by Robert Wilkinson
Today we send up a happy to one of the great sax virtuosos of the 20th century. Everyone loved this guy and his work!
King Curtis (born Curtis Ousley, February 7, 1934 – August 13, 1971), was one of the great tenor, alto, and soprano sax players of the middle of the 20th century, playing just about every style there is. From Wikipedia, we read
As a student pursuing music, he turned down college scholarships in order to join the Lionel Hampton Band. During his time with Hampton, he was able to write and arrange music and learn guitar. In 1952 Curtis decided to move to New York and became a session musician, recording for such labels as Prestige, Enjoy, Capitol, and Atco. He recorded with Nat Adderley and Wynton Kelly, Buddy Holly, and Andy Williams.
Stylistically, Curtis took inspiration from saxophonists Lester Young, Louis Jordan, Illinois Jacquet, Earl bostic, and Gene Ammons. Known for his syncopated and percussive style, he was both versatile and powerful as a musician. He put together a group during his time as a session musician that included Richard Tee, Cornell Dupree, Jerry Jemmott, and Bernard Purdie.
Today I don’t have time to do a long tribute, but found some great clips of his better known tunes.
“Yakety Yak” by the Coasters
"Reminiscing" by Buddy Holly
From 1960, an audio-only studio recording of King Curtis with Nat Adderley, Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones, and Belton Evans coolin’ on the smooth groove of “Jeep’s Blues”
From 1962, the Sax Man in a twisting, groovin’ period piece with a Farfisa organ playing the lead, set to a strange movie clip! “Mr. Crow”
From 1963, the studio version of “Misty”
From March 1964, the studio version of “Soul Twist”
Here’s a great live performance by King Curtis and the Kingpins of “Memphis Soul Stew”
“Games People Play” with Duane Allman
From 1967, “In the Pocket”
From 1968, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
Recorded one week before he was murdered, I found some audio-only clips from “Live at the Fillmore West,” with the Sax Man accompanied by Billy Preston and the Memphis Horns! While I couldn’t find all of the tracks, these are in the order of the set list.
On the “Imagine” album, he played the wailing sax backing John Lennon in JL's pounding psychedelic masterpiece! "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier Mama I Don't Wanna Die"
From 1971, live at the A&R Studios, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, featuring Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, and King Curtis, in a full audio-only 70 minute concert! King Curtis with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends
Also from 1971, a video of King Curtis and and Kingpins performing “A Whiter Shade of Pale”
We’ll close this tribute with some great video clips from Montreux in 1971 a couple of months before he died. Welcome to the awesome duet of King Curtis and Champion Jack Dupree live! They’re in the order of the set list.
“Get With It” (audio-only)
They closed Montreux with “I’m Havin’ Fun” (audio-only)
For our encore, the studio version of “Hot Potatoes” (the theme from Soul Train)
And for our second encore, the Master of the Sax grinding through “Harlem Nocturne”
Thanks for everything, Mister King Curtis. You died waaaay too young. I guess you shouldn’t have punched that junkie who stabbed you on a hot summer night on the upper West Side. But if you knew he would, I’m sure you wouldn’t have gone there. RIP to a beloved legend...
© Copyright 2014 Robert Wilkinson