King Curtis: The Complete Atco Singles

KingCurtis_TheCompleteAtcoSinglesSuper collection of King Curtis’ Atco singles – A’s and B’s

King Curtis’ saxophone may have been better known to record buyers than King Curtis himself. In an extensive career as a session musician, his horn provided iconic hooks and solos on singles by the Coasters (“Yakety Yak” “Charlie Brown”), Buddy Holly (“Reminiscing”) and LaVern Baker (“I Cried a Tear”). Curtis’ “Hot Potato,” originally released by the Rinkydinks in 1963, reissued as “Soul Train” by the Ramrods in 1972, and re-recorded by the Rimshots, was used as the original opening theme of Soul Train. But Curtis was also a songwriter and bandleader who produced dozens of singles under his own name, most notably “Soul Twist,” which he waxed for Enjoy, “Soul Serenade” for Capitol, and a number of hits for Atco, including “Memphis Soul Stew” and covers of “Ode to Billy Joe” and “Spanish Harlem.”

While at Atco from 1958 to 1959, and again from 1966 to 1971, Curtis released a broad range of singles that crossed the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts. His sax could be tough, tender, muscular, smooth, lyrical and humorous, and his material included originals, covers of R&B and soul tunes, contemporaneous pop and country hits, film themes and even Tin Pan Alley classics. He recorded with various lineup of his own Kingpins (though perhaps never a better one than with Jerry Jemmott, Bernard Purdie and Cornell Dupree), but also with the players of the Fame and American Sound studio. He teamed with Duane Allman for the Instant Groove album, kicking out a Grammy-winning cover of Joe South’s “Games People Play,” and recorded “Teasin’” with Eric Clapton.

King Curtis’ singles catalog was filled with interesting selections, including superb covers of Big Jay McNeely’s “Something on Your Mind,” Rufus Thomas’ “Jump Back,” Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” and a warm take on Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” that was lifted from Atco’s Soul Christmas. Curtis’ originals were just as good, including the twangy “Restless Guitar,” the go-go “Pots and Pans,” the manifesto “This is Soul,” the funky “Makin Hey,” and the frantic “Pop Corn Willy.” Of particular interest to collectors are the many singles that didn’t appear on original King Curtis albums, including eight of the first ten tracks on this set. Other non-LP singles include the guitar-centered “Blue Nocturne,” an early rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “Valdez in the Country” titled “Patty Cake,” and the yakety-sax oldies medley “Rocky Roll.” Of paramount interest is Curtis’ previously unreleased final Atco single, “Ridin’ Thumb,” which closes disc three and includes a rare King Curtis vocal.

With more than a third of these tracks having been originally released only as singles, this set will fill a lot of gaps, even for fans who’ve collected Curtis’ albums. The quad-panel digipack includes a 16-page booklet with liner notes by Randy Poe, photos, label reproductions and discographical detail. It would been great to get detailed session data, particularly on the bands and session players (and particularly the excellent guitarists), but such note taking wasn’t always on a producer’s mind in the 1960s. Curtis’ sides for Enjoy and Capitol are essential elements of his catalog, as are his early dates as a sideman; those new to his catalog might start with a multi-label best-of, but once you’re hooked, this collection of Atco singles (in pristine mono!) is a must-have. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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