June 21, 2024

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Gene Ammons: Brother Jug! The jazz-rock fusion movement of the late 1960s and ’70s: Videos

The jazz-rock fusion movement of the late 1960s and ’70s elevated electronic instruments, particularly the guitar and keyboards. But while the rock guitar, Fender Rhodes electric piano and synthesizers were front and center in many fusion bands, the saxophone experienced a rebirth in the parallel soul-jazz movement.

Sidelined as a solo rock instrument by the electric guitar in the mid-’50s, the saxophone once again was featured prominently in the late ’60s and ’70s as soul-jazz covered hit songs by soul vocalists. The move was an effort by labels to win slots on FM soul radio playlists in urban markets. Reed players from Grover Washington Jr. and Hank Crawford to Lou Donaldson and Stanley Turrentine had top-selling records in the soul-jazz era with this format.

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One saxophonist who pioneered the feel of soul-jazz without smoothing out his sound was Gene “Jug” Ammons. From 1969 and into the early ’70s, Ammons retained his big bossy attack but became more soulful and funkier. Albums such as The Boss Is Back! (1969), Night Lights (1969), The Black Cat (1970), My Way(1971), Got My Own (1972), You Talk That Talk! (1972) and others featured Ammons with a deep, rich wailing sound.

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One of my favorite Ammons albums from this period is Brother Jug! Recorded for Prestige in November 1969, the album featured Sonny Phillips (org), Billy Butler (g), Bob Bushnell (el-b), and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (d) on most of the tracks. The sidemen in this tight rhythm section are standouts. Sonny Phillips is a soul-jazz organist who I need to re-visit; Bob Bushnell remains a rock and soul session bassist; and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie is still one of the most in-demand pop and soul studio drummers from the 1960s and beyond.

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Of all the Ammons recordings from this period, this one is my favorite. It’s flawless, mixing R&B hits (Son of a Preacher Man, He’s a Real Gone Guy) with extra-slow pop ballads (Didn’t Weand Blue Velvet), and two terrific soul-jazz originals by Ammons—Jungle Strut and Ger-Ru. The latter tune was recorded for The Boss Is Back! and featured Junior Mance (p), Buster Williams (b), Frankie Jones (d) and Candido (conga).

Brother Jug! was produced by Bob Porter. Gene Ammons died in 1974.

Jungle Strut’s rhythm-section riff seems to be an adaptation of James Brown’s There Was a Time, from 1968. Brown with Sammy Davis Jr. on the Hollywood Palace in 1969. Listen to the rhythm section…

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