Archive for the ‘Saxophone’ Category

A Bit Of James Last

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

One of the better uses I’ve found for the files of the weekly Billboard Hot 100 is to introduce me to new artists, performers whose work I never had a chance to hear, either because I wasn’t paying attention to pop music at the time or because their work languished in the lower levels of the chart during the years I was paying attention.

And this morning, I’m making a minor acquaintance with one such performer after his name caught my eye in the Hot 100 released on January 29, 1972, forty-three years ago today: James Last.

In that long-ago chart, Last’s “Music From Across The Way” was sitting at No. 85 in its third week on the chart; it would hang around one more week, rising to No. 84, and then drop out of sight. It would get to No. 18 on the Easy Listening chart, which tells me I might have heard the record on WCCO, but the odds of that are slender; the kitchen radio was still tuned to ’CCO, but I wasn’t often listening there anymore.

Nor was I likely to have heard the bombastic cover of the tune that Andy Williams took to No. 30 on the Easy Listening chart about the same time. Five years earlier, when trumpet tunes, soundtracks and easy listening made up a lot of my musical menu, either version of the tune might have grabbed my ear and my allegiance, but not in early 1972, when pop and rock ruled my universe.

James Last had a long and incredibly successful career in Europe and Great Britain, as the biographies at All Music and Wikipedia make clear, but he was much less prominent on this side of the Atlantic. A few years after “Music From Across The Way” peaked at No. 84, a seemingly aimless “Love For Sale” disco-danced and bubbled under at No. 106 during the summer of 1975. Last’s most successful U.S. release came in 1980 when he recorded “The Seduction (Love Theme)” from the movie American Gigolo. The record, featuring the saxophone of David Sanborn, went to No. 28 in the Hot 100 and to No. 22 in the Adult Contemporary chart.

Am I going to dig deeper into Last’s work? Despite my love of easy listening music, probably not, with one exception: I saw a listing at YouTube for a 1973 album titled James Last In Russia, a collection of mostly Russian tunes (with the addition of “Midnight In Moscow,” No. 2 for Kenny Ball in 1962, and the ever-present “Lara’s Theme”). Given my love for easy listening music and my long-time fascination with things Russian, I might have to hunt that one down.

Saturday Singles Nos. 428 & 429

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Casting about for some music for a Saturday morning, I was looking at the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1976, thirty-nine years ago. I was living in the Twin Cities at the time, interning for the sports department of an independent television station and wrestling with at least two heavy questions: I was wondering if I’d be able to make a living in television sports, and I was wondering as well if I should pursue the stunning redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department.

(The answer to the first of those was negative, and I ended up in newspapering, a direction that was far better for me. The answer to the second was likely positive. I should have pursued the gorgeous redhead, as in hindsight, she had made it very clear that she would welcome my attentions. But being both artless and clueless when it came to women, I missed her signals. I continued my flirtations, but I did no more, a lack of action that I used to regret, if only at low volume.)

As is often the case when looking at a Hot 100 from my high school or college years, the records in the upper portions of the chart are familiar (sometimes overly familiar, even after nearly forty years), and as my gaze moves down the chart, records are less and less so, to the point where there may be three or four or five records in a row that I either do not remember or have never heard.

And I maybe should have recognized the name of Houston Person. A jazz saxophonist, Person’s credits, as noted at both All-Music Guide and Wikipedia, are extensive. I’ve probably heard his horn in many of the tracks I have by various jazz organists, from Johnny “Hammond” Smith onward. (I note as I write that Person is credited by Wikipedia with accompanying organist Charles Earland on his 1969 album Black Talk!, a copy of which came to me from a friend recently; I will have to make sure to give it a close listen.)

But I did not recognize Person’s name as I saw it at No. 93 in the Hot 100 from January 17, 1976. It was the title of Person’s record that caught my eye: “Disco Sax/For The Love Of You.” As most readers know, I love the sound of a saxophone, and I do like early disco – from 1974 to 1976 – a fair amount. So I found and listened to Person’s record.

The two-sided single didn’t stay long on the Hot 100 or move too much. That listing thirty-nine years ago this week was its first in a four-week stay, and the record moved up only two more spots, to No. 91, before disappearing. (It went to No. 30 on the R&B chart.) But both “Disco Sax” and “For The Love Of You” sounded good enough this morning to be today’s Saturday Singles:

Here’s “Disco Sax,” the A-side:

And here’s “For The Love Of You,” the B-side:

Saturday Single No. 337

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

This is a brief stop today. As I’ve tried to keep up with business of life that’s kept me occupied the past few weeks, I’ve been digging into the song “The Shadow of Your Smile.” The tune, written by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster, first showed up as part of the soundtrack to the 1965 film The Sandpiper, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

It’s a song that’s been covered many times, of course, and I’m going to write about some of those covers in the next week or so. But I thought that, as I’m only here for a short time today, we’d start our exploration of the song with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s take. The track was on his 1965 album Feelin’ Good. (Among the musicians on the album were my favorite drummer, Hal Blaine, and bassist Jimmy Bond.)

Yet Another Teaser

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Things have gotten mildly complicated around the EITW studios this week. No real worries, but things are just slightly askew. So here’s another tease for the post I had hoped to offer today, a post that will now be presented Monday.

One of the better aural pairings of the early 1980s was the voice of Bill Withers and the saxophone of Grover Washington, Jr., which showed up in 1980 in “Just The Two Of Us,” a track on Washington’s Winelight album. An edited version of the track – credited to Washington “with Bill Withers” – hit the charts early in 1981 and went to No. 2 on the pop chart and No. 3 on the R&B chart. Here’s the album track.

Gimme Some Saxophone!

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

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.