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Rock'n Roll Saxophone


Rock & Roll Sheet Music

Rock & Roll Saxophone - sheet music
Rock & Roll Saxophone

An Introduction To A Revolution, part 2

By Neil Sharpe and John Lull

Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone,
Little Joe was blowin' on the slide trombone.
The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang,
the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang.
Let's rock, everybody, let's rock.
Everybody in the whole cell block
was dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock.

Jailhouse Rock- Elvis Presley (Lyrics by Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller)

Things broke wide open in the 1950’s, as sax driven rock n’ roll and rhythm and blues hits swept the charts, not only acting as a sound board for teenage problems and experiences, but also helping to trigger social change. As Billy Boy Arnold wrote, "I was on tour with Fats Domino and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson. The white people wanted to see Fats Domino, and they weren't going to stand for that segregation...See, in the 50's...people stopped Jim Crow at theaters and things. The audience did that on their own. They would come down and break down the barriers...They started integrating. The music did that. [Little Richard talks about some of the difficulties he faced. Click here and go to Part Two of the interview “The Hound and Little Richard]

Prominent saxophonists in the 1950's included Lee Allen, Red Prysock, King Curtis, Sam “The Man” Taylor, Clifford Scott, Gene Barge, Sil Austin, Earl Bostic, Plas Johnson, Jimmy Forrest, Grady Gaines, Don Wilkerson, Gil Bernal, Joey D’ Ambrosia,Rudy Pompilli, Herb Hardesty, Jesse Powell, Justin Gordon, Rusty Bryant, Freddie Mitchell, Noble Watts, Maxwell Davis, Alvin “Red” Tyler, Henry Hayes, Lionel Torrence (Louisiana blues), Bull Moose Jackson, Sam Butera (with the highly influential Louis Prima), Haywood Henry, Willis "Gatortail" Jackson, Johnny Pennino (known as 'The Tenor Sax King of New Orleans'), Jimmy Cavallo (who, with Joe Marillo, played the title track of Alan Freed's movie, 'Rock, Rock, Rock'), Nat Perrilliat and blues greats JT Brown, Eddie Chamblee, Bobby Forte, A.C. Reed, and Eddie Shaw, to name just a very few.

They were followed in the 1960’s by many great players, including Junior Walker, Boots Randolph, Maceo Parker, Jim Horn, Steve Douglas, Artie Kaplan, David "Fathead" Newman, Bobby Forte, Ace Cannon, the critically influential "Ska" sound from Jamaica popularized by the Skatalites with Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso on tenors, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Brad Bauder, Dennis Payton, Mike Terry, Charles Axton (of The Mar-keys), Red Holloway, Andrew Love and Floyd Newman (Memphis Horns), and in the 1970’s by  Clarence Clemons, Johnny Colla, Fred Lipsius, Bobby Keys, Jerry Lacroix, Dick Parry, Oliver Sain, Tom Scott, Lee Jay Thompson, and Edgar Winter.

Today’s great players continue this heritage, including Michael "Tunes" Antunes, "Sax" Gordon Beadle, Steve Berlin, Ed Calle,  Pat Carey, Hank Hurricane Carter, Darryl Dixon and Dave Watson aka Chops Horns, Crispin Cioe, Andrew Clark, Mel Collins, Sonny Del-Rio, Candy Dulfer, Ben Ellman, Cash Farrar, Johnny Ferreira, John Firmin, Doug James, Roger Lewis, John Laughter, John Lull, Lou “Blue Lou” Marini, LeRoi Moore, Jerry Peterson, Gregg Piccolo, Christopher Plock, Baron Raymonde, Mark Russo, Bill Runge, Scotty Shetler, Jon Smith, Joey "The Saint" St. John-Ryan, Joe Sublett ("Texacali Horns"), Pete Thomas, Detroit Gary Wiggins, Don Wise, and David Woodward, Elliott Chavers and Joe Stanley (to name just a few: please see infra "The Last Ten Years: Who's Interesting?: Sax on the Web- Discussion Thread)

Although the term “rock n’ roll saxophone” is commonly used to describe the sax styles of many of the charts hits during the 1940's, 1950’s, and 1960’s, as John Laughter later describes in the article, “Styles: The Billboard Top 40 hits of the 50s/60s”, many distinct styles actually were applied by saxophonists.

The 1940’s rhythm and blues and jump blues based sax styles -exemplified by Big Jay McNeely’s Deacon’s Hop, Joe Houston’s hits Earthquake and All Night Long, and Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train (later redone in the 1960’s with a great cover by James Brown, featuring J.C. Davis on tenor)- by the 1950's had evolved into distinct new styles including Red Prysock’s blistering, note swarming, Handclapping, Rudy Pompilli’s hard driving tenor on Rudy’s Rock by Bill Haley and The Comets, Herb Hardesty's tight knit, beautifully constructed, solo on Fats Domino’s I’m Walking, Sam the Man Taylor's ripping solo on Nappy Brown’s Don’t Be Angry (compare to his evocative, haunting solo on Ivory Joe Hunter’s Since I Met You Baby), King Curtis' landmark solos with The Coasters on Yakety Yak and Charlie Brown, Plas Johnson on Bony Moronie by Larry Williams, and the seminal playing of Lee Allen and baritone sax man Alvin "Red" Tyler on Little Richard's explosive album Here’s Little Richard on hits like Tutti Frutti, Slippin’ and Slidin’, and The Girl Can’t Help It with Grady Gaines's great tenor sax featured on Keep a Knockin'.

Sax driven instrumentals found great chart success, most notably Clifford Scott’s watershed solo on Bill Doggett's Honky Tonk Parts One and Two, Earl Bostic with Sleep and Flamingo, Sil Austin’s Slow Walk, Chuck Rio on Tequila by The Champs, Lee Allen’s Walking With Mr. Lee, Harlem Nocturne by the Viscounts featuring Harry Haller on tenor, Raunchy by Bill Justis (also covered by Billy Vaughn with Justin Gordon on alto), Johnny Paris of Johnny and the Hurricanes’ Red River Rock, and Duane Eddy’s Movin n’ Groovin with Plas Johnson on tenor and Gil Bernal on Rebel Rouser.

In the 1960s, Gene "Daddy G" Barge was featured on Gary “U.S.” Bonds’ chart hits New Orleans and the number one chart topper, Quarter to Three, Artie Kaplan played all the sax parts on hits like Keep Your Hands Off My Baby by Little Eva, Ace Cannon hit the charts with the Bill Black Combo as well the instrumental Tuff, Denis Payton rode in on the mid-60's English music invasion playing tenor on the Dave Clark Five’s hit Can’t You See That’s She’s Mine, Mike Brough on tenor was the main attraction on the platinum selling single Charlena by Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights, the Al Casey Combo created a great organ-sax sound including the hit Jivin’ Around featuring Brad Bauder on tenor, Mike Terry brought the baritone sax into the spotlight on hits by The Supremes (e.g. Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart), The Four Tops (It’s The Same Old Song) and Cliff Nobles and Co. (The Horse), and Boots Randolph's tenor sax was a compelling feature on many records ranging from Brenda Lee's top ten hits, especially the enduring favorite Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, his turn on baritone sax for Elvis Presley's Return to Sender, while contributing his own, highly influential instrumental, Yakety Sax.

King Curtis embraced the “soul” music sound (e.g. Memphis Soul Stew; Soul Twist; Soul Serenade), Junior Walker had charts hits including Shotgun and What Does It Take (as well as the song, featuring great triplet runs, that contributed the title to this Introduction, Gotta Hold On To This Feelin’), while James Brown, Bootsy Collins and sax player Maceo Parker, took the earlier styles of jump blues and rhythm & blues and modified them into a “stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks” sound that eventually became “funk music” (e.g. Cold Sweat, Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Doing It To Death, Mother Popcorn).

All of these styles have one thing in common- the “blues feeling”.

The blues is much more than any particular chord progression, scale, or series of “blue notes”. It’s critically important to understand this. Chords and scales are important tools, but they’re not the whole story. The real blues is a strong expression of soulful feeling. To play blues and all the blue based styles including swing, jump, rock n’ roll, rhythm & blues, rock, funk, and jazz, you need to infuse everything you play with that blues feeling.

Musicologists will tell you the "blues feeling" results from a juxtaposition of blue notes (flatted 3rds, 5ths, and 7ths) with more standard western harmony.  Various devices, including the use the blues scale, dominant chords in the 12 bar I-IV-V harmony of traditional blues, call and response, repetition, and (on the sax) special effects like growling, flutter tongue, and alternate fingerings will help to attain the bittersweet feel of the blues.  These chords, devices, and effects will be discussed in the following articles.

But to really understand “blues feeling”, you need to listen to the blues’ greats such as Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Howling Wolf, KoKo Taylor, Robert Cray, and BB King, to name just a very few.

Also, check out blues guitarists and blues bands that use a sax player or horn section.  Examples include the Buddy Johnson Orchestra (Purvis Henson on tenor), Albert King, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Long John Hunter, Magic Sam, and many more. Recordings by these artists are very useful for picking up standard horn lines and riffs that are part of the blues language.

Yes, it’s important to learn the harmony, chords, scales (major, minor, mixolydian, blues, etc.), and other devices.  But, it’s equally important to listen to how blues musicians use harmony and various tools such as the blues scale. You’ll soon discover that there is much more to playing the blues than just running the notes of any given scale up and down.

I have studied theory, jazz, classical, etc., but when it gets to blues/swing etc., a lot of that stuff just goes out the window. It's more about sitting with a piece you like and studying the crap out of it...copying the guys' licks, subtleties in tone like growls, breath, etc.
 ~ Johnny Ferreira              

To play the blues with any authenticity, you must play it with a certain attitude and authority. Certain “signature” licks and phrases also lend authority to your blues playing. All of the earlier sax techniques, licks, riffs, and styles remain in use and still sound great today.

That’s why these articles have been written- to point you to the practical tools you need. Listen closely and play along with the saxophonists and sax solos discussed in these articles to discover some of the licks and rhythms that can give a real emotional feel to the music.

Of course, in this discussion of artists and significant solos, our intent is not to provide a comprehensive review but only a general introduction and overview. A comprehensive review of the many important artists, solos, regional styles, and technique developments is beyond the scope of this Introduction. Accordingly, if a favorite artist or solo has not been mentioned, our apologies. Indeed, it is our hope that this Introduction will serve as a platform to allow readers to provide their opinions and comments in an ongoing discussion about these styles of music, and how each played a critical role in the development of the saxophone. If you would like to offer any comments, suggestions, and contributions, please contact the Contributing Editor, Neil Sharpe via e-mail .

Ladies and gentlemen, let's have some good rockin' tonight!


Balliett Whitney (2002) Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz1954-2001. (St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York). “Dexter”, p. 483-484; “Big Ben”, p. 863-866.

Dawson Jim (1994) Nervous Man Nervous: (Big Nickel Publishing)-A fascinating review of the flamboyant swing and jump blues saxophonists and their critical influence on rock n” roll and rhythm and blues. This book includes bios of Big Jay McNeely, Joe Houston, King Curtis, Chuck Higgins, Hal Singer, Big Al Sears, Sam "The Man" Taylor, and more. The book takes a special look at Big Jay McNeely and his influence on future generations of musicians, including Jimi Hendrix.

Dunas Jeff ( 2003 ) State of the Blues. (Aperture Foundation) . p. 72, 103,105. Quotes by Jeff Walker, Rufus Thomas, Billy Boy Arnold.

Hultin Randi (Challman Tim, Translator) (2003) Born Under The Sign of Jazz, (Sanctuary Publishing, Ltd.); page 296 regarding Louis Jordan's influence on Sonny Rollins.

Laughter John, Marshall Steve (2006) The History of “Top  40” Saxophone Solos: 1955-2006.

Porter Bob (1986) Atlantic Honkers: Rhythm & Blues Sax Anthology (2 LP set) Liner notes- Atlantic Records 78 1666-1-F: Also see: Jazz At The Philharmonic: The First Concert; CD. Issued: Mar 22, 1994: Verve (USA) 731452164629

Taylor Dennis (2001): "Blues Saxophone- An In-Depth Look at the Styles of the Masters"- Hal Leonard Corporation.

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Neil Sharpe
Neil Sharpe is a SOTW Contributing Editor has extensive experience with the emotional and psychological aspects of performance, health, and well being. He is the author and co-author of three professional texts and numerous peer reviewed papers. Neil and his sax have terrified the unsuspecting since the 1950's.

More articles by Neil Sharpe:
o Anxiety, Emotions and Performing Well 1, 2, 3
o JOHN BARROW; How NOT To Make It In The Pop World
o Jazz and The Touch of Zen: Ken Fornetran
Created: September 25, 2006.
Update October 4, 2007
© 2006-7, Harri Rautiainen and respective authors