Nick Moss and Big Jay McNeely rocking Big Mama’s this Saturday and next
It’s bizarre how pop has become so intolerant of age. Not that it hasn’t always exalted youth — it obviously has — but the relentless insistence on youthful image by artists of any age has intensified to absurd proportions. Yet music is an aural not optic art, and classic rockers rack up hard ticket numbers. Per Pollstar, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band outsold every concert tour in 2016 — even Beyoncé.
Audiences and marketers of genres that feed pop — Americana, blues, folk, R&B — have traditionally embraced mature artists, thus granting them freedom to reap the benefits of experience and create more richly dimensional music, and allowing younger players to learn tricks of the trade from torch-passing masters. Native Chicagoan Nick Moss was one of those.
Currently in the running for Band of the Year, Album of the Year and Contemporary Album of the Year (for “From the Root to the Fruit”) honors at next month’s Blues Music Awards ceremony in Memphis, Moss was heavily immersed as a youth in Hendrix, Led Zep, ZZ Top and soul, and dug deeply into their roots until he became a bona fide blues authority. After playing guitar behind local legends like Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, he graduated to fronting his own bands.
Savvy and unpretentious, the 47-year-old road hound tours regularly — he’ll be at Big Mama’s Saturday — and continues to build a multigenerational fan base and performance chops at a time when contemporaries are charting out retirement plans. Just as he was once the new kid soaking up licks and wisdom from older bandleaders, Moss is now schooling younger musicians backing him in the unique complexities of American music.
That’s a role familiar to Big Jay McNeely, a demi-legend who’s has never received his full due. The Watts-born tenor saxophonist was on the cusp of the rock ‘n’ roll boom when he scored a number one R&B hit in 1949 with his second Savoy single, the instrumental “Deacon’s Hop.” Subsequent, vital sides like “Nervous Man Nervous,” “Psycho Serenade” and his biggest hit, 1959’s “There is Something on Your Mind” (later recorded by Etta James, B.B. King and Professor Longhair, among others), thrust saxophone to the raucous center of the new music exploding across the pop culture landscape.
McNeely no longer plays on his back or leaps onto the bar as he did during his 1950s heyday, but even without such hijinks he remains a daunting presence — his scowl is enough to dim the lights in any club room — and a robust, sartorially splendid personality who easily commands the stage (and respect from younger sidemen) even when performing from a chair. When he turns 90 on April 29, he’ll celebrate with a show at Big Mama’s.
Cadillac Zack presents Nick Moss at Big Mama’s Rib Shack, 1453 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena, at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22; $15-$50. Big Jay McNeely’s 90th birthday bash with featured guest Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne happens at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 29; $15-$50. Info: (323) 377-5291. pasadenablues.com, nickmossband.com, bigjaymcneely.com