earliest days on Queen, Jackson proved himself a master of up-tempo tributes to good times, good liquor and, particularly, the pleasures of the flesh. These songs usually didn’t make the charts or get much radio airplay, but they burned it up on the jukeboxes and at live performances. He had many of these records : “Sneaky Pete”and “I Want A Bow Legged Woman” (both 1948), “Big Fat Mamas Are Back In Style” (1950), “Nosey Joe” (1952, written by the young team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) and so on. The unquestioned champion of the bunch is “Big Ten Inch Record”, a lusty and memorable paean to the singer’s big ten-inch … 78-rpm record. The song was revived by the rock band Aerosmith in 1975, on their album “Toys In the Attic”.
Jackson kept recording for King Records until 1954 and had a total of 34 singles issued on Queen/King between 1945 and 1955. Credit on the label usually went to “Bull Moose Jackson And His Buffalo Bearcats”, a slimmed-down version of the Lucky Millinder orchestra. The rock n roll years were not good to Bullmoose and he had very few releases between 1955 and 1960. In 1960-61 he recorded for Morty Craft’s Warwick label and its 7 Arts subsidiary. A re-recording of “I Love You Yes I Do” (1961) returned him to the charts for the last time (# 10 R&B, # 98 pop).
Jackson was virtually out of the music business by 1962 and later managed food service at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In a strange twist of fate, the ageing Jackson was lured back on stage after a Pittsburgh rock band named The Flashcats, scored a local hit with “Nosey Joe” in 1983. The concerts with the Flashcats made him something of a cult figure around Pittsburgh. A new single, “Get Off the Table, Mabel (The Two Dollars Is For the Beer)” got an enthusiastic reception and was followed by an album with the Flashcats, “Moosemania!”. Jackson undertook a tour of Europe in 1985, backed by the Johnny Otis Show. Alas, Moose’s heartwarming comeback was short. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1987, retired from touring in 1988 and died on July 31, 1989, at the age of 70.
More info at the official website : http://www.bullmoosejackson.com, and at http://www.goldminemag.com/article/tyler-covered-big-ten-inch-record-bull-moose-jackson-first
Partial discography (1951- ) : http://www.45cat.com/artist/bull-moose-jackson
Acknowledgements : Dave Penny, Jon Hartley Fox, Bill Dahl.
Dik, July 2015
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