Saturday, February 20, 2016

Blues Saxophone Royalty

A couple years ago, three saxophonists were inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame. Few could question the selection of the late Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson, who was notable as a fluid saxophonist and a notable blues shouter. Also inducted was Big Jay McNeely, who was noted as one of the great honkers of rhythm and blues and is still alive, and Eddie Shaw, a Chicago saxophone player and vocalist first noticed for being Howlin' Wolf's last band leader and his playing on recordings of Magic Sam, Jimmy dawkings and others who has led his own bands over the past four decades.

Here are three individuals whose contributions similarly merit such recognition

Grady Gaines (heard playing "There is Something on Your Mind") was leading one of the top local bands in Houston (where he was on recording sessions for Peacock and Duke Records) when he received the call from Little Richard to join Richard's band in the early 1960s. Gaines remained with Richard, leading the Upsetters, and after Richard's leaving music for the ministry took over the Upsetters and they would become the backing band for Little Willie John, Sam Cooke and then some of the legendary rhythm and blues tours of the late sixties and early seventies. In more recent years, Gaines has led the Texas Upsetters performing a wide range of music for many occasions but always rooted in blues and rock and roll. He had two outstanding albums on Black Top in the 1990s and I recently reviewed his biography, I've Been Out There. He probably has backed more acts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame then anybody else and more than a few of these are also in the Blues Hall of Fame.

If one was going to name perhaps the greatest saxophonist of the post-war Chicago blues, chances J.T. Brown would be the person most familiar with the history would select. Brown's nanny-goat vibrato and swinging attack is best known from his numerous recordings with Elmore James and the Broomdusters, but he also recorded behind countless other blues legends including Roosevelt Sykes, Jimmy Oden, Eddie Boyd, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, Little Johnnie Jones and the blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac. He also recorded a number of vocals including his own "Blackjack Blues," that is a different number than the Ray Charles blues. Brown as Sax Man Brown is heard on "Sax-Ony Boogie," backed by Elmore James, Little Johnnie Jones on piano, Ransom Knowling on bass and Odie Payne on drums.

J.T. Brown mentored A.C. Reed, the big-toned player who was not simply a member of several of the greatest blues bands of the seventies and early eighties, but also was a significant leader and ocalist on his own right. In addition to his prized 45s ("My Buddy Buddy Friends"), he was a member of Earl Hooker's Roadmasters before being a significant part of the great Buddy Guy-Junior Wells Band of the 1970s, followed by a stint with what likely was Son Seals' greatest bands, and then was with Albert Collins and the Icebreakers, when Collins toured in support of Collins (and he appeared on Collins' first five Alligator CDs). His own recordings and performances featured in addition to his big saxophone sound(Gene Ammons was an admitted influence), his tongue and cheek lyrics as represented on his Alligator album title, Take These Blues and Shove 'Em!  or on the rocking "These Blues Is Killing Me."

Certainly J.T. Brown and A.C. Reed's credentials are certainly equal to those of  Eddie Shaw and Grady Gaines' career certainly is as meritorious as Little Richard, who after all was a rocker.

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