The Golden Age of Rock with Horns (1966-1977)
Many years ago, my jazz-loving roommate went to hear a successful rock saxophonist in concert, and was dismayed by all the clichés and corny phrases coming out of the bell of the horn that evening. So after the gig, he tracked down the saxophonist backstage and had this candid, off-the-record conversation:
FAN: Congrats on the audience—it looks like they sold out the hall.
ROCK SAX HERO: Yeah, they sure did. Thanks.
FAN: But I have one question for you.
ROCK SAX HERO: Gotta question, do you? What is it?
FAN: If you could play anything you wanted, and didn’t need to worry about money or selling tickets, what would you play?
ROCK SAX HERO: You mean if there’s nobody to please but myself?
FAN: Yes, that’s right. What would you do?
ROCK SAX HERO: [long pause] Well, I’d play something like John Coltrane. . . [an even longer pause] But people don’t want that. It’s intelligent.
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I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that bit of dialogue. I merely want to call attention to the fact that rock music, from its birth, has had an uneasy relationship with the saxophone and other horns.
After all, rock was guitar-driven music, and although a sax sometimes appeared on the early genre hits—for example, on Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” (1954) or Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” (1955)—it always felt a little alien to the genre.
And it got worse.
By the time we arrive at the late 1950s and early 1960s, the sound of the instrument was increasingly associated with old-time acts or novelty songs. Just consider “Tequila” from 1958, “Yakety Sax” from 1963, or “Wooly Bully” in 1965. The saxophone actually plays a comic role in these tracks, spurring the audience to laugh at its incongruity.
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