Today, February 7, 2014, would have been the 80th birthday of the late King Curtis, a saxophone master whose sonic wizardry contributed so many facets in the music industry during the late 1950s to the early 1970s. What seemed to be a career that was even going to hit further heights after he become Aretha Franklin’s musical director was cut short by his tragic and senseless murder in 1971.
Born in 1934 and raised in Fort Worth, TX, “King” Curtis Ousley was an early component of rock and roll and the R&B scene, which found its full flower by the mid 1960s. On records like The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak,” Curtis displayed his penchant for playing with a fervor, a zest which instantly got blood circulating in the listener and himself. Raucous yet light in the best possible ways, the solo on the record stands as one of the most recognizable pieces of sax playing of all time and it contained strains of the type of playing King Curtis would utilize on his subsequent recordings and live performances. It also propelled Curtis to the limelight and within the music industry; he played with luminaries like Buddy Holly and recorded his own songs like “Soul Twist” and the emotionally charged “Soul Serenade,” which went on to become a standard and most memorable R&B ballad of the period.