By Mike Greenblatt
Most of us probably heard “Big Ten-Inch (Record Of The Blues)” performed for the first time by Aerosmith on the band’s third — and, arguably, greatest — album, 1975’s “Toys In The Attic.”
But as much as the song seems custom-made for the elevator-riding, hey-diddle-diddling, down-on-a-muffin frontman Steven Tyler, it was actually Bull Moose Jackson who first shocked listeners in 1952 with a performance of this double-entendre laden song written by Fred Weismantel.
Benjamin Clarence Jackson, aka Bull Moose Jackson, was born in 1919 in Cleveland. A violin-playing child prodigy who favored the saxophone, Jackson joined the sax section of Lucky Millinder’s big band as a teenager. A bandmate famously said Jackson looked like a damn bull moose, and the nickname stuck. Shortly thereafter, Jackson stepped up to the microphone one night in Texas to sing after Wynonie Harris was a no-show. Jackson brought down the house.
Syd Nathan wanted to expand his King Records empire in Cincinnati, so Millinder suggested Jackson go solo. Good decision. “I Love You Yes I Do” became one of the first R&B singles to sell a million copies. A string of hits followed, and Bull Moose Jackson was hot! One of the songs, “Nosey Joe,” written by two Jewish teenagers, Mike Lieber and Jerry Stoller, set new standards for pure raunch.
Soon, Bull Moose had a reputation for risque material. It drove crowds crazy, but not record buyers. Look at the top-selling singles of 1952 and you won’t find “Big Ten-Inch (Record Of The Blues)” anywhere. That’s because radio stations wouldn’t touch it.
But Jackson cheerfully performed the song every night on tour with his band, The Buffalo Bearcats, which he had been fronting from the late 1940s well into the 1950s. But despite his growing fame and notoriety, Jackson grew tired of the travel grind and he retired. Sure, he’d still perform at private engagements. But by the mid-‘60s, he was working for a catering firm in Washington, D.C.
Fast-forward 20 years. The Flashcats, a popular bar band in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, covered “Big Ten-Inch (Record Of The Blues)” nightly in its sets. One night, Bumblebee Slim, a local deejay, caught the set and told one of the Flashcats, Carl Grefenstette, that he knew Bull Moose Jackson. Grefenstette went wild and found Jackson at Howard University, catering an affair. After telling Jackson about the band, Grefenstette asked him to sit in with The Flashcats. He did, and it went so well that a tour in and around the Pittsburgh area found The Flashcats turning away dozens at the doors every night. The Flashcats soon became Jackson’s backing band, and the Bull Moose renaissance was underway. The aging artist even went back into the studio for the obligatory comeback album, “Moose Mania.”
The 1980s proved to be the most successful decade of Jackson’s career. He played Carnegie Hall in 1985, toured Europe as a special guest of The Johnny Otis Show, and thrilled stateside audiences from coast to coast.
In 1987, though, Bull Moose got sick. Stricken with cancer, he performed his final show in Pittsburgh on April 23, 1988. An old girlfriend, who had read about Jackson’s fame, came to care for him during the last days of his life.
Bull Moose Jackson died July 31, 1989, in Cleveland. But his “Big Ten-Inch (Record Of The Blues)” lives on, thanks to the Aerosmith cover that is in frequent rotation on the syndicated radio show “Nights With Alice Cooper.” GM