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Forum Contributor 2010, Distinguished SOTW Member
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I introduce this thread mainly for archival purposes: Joe Stanley is not a name anyone is likely to know outside the Washington, D.C. area where he was a fixture for many years. But he was a fine, hard-working saxophonist who deserves his niche in SOTW.

This information is from a Joe Stanley memorial website

Stanley, Joe


A Joe Stanley Tribute site has been established by the family at

As important a figure as there is in the growth of the area's music scene from the 50's into the 60's 70's & beyond, he will be greatly missed & mourned. His legacy lives on in an untold number of musicians you find playing around town today.

He finished his career as a member of the Dynaflows, Heroes & Friends and Big Four Combo but when you piece together his history, you ask yourself, why has he not received more recognition? Joe is cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley and he started playing the clubs in the '50s. He was one of the handful that would cross the color line to play with the black
musicians uptown around 14th and U. He was an original member of the Rainbows with Marvin Gaye, Don Covay and Billy Stewart. He was with Billy Stewart at a birthday party the night before Billy was killed in an auto accident. Joe could go from playing one night with Link Wray the next night to Roy Clark and the next the Orioles. He toured regularly with all of them. He had his own band, The Saxtons that backed Big Joe Turner, Sam Cooke, Little Anthony, The Ames Brothers, Lloyd Price, The Drifters, Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Jackie Wilson, Dion & the Belmonts, Freddie Cannon and many many others. The Saxtons would alternate sets on a double bill with Jimmy Dean, his band providing the rock & roll as a counter to Jimmy's country. He joined Roy Clark's band for a couple tours and played the Arthur Godfrey show with him. He was
in Dale Hawkins' band with Roy Buchanon. He and Roy left Dale at the same time and Roy became a member of The Saxtons.

In the early '60s Joe became a member of the Bill Black Combo and ended up leading the band when Bill Black died. Joe joined with Charlie Daniels (yes the "Devil Went Down to Georgia" guy) when Charlie would be dressed in black tux, bow tie and black patent leather shoes with his hair slicked back (can you paint this picture!) for his weekend gigs around DC. Joe had a standing invitation from David Bartholomew to come join in when Fats Domino would come to town. Joe Stanley helped Danny Gatton get his first gigs and was part of the Danny and the Fat Boys band and the two of them were in Robert Gordon's band. He was also part of the Red Hot Swinging Johnsons with Derek Huston and Jeff Lodsun. Joe
has one CD, King of the Honky-Tonk Sax on Mapleshade and is featured on a couple of cuts from The Blues You Would Just Hate To Lose Vol. I & II. On Blues/Lose I, I called him a Lieber & Stoller kind of guy and the following thoughts from a number of other musicians can give you a picture of him:

Rusty Bogart, musician - I first saw him at Yesterdays around 1990 playing everything
from Deep Purple (the song) to Honky Tonk- standards to blues it was great
Roy Clark: Joe was a great part of my musical education. Even back then, (the 50's) he
could really get down. He was one of the trailblazers in good sax playing in the DC area.
Charlie Daniels - In the late 50's and early 60's when I was coming around, I Remember
Joe Stanley being one of the mainstays of the DC music scene. He always had a band
and was always working at one place or another.
Gary Gregg - musician - First time I saw him was in 90 or 91 at the Sunset Grill. I am
a big Texas Tenor fan and I was knocked out - here was this guy, playing live, everything
I had only had a chance to hear on record. I am so jealous of his ability to take the most
beat up and ratty instrument and produce the sweetest sounds with it.
Billy Hancock, musician - I first saw Joe in one of his Saxtons lineups in 1964 in a bar
that I was too young to get in to. I became a member of The Saxtons later in the 60's.
Without a doubt, when it comes to Honky-tonk, R&B and blues Joe is one of the most
influential people you will find in the DC area.
Rolph Hansen, musician - He's not the only one but there are very few players out there
that can blow that Earl Bostic 50's style of sax so correctly. His phrasing is right on
Charlie Hubel, musician - Joe is that link back to when music was vital and played with
no holds barred. You just don't hear many sax players that come at it with that approach
- it is not premeditated and it comes from the heart
Big Joe Maher - I first saw him with his band at Buzzy's Crabhouse in 1982. It was
like listening to an old jukebox but the guy was right there in front of me performing live.
I was blown away
Bobby Manriquez, musician - Some of the first nightclub gigs I ever did were w/ Joe. I
always liked his weathered, rather cynical views, his jokes and his mirror kept things
interesting. When I think of Joe Stanley, I think of a pro; he showed me the meaning of
being professional (I was a teen) in a manner that appealed to my sense of humor
Ed Monti, musician Saxtons alum - I can't think of anyone that Joe didn't play with
through the 50's and 60's. He has always been a mover and a shaker as far as the DC
rock & roll thing goes. If I grumbled about the type of club or pay we were getting he
would growl back "you're working aren't you"
Gene Newport, musician Saxtons alum - He's a survivor. I always called Joe a white
black man the way he played his music. We learned to play in an alley
John O'Connor, musician - I first say Joe play about 25 years ago at Desperado's. He
is both a great soloist, and superb section player; he can play any style of music well. He
never looked down on those of us who are younger and less skilled. If Joe Stanley told
you that you played well, you knew you had done something right. I would use words
like "fixture", "contributor" and "survivor". Joe has given more to the audiences and
young players of this town than 99% of the players on the circuit, and he's done it
without pomposity, self-aggrandizement or ego. If I live to be a hundred I'll never meet
another like him.
Sam Paladino, musician Saxtons alum - Joe is an institution of the DC scene. He was
one of the first to take his band (The Saxtons) on the road when others were scared to
Nap "Don't Forget the Blues" Turner - musician- I used to go see Billy Stewart's
band at the Spa on 14th and U it must have been around 1961 and there he would be
fitting right in
Chris Watling, musician - Joe is one of the last of the great stylists ala Sam Butera. He
has that R&B rock & roll thing down
Stan Weinberg, drummer with the Saxtons circa 1960 - very influential as far as tenors
go, he paved the way for a lot of the rock & roll bands that sprouted up around DC in the
50's. Everyone looked up to him
Phil Zavarella - Zavarella Music - I have been repairing that old Bundy Sax for 30
years and I want that instrument for my wall of shame. There is no other like Joe
Stanley in this town. He basically taught everyone to play.


Good Rockin Daddy
All Night Long
I'm Still Swingin'
The Blues You Would Just Hate To Lose Vol. II
The Blues You Would Just Hate To Lose Vol. I
King of the Honky Tonk Sax

The following obituary ran in Washington City Paper on January 10th of this year:

The Man Who Was the King
Posted by Dave Nuttycombe on Jan. 10, 2007, at 7:35 pm

Joe Stanley, Dec. 1, 1935-Jan. 7, 2007.

To five decades' worth of D.C.-area musicians and fans, saxophonist Joe Stanley was-as the title of his only album claims-the King of the Honky-Tonk Sax.

Stanley (pictured with the Saxtons, circa 1963) passed away Sunday evening, Jan. 7, at the age of 71. He had been diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in early December.

During his 50-plus years in D.C.'s music scene, Stanley led several bands-most notably the Top 40 show band the Saxtons-but he was most widely known as one of D.C.'s most sought-after sidemen. "[He was] the top instrumentalist in town," says Mark Opsasnick, author of Capitol Rock, a history of the area's early rock scene. "He was on call all over town." Bandleaders from rival clubs would contact Stanley while he was onstage at one bar, Opsasnick says, and hire him to play with another band across town later that night.

"You had to do what you had to do to make a living," Stanley told Opsasnick for Capitol Rock, "and I'd play seven nights a week."

An original member of the Rainbows-which also featured Marvin Gaye-Stanley played with other D.C. hitmakers such as Link Wray, Don Covay, and Billy Stewart, as well as future Hee Haw star Roy Clark and Charlie "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" Daniels. Before he received his diagnosis, Stanley had been scheduled to tour with Delbert McClinton.

"Joe was the kinda guy…who somehow learned to play nightclub jazz, and R&B, and country, and rock 'n' roll equally well," says Bill Holland, longtime D.C. musician and former D.C. bureau chief for Billboard. How Stanley became so versatile, however, remains a mystery. "I don't know whether he was self-taught; I'm sure he never went to music school," Holland says. "I think he learned on the street, listening to people play live, and records," says bassist John Previti, who played on Stanley's album. "He had no music theory, per se. He was just seat-of-the-pants and ear all the way."

Whatever his methods, Stanley developed a signature sound. "Nobody has that old-fashioned, real big, fat, Earl Bostic sound anymore," says rockabilly stalwart Billy Hancock, a friend for 43 years and the last performing member of the Saxtons. "Most of the sax players these days…they go for a sweeter, higher [sound]. His was the big-brass-balls sound."

Chris Hall, who manages Chick Hall's Surf Club-the Bladensburg roadhouse where Stanley played a regular gig for the last few years-recalls that his mother was a fan of Bill Black's Combo. Tired of hearing her family rave about "'this guy Joe,'" Hall recalls, she asked, "'Is he as good as the sax player in Bill Black's Combo?'" When Chris told his mother that the two sax players were, in fact, the same person, he says, she responded, "'Oh, well, then he's pretty good.'" (Stanley took over the Combo after Black's death in '65.)

"All of the staff loved Joe," says a longtime Surf Club bartender who gave her name as Lori. "He will be sorely missed. We are all just heartbroken."

Previti agrees. "With him gone-we just seem to be losing one of the pillars of our whole scene," he says. "He was one of the people you gather around, you know?"

29 Posts
I never knew Joe Stanley, but having grown up on the DC area, I heard a lot of stories about him. In 1969 I heard a reel to reel tape of his group( the guy who played it for me was a singer-guitarist, I think his name was Richie) and I remember being very impressed(I was all of 18 at the time.) I have enjoyed hearing the mp3's of him linked to that post. Thanks for sharing that.

Craig Thomas

597 Posts
Bill Wax just played a really great Joe Stanley set and told some funny anecdotes about Joe on Bill's Roots n' Fruits blues show on WPFW 89.3FM in DC in honor of Joe's birthday week.
We got to see Joe play a few times when we lived in the DC area back in the 80's. Quite a character! The man with the "fried chicken saxophone."
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