Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

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Fakefest Celebrated Triumphant Return to Atlantic City

Free four-day open air festival featured tributes to nine rock bands

It may be called Fakefest, but there’s very little that’s fake about it. Unless of course you consider tribute bands as fake. Or that nowadays you couldn’t have a music festival that features Tom Petty and Van Halen.

Fakefest is a free tribute band festival conducted annually on the outdoor deck of the Golden Nuggets hotel & casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Just like pretty much any other entertainment event, it was cancelled last year due to know what.

The line-up for the four-day event (July 8-11) featured tributes to Bruce Springsteen, Journey, Van Halen, Chicago, The Police, The Who, Tom Petty, U2 and The Rolling Stones. I was there on Saturday to see Beginnings, New York’s Finest and Who’s Next – tributes to Chicago, The Police and The Who, respectively. Following are some impressions.

Beginnings

According to their website, New York-based Beginnings, which were formed in 2002, perform music of Chicago from across the band’s 50-plus year songbook. At Fakefest, their set focused on Chicago’s late ’60s and ’70s phase, which I welcomed since I’m not particularly fond of their ’80s ballads!

I first saw this nationally touring tribute band in the summer of 2019. A few weeks later, I learned on Facebook that the band’s longtime leader, vocalist and bassist Mason Swearingen had died from a heart attack – on stage at a gig – yikes! After a four-month break, Beginnings resumed shows in December 2019.

The band put on an impressive set. Some of the tunes they played included Saturday in the Park, Beginnings, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, Just You ‘n’ Me, Feelin’ Stronger Every Day and 25 or 6 to 4.

Here’s their rendition of Just You ‘n’ Me. Written by James Pankow, the track appeared on Chicago’s fifth studio album Chicago VI from June 1973. Check it out!

How about another sample? Ask you shall receive: Feelin’ Stronger Every Day. This tune, co-written by Peter Cetera and Pankow, is another track from Chicago VI.

New York’s Finest

Next up were New York’s Finest, a tribute to The Police. They have played together for 10 years and are based in New York as well. According to a short video clip on the band’s Facebook page, their members Mark Rinzel (vocals, bass), Oscar Bautista (guitar) and Alan Camlet (drums) had known each other prior to starting the tribute. One day they were asked whether they would like to perform The Police’s first album for a classic album night show. They agreed, rehearsed and subsequently formed the band.

The set spanned music from all five Police studio albums, including Murder By Numbers, Walking on the Moon, Driven to Tears, Synchronicity II, Roxanne and Can’t Stand Losing You, among others. I thought Rinzel did a great job performing Sting’s vocals. The band also sounded fantastic. It was obvious these guys had played together for a long time.

Here’s set opener Murder By Numbers. Co-written by Andy Summers and Sting, the tune was the B-side of the single Every Breath You Take. It was also a bonus track on the CD and cassette versions of Synchronicity, The Police’s fifth and final studio album released in June 1983.

In my opinion, one of the highlights of the set was a medley of Driven to Tears and Synchronicity II. The former is from Zenyatta Mondatta (October 1980), while the latter appeared on Synchronicity. Both tunes were written by Sting.

Who’s Next

This brings me to the final band of the day: Who’s Next. Named after the 1971 fifth studio album by The Who, their members include Bill Canell as Pete TownshendDoug Zahn as Roger DaltreyMike Conte as John Entwistle  and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. I had previously seen them at British Invasion festivals at the same venue in June 2017 and June 2018.

Among the songs the band performed were Who Are You, Love Reign O’er Me, Baba O’Riley, You Better You Bet, Won’t Get Fooled Again and Long Live Rock. One difference from the last time I saw Who’s Next was lead vocalist Doug Zahn. Just like his predecessor Dave McDonald, he did a great job capturing Roger Daltrey, both vocally and visually.

Here’s Who Are You, the title track written by Pete Townshend from The Who’s eighth studio album released in August 1978 – the last to feature Keith Moon.

Let’s do one more: the mighty Love Reign O’er Me, another Townshend composition. The track is the closer of Quadrophenia, the sixth studio album by The Who, which came out in October 1973. Zahn did an impressive job with what must be a tough song to sing. Frankly, the clip doesn’t do it full justice, though I think one can still get a good idea.

While as noted above I had been to British Invasion tribute events at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic before, this was my first time at Fakefest. Until a few weeks ago, I had not known about it. Given how much of a ball I had, there’s a good chance I’ll be back.

Sources: Wikipedia; Beginnings website; New York Finest website and Facebook page; Who’s Next Facebook page; YouTube

My Top 5 Live Albums Turning 50

Three make a charm. Here’s my third and probably last look for now at 1971. Previously, I mused about my top 5 studio records and my top 5 debut albums that appeared during this remarkable year in music. Now it’s time for my top 5 live albums turning 50 this year.

Similar to debuts, narrowing the universe to live albums substantially reduced the choices compared to studio albums. That being said, I was surprised how many live albums appeared in 1971. For the purposes of my fun exercise, I considered 14 live records. Here are my five favorites. This time, I decided to list them according to their release date.

Elton John/17-11-70

This early Elton John album was new to me. Released on April 1, 1971, it was John’s fifth record overall and his first live release – and, boy, what a great album! It captured a live radio broadcast from November 17, 1970 – hence the title. This was an unplanned album, which was triggered by bootlegs. From a strictly commercial perspective, it turned out it didn’t quite work. A 60-minute bootleg, which included 12 more minutes of John’s music than the officially sanctioned live album, is believed to have impacted sales of the latter. An extended 2-LP edition was released for Record Store Day in 2017. Regardless of the original album’s commercial performance, the music is fantastic. Here’s closer Burn Down the Mission, a tune John initially included on his third studio album Tumbleweed Connection from October 1970. As usual, he composed the music while his long-time partner Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. This is an extended version that incorporates parts of Arthur Crudup’s My Baby Left Me (starting at around 10:30) and The Beatles’ Get Back (starting at about 14:10). At 18 minutes plus, it can compete with prog rock, but listening to John demonstrating his rock piano chops is a lot of fun! BTW, the guy playing that groovy bass is Dee Murray, who was a longtime member of John’s backing band.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/4 Way Street

4 Way Street, released on April 7, 1971, is the first live album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It includes footage from gigs at Fillmore East (New York), The Forum (Los Angeles) and Auditorium Theatre (Chicago) recorded during CSNY’s 1970 tour. By the time they played these shows, tension between the members had grown to intense levels, and the band dissolved shortly after the double-LP’s appearance – egos in rock! Sides one and two are acoustic and are primarily focused on the individual members, while sides 3 and 4 are electric, featuring the full band playing together. Here’s Ohio, written by Neil Young, and first released as a single by CSNY in June 1970 to protest the Kent State shooting that had occurred on May 4 of the same year.

The Allman Brothers Band/At Fillmore East

At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band is perhaps the ultimate southern and blues rock album and one of the best live albums ever. Released on July 6, 1971, it features music from three of the band’s concerts at the legendary New York City music venue that occurred in March 1971. The Allman Brothers’ third album overall also marked the band’s commercial breakthrough, climbing to no. 13 on the Billboard 200. As of August 1992, At Fillmore East has reached Platinum status. In 2004, it was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” by the National Recording Registry. Rolling Stone ranked the album at no. 49 in their 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the list’s latest revision from September 2020, it still came in at a respectable no. 105. Here’s Hot ‘Lanta, an instrumental the Allman Brothers debuted on this live album. It is credited to all members of the band at time: Duane Allman (lead guitar, slide guitar), Gregg Allman (organ, piano, vocals), Dickey Betts (lead guitar), Berry Oakley (bass), Jai Johanny Johanson (drums, congas, timbales) and Butch Trucks (drums, tympani). These harmony guitar parts combined with Greg Allman’s Hammond are just out of this world!

Chicago/Chicago at Carnegie Hall

Chicago’s fourth album overall and their first live release, Chicago at Carnegie Hall, released on October 25, 1971, falls into the band’s early period, which is my favorite. As such, it immediately made my list of live albums I considered for my top picks. The 4-LP set was recorded from shows Chicago played at New York’s prominent concert venue for a week in April 1971 during their supporting tour for Chicago III, the band’s third studio album that had come out in January of the same year. “The reason behind the live record for Carnegie Hall is, we were the first rock ‘n’ roll group to sell out a week at Carnegie Hall, and that was worth rolling up the trucks for, putting the mikes up there, and really chronicling what happened in 1971,” co-founding band member Walter Parazaider told William James Ruhlmann, who wrote the liner notes for the 1991 Chicago compilation Group Portrait. Not all members were happy with the outcome. James Pankow, one of three co-founders who remain in the current line-up of Chicago, felt the venue’s acoustics weren’t made for amplified music, comparing the sound of the brass to kazoos. In 2005, a remastered version of the album with improved sound quality appeared. And earlier this month, Rhino Records announced a 50th anniversary 16-CD box set titled Chicago Live At Carnegie Hall Complete. It’s slated for July 16. Meanwhile, here’s the amazing 25 Or 6 To 4. Written by Robert Lamm, the tune first appeared on Chicago’s eponymous second studio album from January 1970 (also known as Chicago II).

George Harrison & Friends/The Concert for Bangladesh

I trust The Concert for Bangladesh doesn’t need much of an introduction. This 3-LP album captured the pioneering music charity event that had been organized by George Harrison to raise money for war-ravaged and disaster-stricken Bangladesh and took place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. The two concerts conducted for UNICEF, which raised from than $243,000 at the time, featured an incredible line-up of artists, who in addition to Harrison included Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston and Eric Clapton, among others. The event brought Harrison and Starr together on stage for the first time since 1966 when The Beatles had stopped to tour. It also marked Dylan’s first major concert appearance in the U.S. for five years. I recall reading somewhere Harrison literally didn’t know whether Dylan would show up until he walked out on stage. Here’s Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which was first appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from November 1968.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube