Almost nobody saw Deacon and the Suprelles that audition night. And I don't know where they got the name "Deacon", and their Deacon was a fiction, just part of a gag, "Deacon isn't here tonight..."
Charlie Musselwhite saw the name on the poster and said, "Deacon" and then "The Deacon". After what seemed a long strange minute, I KNEW who he meant. Charlie meant Big Jay McNeely called "The Deacon" because he did a tune called "The Deacon's Hop".
I like reading and hearing about shows I didn't see, especially if they were good ones or give a glimpse into culture or history.
I never did see Big Jay McNeely
, but my sister did, and not only was her evening memorable, I remember her account of it to this very day. Johnny Otis had a weekly television show broadcast throughout Los Angeles direct from Compton (might have been channel 5) and he owned a club in Compton, not exactly a shack on the tracks (which is how some historians would like it to be), but more like a storefront on Wilmington or some other big boulevard, but the rear door faced an alley, then a wide expanse of prairie, then there were the Southern Pacific railroad tracks (though it might have been Union Pacific).
My sister, being an adventuresome music-loving teenager, would on weekend nights tell my parents she and her neighborhood friend were baby sitting, and they would sneak off to hear "that jungle music." They'd arrange this like a military operation, at a pre-arranged time a carful of friends would be waiting for them in the food market's parking lot a block away, and they'd head out to go hear music at the Olympic or another big ballroom. In the times I am speaking of, those uneasy times of pre-Civil Rights movement integration, the white kids could come and listen, and the black kids could dance. Once in awhile I would hear some of the stories of those ball rooms -- one kid diving off the balcony. Others dancing the "dirty boogie", hopping towards each other while the boy suggestively unzipped his jeans, and always stories about the music! Big Jay
played on Johnny Otis show, and in clubs. He was eventually banned by city ordinance from playing in Los Angeles because "he stirred kids up" and they "turned into wild Watusis" as the expression went. My sister saw him, and described how he played while walking up and down the bar stepping past people's drinks and how he would lay on his back on the bar and solo for half an hour, all while playing the same song. They'd switch off the lights, and you could only see his saxophone, which glowed eerily as he played in the dark because he'd painted it all up with flourescent paints of orange and green.
She thought he was so cool, she and some other girls copped part of his act for the junior high school talent show. They painted white cotton gardener's gloves with flourescent paint then switched off the lights during the song, so all you could see were the gloves moving in the dark and hear the singing.
Anyway, Big Jay's music was well known and to most only by reputation. I think he made just a very few records back in the '50s when he was most renown, I've heard because he was suspicious of the business, having watched others get ripped off getting paid $50 for their record while the record company owner ended up driving a Cadillac from it.
Anyway, one evening my sister and her friend went "baby sitting" again but that particular ruse came to an end when they returned home earlier than expected, arriving in the back seat of a police car. It was simply was not allowed for white girls to listen to black music even from a sidewalk outside a club, and the policemen who would cruise in front of the club had caught them unawares. He threatened them with arrest for loitering and a curfew violation which could guarantee them a stint in the California Youth Authority while driving them safely home.
Here is what The Deacon (Big Jay McNeely) looked like back then: