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Big John Greer

Never attaining the same glistening level of fame that fellow New York sax blasters Sam "The Man" Taylor and King Curtis enjoyed, Big John Greer nevertheless blew strong and sang long on a terrific series of waxings for RCA Victor and its Groove subsidiary from 1949 to 1955.

Greer was a childhood pal of future King Records producer Henry Glover. The pair attended high school together in Hot Springs and progressed to Alabama A&M College. Glover moved up quickly, playing trumpet and arranging for popular bandleader Lucky Millinder by 1948; when Millinder saxist Bull Moose Jackson split the aggregation to promote his blossoming solo career, Glover called his pal Big John Greer to fill Moose's chair. Greer's first record date as a leader was for Bob Shad's fledgling Sittin' in With label, but the great majority of his discography lies in Victor's vaults.

Initially recording as a singer/saxist with Millinder's unit for RCA, Greer stayed put when Millinder defected to King in 1950. That worked out nicely for Greer, who blew scorching tenor sax behind King stars Wynonie Harris (on "Mr. Blues Is Coming to Town" and "Bloodshot Eyes") and Bull Moose Jackson (on the incredibly raunchy "Nosey Joe"). Greer enjoyed his biggest hit as a vocalist in 1952 with the tasty blues ballad "Got You on My Mind" for RCA. The Howard Biggs-Joe Thomas composition attracted covers over the years from a mighty disparate lot, notably the Big Three Trio, Cookie & the Cupcakes, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Greer's RCA and (from 1954 on) Groove platters were of uncommonly high standards, even for the polished New York scene. But no more hits ensued ("Bottle It Up and Go" and "Come Back Maybellene" certainly deserved a wider audience) for the powerful saxist. Glover brought him over to King in 1955, but a year there didn't slow his slide. Booze was apparently taking its toll on Greer's employment prospects; by 1957, he was back in Hot Springs, through as anything but a local attraction. He died at age 48, forgotten by all but the most dedicated R&B fans. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi
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