Born Curtis Ousley in 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas, he was a sax virtuoso who turned down multiple college scholarships to play in Lionel Hampton's band. He moved to New York to make a living as a session musician. It was while playing in NYC that he realized he would make more money playing Rock 'N' Roll. He made the switch from authentic rhythm and blues to R'N'R, and recorded some of the greatest, most recognizable sax sounds in music.
In the 1960's, Curtis led Aretha Franklin's band, but it was his studio work with The Coasters that brought him the most fame.
One of the most sought after studio musicians of his time, King Curtis died a grizzley death in 1971 at age 34. He discovered drug dealers hanging out on the steps of his home. An argument broke out when he asked them to leave. The men stabbed Curtis to death right there in front of his own home.
There are very few videos out there of the King and The Coasters doing there thing, so here is the studio recording of the 1958 mega-hit "Yakety Yak" that showcases some of the best rock sax ever.
The saxophone has always been one of my favorite instruments. As a music addicted youth, I wanted to take lessons at school. The music program at school required that we purchase pur own instruments prior to attending. I begged my dad every day for a week to buy me a sax. "I'm going to be the next Coltrane, pop" I told him. My dad was a wise man, and he told me no every time I asked. He was wise because he knew his son well, and knew that by the next Monday I would be over the saxophone, and he would not out a few hundred bucks.
I may have lost the interest to play the sax, but I never lost my love for it. I am still of the opinion the the saxophone makes every song better, and this sentiment is shared by Jeff Purvis, bass guitar player for the Philadelphia based band TSX. Recently, during one of our many conversations about music Jeff said that "the saxophone is the bacon of music. It makes everything better". I couldn't agree more, Jeff.
My eternal love for the saxophone prompted me to write this piece. Below are two of the greatest saxophone players to ever be recorded.
By the way; be sure to follow Jeff on Twitter here, and his band TSX here.
Sammy Butera was a special sax player, and in my opinion, the best ever (I couldn't walk down to my basement without my dad making me listen to Sammy's music). He was known as an all-time great band leader with Sam Butera and the Witnesses, as well as the sax players for the great Louis Prima's band.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Sam began playing the sax at age 7, and by his early twenties he was playing sax for Tommy Dorsey. As the Big Band Era died down, Sam began playing with the brother of Louis Prima, which was his introduction to Louis. In the 1950's he played with Prima in one of the most popular Las Vegas acts in history.
Louis liked to have fun on stage, and would do everything he could to trip up Sammy, but he never could. He would speak a line of complete gibberish and Sammy would duplicate it with his sax. One famous interraction, saw Louis cut Sammy off with "Ah, I knew I would get you?" right in the middle of Sammy playing the sound back precisely how Prima sang it. Louis realized that he wasn't going to trip him up, and being the band leader had to move the show along, so he pretended to get him!
Butera lived a long life, dying in 2009 at age 81.
Just because there is not much better than Louis and Sammy playing together, here is a bonus video! Enjoy!
Stay tuned for a feature on Louis Prima. The most entertaining man in show business, and god-damn great trumpeter!
Also -- please leave some comments about who your favorite sax players are.