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Plas Johnson and other influences

RayL

New Member
Messages
20
Have you had that experience of hearing a great piece of musicianship and, while knowing nothing about who played it, or the name on the label, or the name of the tune, know that you've just got to have that record?

Then, years later, you find that it was actually one of the world's top session players and that he'd contributed to all sorts of tracks that were in your music collection and you get a good feeling to know that you can recognise great quality even when it is completely anonymous?

In the spring of 1960 the Warner Brothers label in the UK issued 'Chi Chi' By Kalasandro. Against a fast, heavy latin-style 12-bar rhythm, twin tenor saxes wail in harmony. The saxes don't start each phrase right on the note, they ease their way in from a few cents below to give that 'yearning' sound that only a saxophone can make. The tune changes key twice, from E to F to F#. It's all over in 1 minute and 58 seconds. The record did nothing in the UK but I managed to find a copy in a tiny record store next to Muswell Hill railway station in North London (when Muswell Hill still had a railway station). I've still got it.

Then there was 'Image Part 1' by Hank Levene and Orchestra. If ever you wanted a piece of music that said 'sleazy, smoky night club at three in the morning', this is it. Soft bass and strings open the number. There's a five note alert from a xylophone. Wire brushes pick up the rhythm.As the xylophone alert is repeated, in flows a smooth, smooth, alto sax that once again doesn't just play the notes, it eases in from somewhere below with a wonderful control of dynamics and again that 'yearning' that comes from the blues. Piano and strings takes over for a while before the sax returns with yet another breathtaking demonstration of note control. The piano noodles its way through the fade ending.

It wan't until the 1990s that I discovered the sax player in both of these gems was Plas Johnson. If you don't know him for anything else, you'll know him for playing the original Pink Panther theme for Henry Mancini but in the 50s and 60s he was the session sax player par excellence for so many, many great records that came out of Gold Star and the other Los Angeles studios.

Although unrelated as far as the record-buying public was concerned Chi Chi and Image Part 1 share a lot in common and not just Plas Johnson. Co-writer of Chi Chi (with Barry DeVorzon) was Hank Levene who also played piano (if only you could hear him in that big dense rhythm mix with the saxes riding over the top).

On drums for both tracks was Earl Palmer, another master session player who, before he went to Los Angeles, provided the heavy backbeat behind many New Orleans sessions, particularly those of Little Richard. When Pete Thomas offers Lee Allan's solo in Lucille as a prime example of Lee's work, it is Earl Palmer's big snare sound that is driving it along. Before I owned any musical instruments I could whistle that solo and drive my Mum crazy by banging out the drum patterns with a table knife!

Some more influences?

Noble 'Thin Man' Watts who recorded many great rock'n'roll / R & B records in the 50s and 60s. Probably best known for Hard Times, which was covered by Steve Dougles for Duane Eddy's Especially For You album and which is still in Duane's stage set (played on last year's tour by Ron Dzubia). If you like loud, raucous, rockin saxophone, find Noble's LP Blast Off! (Flyright Records 1979) at a vinyl fair or on eBay and buy it - you won't be disappointed.

Sil Austin (Slow Walk and many other sax R&B records)

Gil Bernal, Steve Douglas, Jim Horn (and Plas Johnson) on Duane's Jamie material.

The guy who played sax on The Ponytails' Born Too Late

The guy who played sax on Paul Anka's Diana

The guy who played sax on The Kalin Twins' When


When I listened to the sample tracks from Pete Thomas's Mr Lucky album that are to be found on this site I realised that Pete probably knows a lot of the records from my list above - and although he can play in many styles he has a real 'feel' for those sort of records that I like and has the skill to recreate those sounds with his own compositions. Pete, I'm really enjoying the album (and thanks for the swift posting!).

After 50 years of guitar playing I've finally got a sax (and Sax Aquisition Syndrome is beginning to set in). It's going to be lots of fun trying to emulate those influences!

Ray
 

Sunray

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,708
Thanks Ray ... :thankyou:

That's an interesting read, nicely written ... :welldone
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,807
Ray,

Strong players listed above. Noble "Thin Man" Watts is a player I listen to a lot. I love his tone and the way he tells a story with his sax. Not just lots of tones up and down!

Thomas
 

RayL

New Member
Messages
20
Thanks for your replies, particularly to John Laughter for that listing of hitmaking sax players. There are several records there where I'd not realised (up to now) that the solo was by Plas Johnson. Truly a very versatile musician.

As I read through John's list I was hoping to fill the gaps for the Kalin, Anka and Ponytails recordings that I'd mentioned in my first message, but alas, they remain a mystery.

Another influence I should have mentioned was Rudy Pompilli, particularly for Calling All Comets and the solo in Rip It Up.

Ray
 

John Laughter

Member
Messages
372
Welcome Ray. We may never know who played on some of the early hits. This project started in 1999 and has been reviewed by many of the sax players who are listed as well as retired recording engineers. Some of the names will be lost forever but we are fortunate to have identified the ones we have to date.
 

Tim

Member
Messages
32
Hey folks: Go to the wrecking crew. These were the people that made it happen! Listen to the trailer. Plas was there with all the rest. I happened to go to High school with one of the guys that came in in the mid 60'S. Don Peake and I were in the Coast Guard together in the mid 60'S. Go to donpeake.com I think you will like what you see and read. He was with Ray Charles from 64 to 75 and much more. Enjoy! Tim
 
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Tim

Member
Messages
32
Ooops! Google The Wrecking Crew read the info that comes up, click on it and have fun. Tim
 

compound

Member
Messages
457
Lets not forget King Curtis....Jim Horn, two of the most recorded and respected players in musical history.
 

Tim

Member
Messages
32
Compound: My friend, who was in the Wrecking Crew, said that Steve Douglas was one of the best he ever heard. Listen to him on Dwayne Eddies Peter Gun recorded in 1959. Also Clifford Scott who played with Bill Dogett. It gets no better! Tim
 

compound

Member
Messages
457
Compound: My friend, who was in the Wrecking Crew, said that Steve Douglas was one of the best he ever heard. Listen to him on Dwayne Eddies Peter Gun recorded in 1959. Also Clifford Scott who played with Bill Dogett. It gets no better! Tim
Hi Tim,
Talking about Steve Douglas, i've got the video..Steve Douglas " Rock and Roll saxophone" It's great he plays a King Super 20 with a reworked metal Berg Larsen, Jackie Kelso is another of my favorite's, he was a good friend of Plas and they used to cover for each other when one or the other couldn't make a recording date. There are some recordlngs with Eddie Cochran where both Plas and Jackie can't remember who did the solo's. You see Jackie copied Plas Johnstons sound and by all accounts very well. By the way it was Clifford Scott who taught Jackie Kelso to flutter tongue, Nice talking to you Tim.
Regards Rob.
 

compound

Member
Messages
457
Hi Tim,
Just took a look at Don Peakes site, what an incredibly talented guy he is. Wish i had a friend like him.
Rob.
 

Tim

Member
Messages
32
Rob: Kelso is in the Wrecking Crew trailer of the documentary made by Tedesco. He talks about Scott teaching him. Tim
 

Tim

Member
Messages
32
Thanks John: I saw the out take on the Crew site. It's amazing to have grown up with people that were in the Wrecking Crew. I stayed with Randy Nauret 6 weeks ago in Malibu. He was the bass player for the Challengers surf band along with Dick Delvey who also went to high school with me. I was there for a surf guy get together and Randy let me stay at his home. As we talked one night he had his 2 giant computer screens on, 3X5 feet. While he showed me pics of the studio setup, Steve Douglas was in many of them, for recording he was in a conversation with Phil Spectors X wife. He had taken some pics on my 48 Ford woodie wagon to send to her. She thought it was great. Small world growing up in Southern Calif. in the 50'S and 60'S. Just which I had taken up the tenor sooner. Tim
 
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John Laughter

Member
Messages
372
We have an updated list of "THE HISTORY OF “TOP 40” SAXOPHONE SOLOS - 1955-2011" and we are still looking for the names of the players, especially on the mid to late 50's songs. Send an email for the 94 page list.

Maybe you can help us with some names or songs that we have not added. And we are always looking for photos, bios and historical notes for the CD book which is well over 400 pages. Thanks; JSAXL@aol.com
 

kernewegor

Bon vivant, raconteur and twit
Messages
1,736
Have you had that experience of hearing a great piece of musicianship and, while knowing nothing about who played it, or the name on the label, or the name of the tune, know that you've just got to have that record?

Then, years later, you find that it was actually one of the world's top session players and that he'd contributed to all sorts of tracks that were in your music collection and you get a good feeling to know that you can recognise great quality even when it is completely anonymous?

In the spring of 1960 the Warner Brothers label in the UK issued 'Chi Chi' By Kalasandro. Against a fast, heavy latin-style 12-bar rhythm, twin tenor saxes wail in harmony. The saxes don't start each phrase right on the note, they ease their way in from a few cents below to give that 'yearning' sound that only a saxophone can make. The tune changes key twice, from E to F to F#. It's all over in 1 minute and 58 seconds. The record did nothing in the UK but I managed to find a copy in a tiny record store next to Muswell Hill railway station in North London (when Muswell Hill still had a railway station). I've still got it.

Then there was 'Image Part 1' by Hank Levene and Orchestra. If ever you wanted a piece of music that said 'sleazy, smoky night club at three in the morning', this is it. Soft bass and strings open the number. There's a five note alert from a xylophone. Wire brushes pick up the rhythm.As the xylophone alert is repeated, in flows a smooth, smooth, alto sax that once again doesn't just play the notes, it eases in from somewhere below with a wonderful control of dynamics and again that 'yearning' that comes from the blues. Piano and strings takes over for a while before the sax returns with yet another breathtaking demonstration of note control. The piano noodles its way through the fade ending.

It wan't until the 1990s that I discovered the sax player in both of these gems was Plas Johnson. If you don't know him for anything else, you'll know him for playing the original Pink Panther theme for Henry Mancini but in the 50s and 60s he was the session sax player par excellence for so many, many great records that came out of Gold Star and the other Los Angeles studios.

Although unrelated as far as the record-buying public was concerned Chi Chi and Image Part 1 share a lot in common and not just Plas Johnson. Co-writer of Chi Chi (with Barry DeVorzon) was Hank Levene who also played piano (if only you could hear him in that big dense rhythm mix with the saxes riding over the top).

On drums for both tracks was Earl Palmer, another master session player who, before he went to Los Angeles, provided the heavy backbeat behind many New Orleans sessions, particularly those of Little Richard. When Pete Thomas offers Lee Allan's solo in Lucille as a prime example of Lee's work, it is Earl Palmer's big snare sound that is driving it along. Before I owned any musical instruments I could whistle that solo and drive my Mum crazy by banging out the drum patterns with a table knife!

Some more influences?

Noble 'Thin Man' Watts who recorded many great rock'n'roll / R & B records in the 50s and 60s. Probably best known for Hard Times, which was covered by Steve Dougles for Duane Eddy's Especially For You album and which is still in Duane's stage set (played on last year's tour by Ron Dzubia). If you like loud, raucous, rockin saxophone, find Noble's LP Blast Off! (Flyright Records 1979) at a vinyl fair or on eBay and buy it - you won't be disappointed.

Sil Austin (Slow Walk and many other sax R&B records)

Gil Bernal, Steve Douglas, Jim Horn (and Plas Johnson) on Duane's Jamie material.

The guy who played sax on The Ponytails' Born Too Late

The guy who played sax on Paul Anka's Diana

The guy who played sax on The Kalin Twins' When


When I listened to the sample tracks from Pete Thomas's Mr Lucky album that are to be found on this site I realised that Pete probably knows a lot of the records from my list above - and although he can play in many styles he has a real 'feel' for those sort of records that I like and has the skill to recreate those sounds with his own compositions. Pete, I'm really enjoying the album (and thanks for the swift posting!).

After 50 years of guitar playing I've finally got a sax (and Sax Aquisition Syndrome is beginning to set in). It's going to be lots of fun trying to emulate those influences!

Ray
Wow! Have just read this thanks to John Laughter reviving this thread by posting an update.

Plas Johnson indeed.

Compare his performance on the film soundtrack and with Mancini on Youtube with the Wikifonia score and you realise - if you never have before - the limitations of notation.

You just can't write jazz or blues accurately.

You can only write symphony accurately because... they only play according to the chart... circular argument.

To extend the argument... anyone here seen traditional bagpipe notation? Anyone like to write a score for didgeridoo? Or Jew's Harp? Kazoo?

I'm not saying notation is not useful. And I am a crap reader who needs to work on it... but there are limitations.

The 'which is slave and which is master' consideration applies. Notation is a tool, a means to an end - and not a totally prescriptive definition of what a performance has to be.

But you guys knew that anyway.

It just has to be said - out loud - once in a while...
 
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