From the hilarious cover art, through the amazing music of the Sonny Rollins Trio, Way Out West is a stone classic. Sonny was definitely on a roll in March 1957, when recording of the album took place. Having just issued such landmarks as Saxophone Colossus, Tenor Madness, and Tour de Force, Rollins was at an early peak in his career. Strangely enough, Way Out West was initially viewed as little more than a gimmick initially.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. As a Depression-era youth growing up in Harlem, the movies provided an escape for him. “Westerns took me away from reality,” says Rollins, “They took me to another place, and gave me hope that a Utopia did indeed exist in life.”
The sincerity Sonny felt towards the subject matter is apparent right from the start. “I’m An Old Cowhand” finds drummer Shelly Manne tapping out the beat like the clip-clopping of a horse before Sonny steps in. His tenor sax articulates the quirky lyrics composer Johnny Mercer originally utilized, right down to the immortal “Yippie-yi-o-ki-yay.”
The choice of the great Duke Ellington ballad “Solitude” as the next cut is an odd one at first glance. The sophisticated Duke may seem out of place on a record like this, but Rollins knew what he was doing. In utilizing such a song, he points up the essential loner status of the cowboy. It also presents a great opportunity for Rollins to explore the depth of tone inherent in his playing. The bass solo from Ray Brown late in the tune is especially entrancing.
Sonny’s own “Come, Gone” ended side one of the original LP in an energetic manner. On this track, Rollins is very much the “saxophone colossus,” as he completely dominates the song in a post-Bop frenzy.