"Bull Moose" Jackson was a singer and saxophone player prominent in the 1940s and 1950s. He was born Benjamin Clarence Jackson in Cleveland on April 22, 1919, and he was a musical prodigy. He soloed in church choir at age 3, began studying the violin at 4, and had started to play the saxophone by the age of 5.
He started his first band, The Harlem Hotshots, while still a student at Central High School, and was soon playing in many Midwest lakeshore communities, becoming especially popular in Buffalo.
Ben was recruited in 1943 by bandleader Lucky Millinder, who saw him performing in Cleveland. Jackson began touring with The Lucky Millinder Orchestra, whose members gave him the nickname "Bull Moose". One night in Texas a scheduled singer failed to show up. Millinder called "Bull Moose" out of the sax section to sing, and "The Moose" was off and running.
In 1946, Millinder helped Jackson sign a solo recording deal with Syd Nathan, who was expanding his Cincinnati-based country and western label King Records. Over the next several years, Bull Moose Jackson recorded almost every style of popular music and became King Records' top artist.
He named his new combo the Buffalo Bearcats based on his popularity in that city, and they became one of the top money-grossing acts of the era.
Jackson's first notable effort was "I Know Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well", a follow-up to the Lucky Millinder song "Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well?".
Bull Moose had his first big hit in 1947 with "I Love You, Yes I Do", which was a huge national success, and widely accepted as the first R&B single to sell a million copies. It held the #1 spot on the R&B chart for 3 weeks.
He had several more hits in 1948 including "All My Love Belongs to You" and "Little Girl Don't Cry" which helped solidify his reputation as a crooner of ballads. That same year he appeared in the film "Boarding House Blues" with Lucky Millinder. In 1949 He recorded "Why Don't You Haul Off and Love Me", considered the first hit country and western song by a black singer.
The 1950s brought more shows with the Bearcats and as a solo artist with revues featuring other well-known singers. Jackson's hit songs, such as "Nosy Joe", began to show a suggestive, even raunchy streak. One of his lesser-known songs of this period, "Big Ten Inch Record", has been re-discovered by artists of later eras. Other hits for Jackson in the 50s included "Big Fat Mamas Are Back in Style" and "I Never Loved Anyone but You".
Bull Moose's star began to fade in the late 50s as popularity shifted to rock 'n' roll.
By 1964, he had moved to Washington, D.C. and was working for a catering service, then in the 1970s he became a food service administrator for Howard University. During this time his playing dates were primarily private engagements.
That changed in 1983 when Carl Grefenstette, leader of a Pittsburgh bar band called The Flashcats, was put in touch with Jackson through a mutual acquaintance. The Flashcats had been playing some of Bull Moose's songs, and Grefenstette persuaded Jackson to appear with the band. The Moose became an "overnight sensation" in Pittsburgh, playing many sold-out dates. A regional hit "Get Off the Table, Mable- the Two Dollars is for the Beer" was followed by an LP entitled "Moosemania". The rebirth of Moose's career led to shows in Los Angeles, at New York's Carnegie Hall, and a European tour with Johnny Otis.