King Curtis was one of the premier rhythm & blues saxophone players of the 1960’s and very early 1970’s. Recording as a session musician and leading Aretha Franklin’s backing band The Kingpins, he still found time to record nearly two dozen solo albums, 1959-1971. He arrived home August 13, 1971, from a recording session and asked two drug dealers to leave the steps in front of his apartment. An hour later he was pronounced dead at a local hospital at the age of 37.
His two stints with the Atlantic label subsidiary Atco form the meat and potatoes of his career. Real Gone Music has now released both sides of his 33 singles recorded for the label. The 66 tracks are spread over three discs and form one of the better catalogues of instrumental soul and rhythm & blues music on the planet.
The sound has been remixed from the original masters and is about as clear as it can get. There is a booklet that includes a history of Curtis’ music and information about each single.
Curtis was a master at covering other people’s material and was able to change many of the hits of the day to his style. He transforms such diverse tracks as “Whole Lotta Love,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the Grammy winning “Games People Play,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Ode To Billie Joe,” “The Christmas Song,” and “For What It’s Worth” into personal statements. While they were considered soul or rhythm & blues releases, they also appeared on the jazz, adult contemporary, and pop charts.
The Kingpins were an ever-revolving list of musicians. Being a saxophonist he needed a tight unit to lay down a foundation and a basic melody. He then soared over the mix, many times improvising as he went along. His Live At The Fillmore West,” which adds the Memphis Horns to the mix, should be required listening for anyone interested in the history of American music.
The Complete Atco Singles finds a master of his instrument plying his craft. He released several hundred tracks for the Atco label and these singles are mostly the cream of the crop.