May 28, 2024

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Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis was cunning and sly, with a brash blues attack, with roots in bop and jump blues: Photos, Video

The three albums that tenor saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis recorded for RCA in the late-1960s. They maximized his badness perfectly, surrounding him with enormously talented sidemen, and the song choices were perfectly suited to his take-charge sound. The first was Lock the Fox (1966), the second was The Fox & the Hounds (1967) and the third was Love Calls(1968).

The wild part is that all three were produced by Brad McCuen, a leading RCA producer from 1948 to 1969 who spent much of his career producing country music artists. As these Lockjaw albums show, the difference between a good album and a great one is nearly always the producer. [Photo above of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

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I’ve posted on the first two RCA albums in the past. Both are must owns. The third is the subject of my focus today. The first stroke of McCuen’s genius for Love Calls is that he brought together two of the greatest big-band tenor saxophone soloists for the first time—Davis from Count Basie’s band and Paul Gonsalves from Duke Ellington’s orchestra. The second brilliant stroke was having them record ballads. The third was the accompanying rhythm section: Sir Roland Hanna (p) Everett Barksdale (g) Ben Tucker (b) and Grady Tate (d).

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To make your listening life simple, Davis is the first soloist on Love Is Here to Stay, Just Good Friends and I Should Care. Gonsalves plays first on the other tenor saxophone solos. You’ll get used to sound of their distinct horns. [Photo above of Paul Gonsalves]

Both were tenor titans but they had very different ways of delivering the action. Davis was cunning and sly, with a brash blues attack that was edgy and thrilling, with roots in bop and jump blues. Gonsalves was smoother around the edges but no less gifted when it came to blues ideas blended with intimate soul, power and stamina.

By having these tough tenors play ballads, McCuen shrewdly removed the showboat element from the session, forcing both gentlemen to show their seductive sides. Every song winds up as if they were courting the same woman with very different romantic pitches. Hanna is splendid on the album as is Grady Tate and the rhythm section. This ballad session lets your ear move around to different players without missing much so you can appreciate how special these guys were.

In this regard, the album sounds as if the two greats were taped in slow motion, allowing you to hear every single note. If I were taking up the tenor saxophone, this is the album I would use to try and follow along to get the feel of how a tenor ballad should sound. Three perfect RCA albums, one producer. Quite a trick. McCuen today is barely known north of Nashville. [Photo above, left, of Brad McCuen in 1971]

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A postscript: Brad McCuen’s first love was jazz when he joined RCA in the late 1940s. He produced RCA’s Vintage series of re-issues in the 1970s (you know, the ones with vintage bottles of wine in a wine rack on the cover, including The Bebop Era). He also produced many of Gary Burton’s albums for RCA, including Duster; Bill Dixon’s Intents and Purposes; a long list of Henry Mancini compilations; Harold Vick’s Straight Up and others.

Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis died in 1986, Paul Gonsalves in 1974 and Brad McCuen in June 2002.

You’ll find Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Paul Gonsalves’s Love Calls (RCA).

The album also is available at Spotify, along with Lock the Fox.

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