King Curtis Biography

Harlem Rock N' Blues, Volume 1
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Curtis Ousley, 7 February 1934, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, d. 13 August 1971, New York City, New York, USA. A respected saxophonist and session musician, Curtis appeared on countless releases, including those as disparate as Buddy Holly and Andy Williams. He is, however, best recalled for his work on Atlantic Records. A former member of Lionel Hampton’s band, Curtis moved to New York and quickly became an integral part of its studio system. He also scored a number 1 US R&B single, ‘Soul Twist’, billed as King Curtis And The Noble Knights. The same group switched to Capitol Records, but the leader took a solo credit on later hits ‘The Monkey’ (1963) and ‘Soul Serenade’ (1964). Curtis continued his session work with the Coasters, the Shirelles and Herbie Mann, while releases on Atco Records, backed by the Kingpins, progressively established his own career. Several were simply funky instrumental versions of current hits, but his strongest release was ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ (1967). The saxophonist had meanwhile put together a superb studio group: Richard Tee, Cornell Dupree, Jerry Jemmott and Bernard Purdie, all of whom contributed to several of Aretha Franklin’s finest records. Curtis guested on John Lennon’s Imagine and was capable of attracting the best session musicians to put in appearances for his own albums, including guitarist Duane Allman on Instant Groove and organist Billy Preston on Live At Fillmore West. Curtis did venture to the Fame and American studios, but he preferred to work in New York. ‘In the south you have to restrain yourself to make sure you come back alive’, Ousley said to writer Charlie Gillett. Six months later, in August 1971, he was stabbed to death outside his West 86th Street apartment.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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