Gimme Some Saxophone!

As readers might know, I love me some saxophone, and I’ve been having a fine time lately with a document I found quite by accident in the hinterlands of the ’Net.

Not quite a month ago, as I wandered through music blogs and forums, I chanced across a Word file: The History of Top 40 Saxophone Solos, 1955-2005. The seventy-six page document seems to be a preview of a two-CD set available by mail order, a set that includes more text and seventeen tracks of music, if I read correctly. I may get in touch with the authors, John Laughter and Steve D. Marshall, and find out about the CD set. But in the meantime, I’m having a fine time digging into the document

The Word file appears to list every American and British Top 40 hit during that fifty-year span that had a saxophone solo or significant background saxophone part and then lists the individual player or players who crafted those solos or those parts. Plenty of spots in the list of soloists are blank – the writers say research continues – but many of them are filled. And many of those that are filled, gratifyingly, are from the earlier years, when individual credits on records were few.

The familiar names pop up frequently: King Curtis, Herb Hardesty, Lee Allen, Sam Taylor, Plas Johnson, Steve Douglas, Junior Walker, Jim Horn and on and on down to Clarence Clemons, Tom Scott and David Sanborn. The number of records listed gets a quite a bit more slender from the mid-1990s onward, but there’s still a lot to dig into.

And just as interesting are the occasional notes about the research, either notes by the author or else bits of information they’ve received from musicians or producers about who actually played saxophone during various sessions, some of them long ago.

For instance, there’s a note regarding “China In Your Hand,” a 1987 No. 1 hit in the U.K. for T’Pau (it did not chart at all in the U.S.). The note says: “Per [T’Pau’s lead singer] Carol Decker, Gary Barnacle played on the hit single. The album sax player’s name is unknown but he was a session player in the states.”

Now, that’s not all that long ago as those things are measured, but it caught my eye because I doubt I’d ever heard the tune until this morning, and I liked it – and its saxophone solo – a fair amount.

That’s one of six listings for Barnacle in the document, and no, I don’t know if that’s Barnacle – a member of both Visage and Jamiroquai – hefting the saxophone in the video or an actor faking it.

I’ll no doubt be pulling bits and pieces of saxophone lore from the document’s pages for months, and I’m certain some of those bits and pieces will show up here. In the meantime, I thought I’d offer a couple of other things I found. I mentioned Plas Johnson above; he’s one of the most frequently cited saxophone players in the document, from 1955’s “The Great Pretender” by the Platters to the Vogues’ 1968 No. 7 hit “My Special Angel.”

(Okay, so we know that Johnson did the saxophone fills; what I want to know is who played drums? I have an idea who it was, but I’m not certain.)

And to close things this morning, I checked the mentions of Raphael Ravenscroft, the sax player who crafted the great introductory riff for Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” He’s listed twice more, for Kim Carnes’ “More Love” in 1980 and for the track “The Border” in 1983, the last Top 40 hit for America. Here’s the latter of those two.

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2 Responses to “Gimme Some Saxophone!”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    Wow, what a fascinating document! Judging by my earliest 45 purchases in 1957, Plas Johnson, Rene Bloch (and sax section) and Sam “The Man” Taylor were my first sax gods (for Jan & Arnie’s “Jennie Lee,” Perez Prado’s “Patricia” and the Rink Dinks’ “Early In The Morning” respectively.

    The notations on the document are especially interesting. Never knew that Mike Sharpe (aka Shapiro) played sax on both his original version of “Spooky” and the later Classics IV hit.

    And who could ever forget Tony Gomez’ deliciously sloppy moment of glory on Rosie & the Originals’ “Angel Baby”?

  2. porky says:

    I love “Walkin’ With Mr. Lee.”

    I played alto sax in high school/junior college and on occasion played a tenor which is more suited to rock and roll and rhythm and blues. Alto just doesn’t have enough “nuts.”

    Me and my pal (who played tenor) were crazy for Edgar Winter and his stuff with White Trash. I found one of those “cash-in” eight tracks from Johnny and Edgar’s early days that had a MONSTER version of “Harlem Nocturne” with Edgar’s sax leading the way.

    I always dug the sax on Dean Friedman’s “Ariel,” which of course was a 50’s throwback from the 70’s.

    If you’re inclined from some great jump R&B sax check out Red Prysock.

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