King Curtis – Stewing up Classics with a Pinch of Soul

Curtis Ousley, who went by the his stage name King Curtis, was a saxophone player who played in the 50’s,  60’s, and early 70’s He was a great R&B saxophone player that also played jazz and rock. His first big hit was playing the sax solo on the classic tune “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters. He released a few jazz albums where he played with the likes of Wynton Kelly, Nat Adderly, and Paul Chambers.  He was also a session musician who played with many great artists such as Buddy Holly, John Lennon, and Waylon Jennings. Eventually he began to settle on rhythm and blues. As he said “I love the authentic rhythm and blues more than anything, and I also like to live well”. He became the leader of Aretha Franklin’s backing band the Kingpins and  in 1971 while on tour with Aretha Franklin he recorded a great live album, Live at Fillmore West, of covers with the Kingpins as the opening act for Aretha. Unfortunately his life was tragically cut short a few weeks after the release of this album when he was stabbed to death on the steps of his Manhattan apartment by drug dealers.

Live at Fillmore West by King Curtis is a great live album that covers lots of classic rock and country songs with a funky soulful band. This band is outstanding and includes the talents of Billy Preston on organ and Bernard Purdie on drums. Besides the opening “Memphis Soul Stew” where the band members are introduced every song on this album is a cover of a classic song. They cover Procol Harem’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, Buddy Miles” “Them Changes”, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, Aretha Franklin’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” and a few others. The covers go from being very high energy upbeat covers such as on “Them Changes” where Billy Preston gets to let loose to more soulful covers such as Jeffery Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” where King Curtis gets to strut his stuff.

If you love good soulful music and enjoy some classics this is a great album to listen to. I would have loved to hear Aretha join the band onstage to sing these songs but the instrumental versions are great by themselves.

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One comment

  1. You need to mention the deep connection King Curtis had with Duane Allman. Listen to the August Radio Show in NYC where abb plays Soul Serenade as a tribute to King Curtis. Appreciate your connection of King Curtis with Nat Adderley, a criminally underappreciated trumpet and cornet player.

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