You might be unfamiliar with the name King Curtis but there is every chance that whilst listening to the radio at some point you will hear some familiar sax refrains on songs like Yakety Yak, Buddy Holly's Reminiscing and you might even hear Curtis' own big hits like Memphis Soul Stew and Soul Twist. King Curtis was a prolific session player and bandleader in his own right and a very influential musician and producer. Curtis recorded some interesting albums during the sixties that covered bases from R&B to soul and to his beginnings in jazz, some of his album veered towards more popular territory but his playing was never stilted whatever he recorded had soul and a pumping groove.
King Curtis was born Curtis Ousley in Fort Worth Texas and showed an aptitude for music from an early age. His first professional gig came with a stint in Lionel Hampton's big band, in 1952 Curtis headed to new York to focus on becoming a session musician. He played on a lot of the classic early rock and roll and R&B hits with his chicken clucking sax sound becoming widely known. If you're looking for example of this you can't go past the sessions he did with Ronnie Hawkins at Bell Sound in New York in 1961, his playing on Suzie Q is brilliant. Curtis continued to record under his own name regularly releasing albums on labels like Prestige where his recorded some fine soul jazz, and on Atco where he recorded more R&B material. Doin The Dixie Twist was an album recorded in 1962 and released on the Tru-Sound record label, it's an album that was later re-packaged with the album Old Gold and released on ACE. Doin The Dixie Twist delved into the golden age of jazz from the early 20's with a focus on the New Orleans environs. The album has a relaxed loose groove that suits the song selection, Curtis though can spice things up and adds a distinct funkiness to each song. Muskrat Ramble which goes back to the days of Kid Ory has some delicate jazzy guitar work from Billy Butler (brother of Jerry) before King comes in and gives it some grease. Up A Lazy River has some nice muted trumpet matched against a more pop styled beat, it sounds a little like a Connie Francis tune!
St James Infirmary is one of those songs that requires a more dramatic interpretation, I'm not sure it's a song for twisters! However King takes hold of it and in his chicken clucking raspy style gives the song the full treatment with some really stretched out pounding notes. There is a nice duel between trumpet and sax on the song which keeps it rooted in New Orleans. The band appear more in their element on Sweet Georgia Brown a song that lends itself to a downhome R&B rendition. St Louis Blues is another song that probably doesn't fit into being popularised as a twist tune, it has Billy Butler supplying some lo fi jazz guitar and it has a middle where Curtis lifts the roof off with a raucous solo. The most interesting song on the album is When The Saints Go Marching In which has a real after hours feel to it, it starts off with some soulful piano from Paul Griffin which is answered call and response style from Billy Butler with some delicate flourishes.
Doin The Dixie Twist is an interesting musical snapshot, taking the classical lexicon of New Orleans jazz and giving it an R&B popcorn flavour which was a style that would become popular in the mid 60's and then morph into something more soul driven and funkier, something that King Curtis would be at the forefront of until his untimely tragic death in 1971.