July 18, 2024

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King Curtis was the greatest musician you’ve never heard of

King Curtis was the greatest musician you’ve never heard of

As additional than 1,000 folks commenced arriving for the midday assistance at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on Lexington Avenue and East 54th Street, they could not aid but see the indication at the entrance. “Soul is the emotion of depth, the capacity to arrive at a person. It is staying component of what currently is all about . . .” the concept started.

It was signed at the base, “Aretha Franklin.”

This was a memorial provider for musician King Curtis, who had been stabbed to death at his Higher West Facet doorstep times previously, succumbing on Friday, Aug. 13, 1971.

The passage of time could have made the name King Curtis much less acquainted to the standard community. But the new music he made — from the staccato “chicken scratch” sax solo that propelled The Coasters’ 1958 strike “Yakety Yak” to the top rated of the charts to his soulful saxophone wail that gave additional oomph to Aretha Franklin’s signature hit “Respect” — life on.

In the five decades since his death, King Curtis’ name might have become less familiar to the public — but the music he made lives on.
In the 5 decades considering the fact that his dying, King Curtis’ name may possibly have turn into considerably less acquainted to the general public — but the new music he manufactured life on.
Michael Ochs Archives

Curtis was the musical director and bandleader for Franklin, who he referred to as his “little sister.” He and his band opened for the Beatles at Shea Stadium and the relaxation of their 1965 US tour. He played with pal Sam Cooke, who gave a shoutout to his friend’s tune “Soul Twist” on “Having A Occasion.” He introduced his one of a kind audio to hundreds of tracks by singers ranging from Wilson Pickett to Andy Williams. Curtis recognized the talent in Jimi Hendrix early on and employed him for his band, the Kingpins, in 1966. Duane Allman performed with — and grew to become greatest pals with — Curtis. In 2000, King Curtis was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman.

A few of many years later arrives the new, and very long-overdue, biography “Soul Serenade: King Curtis and His Immortal Saxophone” (College of North Texas Push) by Timothy Hoover.

Aretha Franklin (with musical director and bandleader King Curtis, right) during a 1969 recording session of studio album “This Girl's in Love with You” in New York.
Aretha Franklin (with musical director and bandleader King Curtis, appropriate) through a 1969 recording session of studio album “This Girl’s in Really like with You” in New York.
Getty Photographs

The Texas-born sax player, bandleader and record producer was born in 1934 and adopted as an toddler by Josie and William Ousley — his father played guitar in church. Curtis received his first saxophone when he was 11. And as a significant-schooler, he began taking part in at nearby Fort Really worth spots, even the all-white nightclubs.

In the summer months right before his senior 12 months, Curtis visited an uncle in New York City. At 6-foot-2 and above 200 lbs ., “he was not intimidated by his new huge metropolis surroundings and quickly-paced way of living,” Hoover wrote. “Curtis preferred to see how he stacked up from the set up New York competition. What far better way to uncover out than entering Ralph Cooper’s Newbie Night at the popular Apollo Theatre?”

King Curtis with singer Roberta Flack and guests at an Atlantic Records party in her honor at the St. Regis Hotel in November 1969.
King Curtis with singer Roberta Flack and friends at an Atlantic Information social gathering in her honor at the St. Regis Resort in November 1969.
Getty Photographs

He received the heated competition at the Apollo his initial two periods onstage. And he rapidly scored do the job at a recording session in the town, the to start with of lots of. Right after returning dwelling and graduating in 1953, Curtis turned down audio scholarships to faculty in Texas and adopted New York Town as his property.

As his are living gigs and session operate continued to to improve, Atlantic Records’ president Ahmet Ertegun advisable Curtis for the Coasters’ new history. Pursuing his 1958 “Yakety Yak” accomplishment with the group, Curtis led the residence band at the famous Harlem nightclub Small’s Paradise, exactly where he’d commonly expend late nights with club owner Wilt Chamberlain in the again room “with all kinds of celebs until eventually 3, 4 or 5 in the morning participating in dice, gambling and that form of detail,” wrote Hoover.

The rock band known as Mr. Flood’s Party poses with guests (including Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun, standing next to Curtis) in New York, 1969.
The rock band regarded as Mr. Flood’s Celebration poses with company (including Atlantic Documents president Ahmet Ertegun, standing upcoming to Curtis) in New York, 1969.
Getty Pictures

King Curtis was magnetic — he was at the center of a audio scene in the ’60s that bundled R&B, soul, jazz, pop. Persons gravitated towards him.

“It was his individuality, tied into his visual appeal,” Hoover mentioned in a phone job interview. “He was a stickler for usually getting a tie, generating certain his shirtsleeve cuff came previous the sleeve of his coat. He usually had a gold wristwatch on, liked to dress in massive furs and massive suits and just appreciated to play the large bandleader about town.”

King Curtis was magnetic — he was at the center of a music scene in the ’60s that included R&B, soul, jazz, pop.
King Curtis was magnetic — he was at the middle of a tunes scene in the ’60s that bundled R&B, soul, jazz, pop.
Getty Images

Curtis and his wife, Ethelyn Butler, had a son, Curtis Jr., in 1959. The pair formally divided in 1964, but by no means divorced. Curtis took up with Modeen Broughton, a design and situations planner, and the pair was living alongside one another in a rental on West 96th Road in Manhattan. Later on, Curtis ordered a limestone setting up at 50 W. 86th Road, in close proximity to Central Park. “He was redoing the spot,” explained Hoover, including that he’d typically have musicians above to get the job done on some tracks with him, or have mates in excess of to dangle out.

It was there, on a heat August evening in 1971, that Curtis was killed.

The Ousley family: William, Josie, Josephine, and Curtis. Curtis was born in 1934 and adopted as an infant by Josie and William.
The Ousley spouse and children: William, Josie, Josephine, and Curtis. Curtis was born in 1934 and adopted as an infant by Josie and William.
Courtesy of Modeen Brown

There was a swimming pool and a pool desk in the basement of the developing. Curtis and Modeen and close friends have been hanging out there when the electricity went off — a new air conditioning device in the developing kept tripping the circuit breaker. Curtis grabbed a flashlight, and he and his particular assistant Norman Dugger experienced to walk outside the house to access the setting up utility home, in which they could examine the fuse box.

They identified a youthful man arguing with a lady on the stoop. “Curtis was incensed at this uninvited organization,” wrote Hoover. “You far better get your trash out of in this article,” Dugger remembers Curtis yelling. The larger sized male was additional agitated at the response of  “No hablo Ingles.

Guitarist Duane Allman with Curtis in 1969.
Guitarist Duane Allman with Curtis in 1969.
Getty Photos

“Curtis was so indignant,” Dugger recounts to the author. “And he raised his hand and broke the flashlight proper in excess of the kid’s head! Gentleman, batteries had been traveling almost everywhere . . .”

The two males fought. “Then King stumbles back and pulls a knife outta his upper body. He grabs the dude and slashes him 3, 4 times — then falls down on the floor.”

His pals rushed him down to Roosevelt Clinic with a law enforcement escort leading the way.

Curtis was only 37 when he died — and at the peak of his storied career.
Curtis was only 37 when he died — and at the peak of his storied vocation.
Getty Photos

Just following midnight, he was pronounced dead. But in the meantime, an additional male was wheeled into the unexpected emergency space accompanied by two cops. Dugger recognized Curtis’ assailant. He told the police, and the perp was arrested on the spot.

At the funeral services, Rev. Jesse Jackson gave a sermon. Stevie Ponder sang a revised variation of the strike tune “Abraham, Martin and John,” adding, “and now King Curtis.” Afterward, he gave 11-calendar year-previous Curtis Jr. his harmonica.

Soul Serenade by Timothy R. Hoover
King Curtis was perhaps at the peak of his profession the summer season that he was killed.

King Curtis was probably at the peak of his profession that summer season. He had backed Franklin at her landmark demonstrates at the Fillmore West earlier that yr, with the live performances turned into a pair of extremely acclaimed records of Franklin’s set and of his have. And just a few weeks in advance of his loss of life, Curtis was at the Record Plant studio in Manhattan with his mate John Lennon to record for a couple of tracks for Lennon’s “Imagine” album. Lennon, would be murdered nine yrs later on 14 blocks south of the place Curtis was killed, also outside the house of his have dwelling.

The support for Curtis concluded with an psychological Aretha Franklin singing the gospel song “Never Develop Previous.”

King Curtis was 37.