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Curtis Amy — soloist on “Touch Me Baby” by The Doors

17 Jan

This is my first time re-blogging, but I couldn’t have stated Curtis Amy’s case more thoroughly than the writer at Curt’s Jazz Cafe so I was delighted to notice a “reblog” button on the post. I stumbled on this blog upon deciding to try and find out a little more about the saxman behind the iconic tenor solo on “Touch Me Baby” by The Doors. The thing that struck me about this comprehensive blogpost about the life and career of Curtis Amy, whose name is probably unknown by millions of fans of The Doors were there words “toiled in virtual obscurity”. Once again I’m reminded of the legions of fantastically adept, talented musicians who have done and are doing just that. I find this to be a touchy subject and I think about it often.

Curt's Jazz Cafe

Curtis Amy (1927 – 2002)

Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve probably heard Curtis Amy. If you listened to pop music and pop radio from the mid-’60’s through the late ’70’s, then you heard Amy’s tenor, soprano or flute backing artists from Carole King, to Ray Charles to the Doors. But as a solo artist, Curtis Amy toiled in virtual obscurity.

Born in Houston, TX, in 1927, Amy’s first instrument was the clarinet at the young age of four.  He was drafted and during his stint in the Army, he started to play the tenor sax. When his time in the Army was up, Amy decided to pursue formal musical training at Kentucky State College (now University), from which he graduated in the early ’50’s.  He then taught school in Tennessee and knocked around playing gigs throughout the midwest for a couple of years, before landing in Los Angeles around 1955. …

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RIP Gerry Rafferty, Whose ‘Baker Street’ Changed the Sax Solo | Rolling Stone Culture | Pop Life | Rob Sheffield on TV and Pop Culture

6 Jan

RIP Gerry Rafferty, Whose ‘Baker Street’ Changed the Sax Solo | Rolling Stone Culture | Pop Life | Rob Sheffield on TV and Pop Culture.

I’d been thinking about writing about Raphael Ravescroft’s iconic sax solo in the intro of Gerry Rafferty’s 70s radio hit Baker Street before Gerry left his body this week.  Back in the heyday of myspace before it came to resemble that foul mall that is the internet on the Dave Chapelle skit, I found Raphael Ravenscroft and exchanged a couple of emails with him.  Having grown up in the 70s, the solo, which Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield describes as one of the Seventies’ most enduringly creepy sounds, to me represented some kind of sophistication to be aspired to.  35 years or so later I harbor some kind of aspiration to some time in my life create some kind of sax recording that could become a tenth as recognizable all over the planet as the sax solo on Baker Street.  Despite my sense that EVERYONE knows that break, (could it be the most well known piece of saxophone music in the whole world?  Can’t everybody hum it?), Raphael Ravenscroft has not enjoyed international multi generational fame.  According to his Wikipedia page, he was paid “£27 for the session with a cheque that bounced.” Hopefully at least his fortunes have improved since then.

I dont’ know if this is ACTUALLY Raphael Ravenscroft in the video, but this is the video I remember from my childhood.  Funny thing is, I always thought of it as a tenor solo.  I’m going to give it a whirl on bari and drop it in on some gig or other soon.

The Enigma of Clarence Wheeler

29 Dec

One of the songs we’ll be doing at the Mackie Riverside & The Streetpushers show this New Years Eve at Union Pool is “Right On” by Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers, most of which I remember from Fly Girl by Queen Latifah. But as I’m listening to the set over my morning coffee before picking up my horn, I’m sitting here realizing I have no idea who my fellow hornblower Clarence Wheeler is or was. What I discovered by spending a quarter of an hour or so googling is that I’m not the only one. Clarence Wheeler, the tenor saxman who led the jazz funk sax outfit The Enforcers in Chicago in the early 70s, remains an enigma without a wikipedia page (I did learn that a composer with the same name was responsible for a lot of the orchestral sounds I enjoyed on the Woody Woodpecker show as a kid, but I’m guessing he wasn’t a relation). All I could find out without spending too much time researching is that there are a couple of critically acclaimed Enforcers albums, Doin’ What We Wanna and The Love I’ve Been Looking For, as well as a solo LP from 1972 entitled The New Chicago Blues. Whether or not Clarence is still around and blowing I could not ascertain. So if anybody out there reads this and knows anything about this funky purveyor of horn chic, please comment. I’d love to know more.

Cynthia Robinson & Jerry Martini – one of the jammingest and most powerful horn sections ever!

27 Dec

It’s hard to know where to begin gushing about this incredible section of two of my favorite horn players of all time; Underdog, track 1 on the first Sly & The Family Stone album “A Whole New Thing”, released in 1967 is probably as good a place as any. If you know the song you’ll want to hear it again; if you’ve never heard it LISTEN NOW. And if you’re a horn player and you’ve ever played it, you know how good it feels to play it — Mackie Riverside & The Streetpushers covers this song sometimes and when we get jamming on it I can hardly refrain from jumping up and down when the horn break comes in. Cynthia and Jerry were a powerhouse of high octane ideas, just a tenor sax and a trumpet, a boy and a girl in super groovy outfits. Every song on A Whole New Thing has a sick horn part or three and the fun was just beginning. You can stream the whole album on myspace, along with the whole CATALOG. Despite my mailbox bulging with spam, I still like myspace for this feature — MILLIONS of albums can be streamed in their entirety for free on myspace (you just have to listen to the occasional ad in between tracks).

For the next 11 years, Cynthia and Jerry prolifically recorded and toured with Sly and The Family Stone laying down some of the most distinctive and famous horn parts in the history of pop music, recognizable all over the world as well as on about 50 lesser known album tracks. I particularly love the interplay of the two horns on Fresh, such as on In Time.

Obviously it must have been incredible to see Sly & The Family Stone in concert in their heyday. Joel Selvin’s book “An Oral History of Sly & The Family Stone” describes the atmosphere in the band when they were starting out and their onstage excitement is clear in any live footage I’ve seen. Check out the jam that gets going at the 3 minute mark of this clip from Sly & The Family Stone’s performance at Ohio State where they competed for and won $10,000 for being the “Most Outstanding New Talent of 1968” – that’s kinda groovy bread!

And if you still want more, check out parts 1 through 6 of their performance at the Harlem Cultural Festival at Marcus Garvey Park in 1969.

Are Kazoos Horns?

24 Dec

The Horns of James Brown

24 Dec

James Brown has been on my mind more than ever this year and so many nights I’ve fallen asleep with those horn parts not so much swirling as stabbing and jabbing in my head. Burnt Sugar has been working on the music of James Brown all year; we performed it at the Serralves Festival in Porto, Portugal in June, at The Apollo Theater Salon Series in October and just last week at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC. There’s more to come and I’ve come to realize that attempting to learn and approximate let alone perfect all those horn parts could be a lifetime pursuit. Having said that, talking about those parts and the players who gave them to us will probably become a recurring theme on this blog. Everyone knows The JBs, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker & Peewee Ellis, but I have come to love the sound of St. Clair Pinckney’s horns on many of the tunes too. Anyway, as we approach the anniversary of James Brown’s death with which he masterfully eclipsed and forever transformed the meaning of the December 25th holiday I leave you with this consummately groovy film clip of his Soulful Christmas featuring those seemingly simple but indispensable horn lines.

Captain Beefheart had a lot of Horn Chic

19 Dec

When I came home in a great mood from my Burnt Sugar gig last night, I was sad to learn on facebook that Don Van Vliet had left this mortal coil. I always liked the horns on the intro to “You Know You’re A Man” by Captain Beefheart from his Shiny Beast album. They come in at the 7:23 minute mark on this video. . I believe that’s Bruce Lambourne Fowler on trombone and Don Van Vliet himself on soprano sax.