Big John Greer
John Greer was born and raised near Hot Springs, Arkansas. One of his boyhood friends was Henry Glover who would in later years become associated with King Records of Cincinnati as an arranger and producer. They both furthered their musical interests in college at Alabama A & M. After their A & M days they went their separate ways, with Glover joining the band of Lucky Millinder in the post war forties. However Glover would play a crucial role in presenting his boyhood pal to the R & B music public.
Bull Moose Jackson was one of the stars of the post war Millinder band, and soon he left to go out on his own and organize his own backing band called The Buffalo Bearcats. Glover soon got in touch with Greer to fill the sax chair of the departed Jackson, and so John Greer was now on the mainline R & B circuit. His first appearance on record was with Sittin' In With Records in 1949, but soon moved to King with Millinder and then on his own to RCA Victor in 1950.
In early 1950 Greer was on stage with the Lucky Millinder band at the Royal Theater in Baltimore and will follow that with a week at the Regal in Chicago. Annisteen Allen and Wynonie Harris were the vocalists with the band. By March of the year John Greer had left Millinder to form his own combo which he called The Rhythm Rockers. Their first release for RCA on #0066 was "I've Just Found A Love" and "Rockin Jenny Jones". In May RCA follows up with "A Fool Hasn't Got A Chance" and "I'll Never Do That Again" on #0076. In July King Records brings out a Lucky Millinder release that features Greer - "Let It Roll Again" and "My Little Baby" on King #4379. In November RCA releases "Big John's A-Blowing" and "Red Juice" on #0104.
In January of 1951 RCA releases "Once There Lived A Fool" and "I Want You I Need You" on #0108. In March "Our Wedding Day" and "Why Did You Go" on RCA #0113. For the first time since going out on his own, Greer sees a bit of success with "Why Did You Go". It is reported that the record is selling well in the Northeast, especially in Washington D.C. area. "Clambake Boogie" and "When You Leave" is released by RCA on #0125. In July RCA releases its first record by Greer on 45 rpm "Big Rock" and "How Can You Forget" on #0137. In October RCA releases "Have Another Drink And Talk To Me" and "I'm Saving All My Love" on #4293. In November The Rhythm Rockers were no more (according to published reports in the trade papers) and the label read as by Big John Greer on "Woman Is A Five Letter Word" and "Got You On My Mind" on #4348. (an e-mail from Rick Hanson shows the label from the original 78 showing the inclusion of Big John Greer and The Rhythm Rockers however).
In early 1952 "Got You On My Mind" is a big seller in most of Texas and in New Orleans. In February Greer records as a duo with Dolores Brown on RCA #4484 on the tunes "Strong Red Whiskey" and "If You Let Me Go". In March, "Got You On My Mind" continues to be a big seller and is covered in the R & B field by The Big Three Trio on the Okeh Records label and the Joe Burton Sextet for Aladdin. In the spring Greer and his combo do good business in person at the Regal in Columbus, Ohio, and Gleason's in Cleveland. In May John Greer is back with the Rhythm Rockers on RCA #4685 with the tunes "I Love You" and "Lonesome And Blue" as a duet with Damita Jo. In August John Greer is back as a solo with "Tell Me So" and "Let Me Hold You" on RCA #4858. In October Big John Greer and his All Stars are at the Tropic Music bar in Philadelphia for a two week stay. The last release by Greer for the year 1952 is on # 5037 - "I'm The Fat Man" and Since You Went Away From Me".
In 1953 Greer leads off the year with "You Played On My Piano" and "I'll Never Let You Go" on #5170 for RCA. In February Greer and his new seven man combo begin a tour of one nighters with a weekend appearance in Hartford, Connecticut. In April "Ride Pretty Baby" and "Don't Worry About It" are released on #5269. In late summer "Rhythm In The Breeze" and "I'm Beginning To Miss You" are out on RCA #5370, once again listed on the label as with The Rhythm Rockers. At the end of the year "Drinking Fool" and "I'm Getting Mighty Lonesome For You" is released on #5531.
In 1954 Big John Greer now records for the new RCA Victor subsidiary label called Groove Records, which will concentrate on r & B performers. "You'll Never Be Mine" and "Bottle It Up And Go" on Groove #0002. "Bottle" gets some initial airplay but fades soon after. During March and April, Greer does club work in the Philadelphia area at Harris tavern and the Showboat Lounge. In May Groove #0016 is released featuring the songs "Too Long" and "When The Roses Bloom In Lover's Lane". In August Greer appears at the "Jam With Sam" show in Chicago. Also on the bill are Little Walter, The Clovers, and Sunnyland Slim. In late summer the 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles does turn away business for a show featuring Fats Domino, The Clovers, and John Greer. After that show, The Clovers and Big John head to Denver for a week at the Rainbow Ballroom. In November, Memphis radio station WDIA holds its annual Good Will Revue, and the stars of the show are John Greer, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and The Five C's. The show is a resounding success as more than seven thousand attended and the gifts to charity set a record. Late in the year Greer records two seasonal tunes "Wait Until After Christmas" and "I Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo" on Groove #0038.
In early 1955, the Groove label is reactivated by RCA and John Greer records "Lucky Lucky Me" and "Will I Be The One" the first release on the "new" Groove on #0100. In August Greer records an answer record to Chuck Berry called "Come Back Maybelline". The flip side is "Crawlin'" on Groove #0119. In December, one last release on Groove is "A Man And A Woman" and "Blam" on #0131. By 1956 Greer is lost in the new wave of rock 'n rollers but is now on King Records. In March "Record Hop" and "Keep On Lovin Me" are released on King #4878. In June "Let Me Come Home" and "Come Back To Uncle John" is out on King #4941. Greer gave a look back to his R & B beginnings when he recorded his version of the song "Sweet Slumber" which was a huge hit for Lucky Millinder (with vocal by Trevor Bacon) during the forties. The flip was "Midnight Ramble" and was released on King #5006 late in 1956. In June of the following year King releases "Duck Walk" and "I Still Love You So" on #5057.
That was just about the end of the line for Big John Greer as a recording artist. By the next year he was back in Arkansas where it all began. He would pass away in Hot Springs in 1972 and was barely 48 years old. He was another forgotten R & B performer who was there when the music was formulated. Sax player and vocalist Big John Greer had a varied career first with Lucky Millinder and then out on his own. Perhaps he should have been better known and appreciated, but we are left with the history of his music and the memories of the recorded legacy of Big John Greer. Most of his better performances are preserved on a three CD set by Bear Family of Germany called "Rockin' With Big John".
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