Category Archives: Crusaders

Jazz Crusaders: Ronnie Scott’s

Time certainly flies by. About 40 years ago, on a visit to London, I discovered Dobell’s record shop on Charing Cross Road and bought two jazz albums. At that stage I was starting out and wasn’t digging back into the past. They were both contemporary releases and very much at the soul end of the spectrum. Hollywood by The Crusaders was one of my purchases and I enjoyed it very much. I still do.

Over the years I have probably had countless opportunities to see The Crusaders in various incarnations. One way or another it never happened and it was only on Thursday night that I saw them for the first time.

It would be extremely cheeky of me to expect the full classic lineup with Wilton Felder and Joe Sample in the intimate luxury of Ronnie Scott’s, so I was happy to settle for Wayne Henderson’s excellent touring band.

They were funky, very funky! They even made second song, Three Blind Mice sound funky!

Maybe it was because they were in the UK that they played a very sensitive version of Eleanor Rigby which showcased Brian Price on guitar. He’s a Londoner- from London, Canada and plays with a delicate touch, getting right down the fretboard and spinning an intricate solo.

Next we were told there was a special treat. Polly Gibbons, chanteuse with the support band was brought back to perform Street Life. She’s a good singer with a great vocal range and I got the idea that even Wayne Henderson, who must have played this thousands of times, thought that she brought something fresh to it. Well done Polly.

The hits continued with Always There, which always makes me think of an imagined night in an Essex soul mine (being honest imagined ones are the only Essex soul nights I’ve ever been to. They are based on poorly recalled but seemingly legendary depictions of The Goldmine in Canvey Island from those Blues and Soul magazines I used to read as a teenager. Perhaps those are the best ones though). This featured a masterful bass solo from Derek Murdoch.

Finally, it was time for Way Back Home aka ‘The Anthem’. There’s a great version of this on an earlier post on this site- make sure you take a look. This was the track that got me into jazz in the first place. I loved the Junior Walker covers (both the vocal and the instrumental) and it was seeing a version by the composer on Hollywood that led me to part with my two quid- or whatever the album cost. There are some tracks that dredge up deep and sweet feelings- not necessarily linked to finite memories and this is one that does it for me. A great tune.

Regulars will know about my dislike of bitter critical remarks in the style of Leonard Feather. As an ex-saxophonist, albeit one who couldn’t really blow his own way out of a paper bag, I am wary of criticising pro-players. I know what I like though. That is why my personal jury remains out on Paul Russo. However, he is a brave player who performed very expressively and freely at times and who wasn’t afraid of blowing a soprano sax in public, which few do with much credit. I will listen out for more from him.

Drummer Tony Ward was the baby of the band but was absolutely solid and the aptly named Bill Steinway was superb on keyboards.

All in all, another great night at Ronnie Scott’s: which is an essential stop if you enjoy music (although if you are entertaining on the company credit card and just want to chat to your clients, please go elsewhere on the nights I’m in).

I’m starting to rate gigs from here on and this one gets a strong 7/10. Thanks Wayne!

I’m aware that I’ve veered towards soul jazz in these early postings but I’ll not be neglecting other strands. So please come back often and leave your comments. If I don’t like what you have to say, I’ll set the monstrous reincarnation of Leonard Feather loose on you.

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Hollywood: The Crusaders

Richard Nixon can be blamed for a long list of things. He is partly to blame for my interest in jazz and moon rock has a part to play!

Back in 1973 Nixon gave Edward Heath and the leaders of 134 other countries slivers of moon rock, brought to Earth as part of the Apollo Programme. Our bit was put on display in Kensington and this was big news, even in my hometown. A trip to London was organised from my school to view this mysterious substance. Since it offered a chance to see the big city for a second time (I’d already been to a cup final- but that’s another story), I was well up for it.

Once we had marveled at our little bit of the Moon and had a good look around the Science Museum, we were turned loose by the accompanying teachers on the Metropolis and in the time-honoured manner of many stupid teenage boys, we headed straight for Soho. During the course of my wanderings I found Dobell’s Record Shop on Charing Cross Road. I was already smitten by Junior Walker and wanted to take my interest in saxophones further. I’d read in Blues and Soul Mag that there was a version of Way Back Home on a newish Crusaders album and I managed to locate and purchase my copy of Hollywood. I also bought another LP featuring a saxophonist and have just discovered a strange fact about it- but that can wait for another post.

Years later, I’ve still got my original copy, released on MoWest and pressed at EMI’s plant at Hayes (there was also a version on UK Tamla Motown, as you will see). Here’s the cover:-

Crusaders cover-2

When I got my new album onto the turntable of the radiogram at home my adventures with jazz started. Spanish Harlem was a familiar track. I already had the Aretha Franklin version on an Atlantic single but I don’t think I knew that the original was recorded by Ben E King in 1960, or that it was a Leiber / Phil Spector composition. It still sounds superb (despite mangling spins on the radiogram turntable which is landfill somewhere) with beautifully recorded drums and pleasing tenor sax and trombone solos. Try A Little Harder is a bit of a filler, but then comes the title track. On Hollywood Joe Sample tickles a very engaging and soulful tune out of the piano before tenor and sax play in unison and the tenor plays a downright earthy solo, followed by Wayne Henderson on trombone. Thanks to Montysylvano for the YouTube clip

Do Yourself a Favour is a slab of early 70’s jazz funk with wah wah guitar. Its OK but doesn’t excel.

Side two’s opener Cold Duck Eddie has a nice strolling sort of a sound with the trombone out in force. Way Back Home, was familiar to me through Junior Walker’s version and I was a little disappointed with this one at the time as the sax sounds much more restrained and formal within the context of a very tight band. Trawling YouTube, I found this great live version from 2003 (courtesy Horthy66) with a wonderful introduction by Joe Sample. I still love the way Junior did it though!

Papa Hooper’s Barrelhouse Groove never did much for me, while Alekesam is a pleasant sounding track that could have been bland but which is saved by great musicianship.

So there you have it. Richard Nixon, the Moon and the music of the Crusaders. Best of all, the Crusaders are playing at Ronnie Scott’s in a couple of weeks and I aim to tell you all about it. The clip above has certainly whetted my appetite.

The band etc: Wayne Henderson (trombone); Wilton Felder (tenor sax and electric bass); Joe Sample (keyboards); Stix Hooper (drums). No studio details on my copy (maybe someone out there on the net can help us with this?) but it was recorded in 1972 and produced by Stewart Levine.

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