Thursday, January 13, 2011

Old stuff Friday: Saxophone Edition

I love the sound of guitars -- electric guitars, acoustic guitars, bass guitars. But sometimes the sound of a saxophone makes rock music special. Here are a few old bands that did it well. Some artists used the sax just once, or sparingly: Lou Reed's iconic Walk on the Wild Side, for example. But my focus here is on bands in which the sax was a regular, even featured, instrument.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band made the sax a featured instrument, and its player, a celebrity. I was fortunate to see the gang kick off their Thunder Road tour, and springboard to national attention, at the Bottom Line in New York in the summer of '75.

Horns, particularly trombones, were part of the ska scene in Jamaica in the '60s, and were a part of the second wave ska revival in England in the late 70s and early '80s. But one group from Birmingham, The English Beat, made the sax part of its signature ska/pop sound. This first video appears to be from the Notting Hill Festival in London.

And here is their anti-Thatcher "Stand Down Margaret, which in concert often was fused with the old Prince Buster sex romp "Whine and Grine".

And finally, for one of the most innovative uses of the sax, Morphine. Mark Sandman, the visionary behind Morphine, decided that all riffs that normally could be played by a lead guitar could be played better, and "chunkier", by a sax. So he formed a three piece with himself on bass, and Dana Colley on sax. The music from Morphine ended in '99 when Sandman died of a heart attack on stage.

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