King Of The Honky-Tonk Sax
Joe's the godfather of the down-and-dirty R&B sax of the '50s and '60s. He led the great Bill Black Combo (Elvis' backup band), toured with Marvin Gaye, and mentored countless Maryland musicians including Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan. Stanley's CD is chock full of organ grooves, soul ballads, deep sax-driven blues. The icing is Joe's bourbon-fortified Sinatra-style vocals on old honky-tonk gems like "Jambalaya" and "Please Release Me". It doesn't hurt that he's got an all-star band: two wailing electric guitars, soul-steeped Hammond organ, and hard-driving bari sax. All that's locked down tight by John Previti's razor-sharp bassline and Big Joe Maher's ultra-punchy cymbals, snare and kickdrum. (#03852)
The Washington Post:
Stanley's Sax Stirs Up Memories
However, if Stanley saw the worst of the club scene back then, he also saw the best, playing alongside Roy Clark, Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton, and it finds Stanley playing tenor sax with a burry tone and a big heart. His schooling of hard knocks led him to develop a broad repertoire, which no doubt came in handy when taking requests from irritable patrons, so it's no surprise that he covers R&B, country and pop with ease and authority here. Echoes of Bill Doggett (Rainbow Ride), Fats Domino (I'm So Blue), Louis Prima (Pennies From Heaven) and even Frank Sinatra (The Lady Is A Tramp) resonate throughout the recording, but there's no pretense or lack of personal touches. That's because, in addition to Stanley's evocative horn and vocals, the music is bolstered by a fine cast that includes drummer Big Joe Maher, bassists John Previti and Jay Miles, guitarists Dave Chappell and Rudy Turner, baritone saxophonist Chris Watling and keyboardist Kevin McKendree. Another big plus are Billy Hancock's colorful and sometimes emotional vocal cameos, which help make the music sound all the more rooted and real.
November 29, 1996
With equal kudus' to the roadhouses of the Atlantic coast, Brewster Avenue and King Records in Cincy, the Apollo and 125th Street in New York, and Dave Bartholomew in the Crescent City, saxophonist Joe Stanley once again trods the fertile musical fields that were the backbone of R&B in The Fabulous Fifties.
The onetime Danny Gatton bandmate is a well-seasoned (and traveled) veteran. His musical maturity abounds, particularly in the notes he doesn't play, which in most instances is the key to success. The Stanley ensemble work is tight and intuitive, and blues vet Big Joe Maher more than holds "down" the percussion chair. Of particular note are the very authentic and period-like vocals of Billy Hancock.
Stanley's largeness of tone brings to mind many of the great honkers and bar walkers of the pre-1957 era. With the exception of a rather thin mix on the guitar on several cuts (and a couple of rather bend-crazy guitar solos) the CD represents an authentic retro redo of the music that was so popular with the organ and saxophone-led aggregations that paved the way for guitar-based rock and roll.
The DC/Maryland region is thriving with jazz an R&B activity. It's also an area that remains somewhat isolated. The Chesapeake Bay scene -- built on roadhouses, beer, and crab joints, and populated by innocent music lovers and unsavory hustlers and lowlifes all under the same leaky roof -- gave rise to a mix of R&B, jump-jazz, swing, country, and, especially slow, sexy 12-bar blues. And it all walked an indiscernible line as invisible (or, at least, grey) as the one called Mason-Dixon.
The loneliness of this area is palpable in the sound of saxophonist Joe Stanley, a local legend since the late '50s. On King Of The Honky-Tonk Sax, Stanley (with an ensemble comprising two guitarists, Hammond organ and piano, a vocalist, and rhythm section) performs an amalgam of sultry blues, Fats Domino-esque roadhouse tunes, and covers of Dave Bartholomew staples (Jambalaya). There are jumping renditions of perennial favorites Pennies From Heaven and The Lady Is A Tramp, on which singer Billy Hancock sounds a bit like Louis Armstrong or Louis Prima. Stanley's saxophone playing is unmistakably in the honky-tonk R&B tradition of Louis Jordan, King Curtis, and Booker Ervin. While the songs here occasionally seem to repeat themselves the album offers a rare chance to hear the overlooked Maryland roadhouse tradition without getting clobbered by a beer bottle. It's also dedicated to one of the region's most visible and talented ambassadors, the late great guitarist Danny Gatton.
Pierre Sprey's liner notes evoke in lurid detail the boozy Eastern Maryland biker bars, strip clubs, and gambling joints where saxophonist Joe Stanley cut his R&B and rockabilly teeth in the late 1950s before joining the post-Elvis Bill Black Combo as bandleader in 1962. Stanley served as a mentor to guitarists Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton; this disc is dedicated to Gatton's memory and includes contributions from Gatton associates Billy Hancock (whose vocals on I Need You are a highlight) and drummer Big Joe Maher. But above all the album is a tribute to Stanley's talent and eclectic repertoire, which ranges from swing and standards to country and R&B.
King Of The Honky-Tonk Sax contains an agreeable mixture of jazzy sophistication and roadhouse raunch.
The Tracking Angle:
Before there was an Internet there was exquisite isolation. Sounds and grooves could develop unimpeded by outside-driven pollution. But then in the first era of mass communication and pre-jet-age travel, during the '40s and '50s, a wave of intermusical, interracial and interregional mingling and discovery occurred. As that music coalesced, those of us lucky enough to remember the AM radio of the day heard a wide variety of music compartmentalized and marketed as "rock 'n roll."
We heard doo wop, blues, rhythm and blues, country, swing, hillbilly, and who knows what else; all of which, we were told, was rock 'n roll, and all of which we dug and bought. It was a crazy time of Cozy Cole's Topsy and The Everly Brothers all fitting under one giant umbrella. Looking back we can clearly see the staggeringly wide variety of music which ended up being tagged "rock 'n roll," and we can see and hear where it came from.
There aren't many saxes left in rock today, but back then it was a key to the mix. This disc, featuring veteran sax man Joe Stanley, recorded two years ago, documents an era in the '60s when the mingling of musical styles in the Maryland/DC-area bars created a particularly tasty, and raunchy, brand of funky, honky-tonk r&b.
The mix of elements here includes New Orleans-style r&b, Louis Prima and Louis Jordan-style swing, and the other swampy, raunchy ingredients, which add up to a fascinating stylistic stew aided by some tasty playing and by Pierre Sprey's "you're in the room with the musicians" recording.
This is the stuff of which Howard Stern's bumpers the music he plays between segments are made. Great party music and great disc to demonstrate the airy transparency your system can produce.