Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Majestic King: The Short Career of King Curtis
King Curtis, aka Curtis Ousley, whose career was cut short by tragedy, possessed a remarkable fluency in all the styles he worked in. Whether it was straight ahead jazz, R&B, blues, rock n' roll or soul, the King always delivered with a huge tone and some of the dirtiest, low down tenor and alto blowing ever recorded. Deeply rooted in jazz and the R&b style of the 1950's, the King took his lessons seriously as he studied masters like Arnette Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Earl Bostic. His career begins with his association with Lionel Hampton and ends tragically as a major recording artist with his "Kingpins" for Atlantic Records in 1971 at the age of 37. Curtis was a victim of random violence, stabbed to death by a drug addict.
For my tastes, the King's finest work is found in his early R&B recordings from the 1950's. An excellent example of the tough sound of the King can be heard on the bluesy 1959 recording "Just Smoochin". In a pure R&B framework is the classic, "Castle Rock" from the same time period, which showcase the King's versatility. The last minute is classic King Curtis. The early 1960's recording "Sister Sadie" is a perfect example of the King's fluency in a shuffle based structure. From the same sessions, "Night Train", played on the alto, is also pure, straight-ahead R&B with some fantastic playing while the King's cover of the classic "Harlem Nocturne" demonstrates his proficiency in handling jazzier ballads.
Curtis moved along with the shifting musical currents of the 1960's, recording soul based records, heard in his accompaniment to The Shirelles 1962 recording "Ooh Poo Pah Doo." Throughout the 1960's Curtis went on to record and perform in accordance with the move toward soul yet his style never abandoned its deep roots in 1950's R&B. In 1965, Curtis worked briefly with Jimi Hendrix and the Isley Brothers, and several years later invited Eric Clapton to sit in on his 1970 LP "Teasin."