Who is the greatest blues saxophone player? Sam the Man Taylor was one of the most in-demand sax players in Rock ‘n’ Roll – and you’ve probably never heard of him.
Sax School tutor and Blues saxophone pro Dean Hilson introduces you to the music of Sam the Man Taylor, and shares some of his best tracks for you to go and discover for yourself. Plus we’ve got a transcription for you of one of Sam Taylor’s iconic solos which we’re going to dig into as well.
This month in Sax School it’s all about the Blues. Our members are learning a fun original Blues tune as well as looking at some of the sax players who’ve defined the Blues sax sound we all love.
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Defining the Blues
And Sam the Man Taylor was certainly a great blues saxophone player. In the 1950s he was one of the most in-demand session musicians working in New York. He played on a staggering number of the Rock ‘n’ Roll hits of the time, with everyone from Sarah Vaughan to Count Basie to Benny Goodman to Ray Charles.
Sam Taylor was born in Lexington, Tennessee on 12th June 1916. After studying at Alabama State University, he played and toured with jazz and R’n’B bandleaders Cootie Williams, Lucky Millinder, and Cab Calloway.
When he started working as a session musician in New York, Sam Taylor’s playing started to get him noticed.
He worked for big record labels including Atlantic, Savoy and Apollo. And he even replaced Count Basie as Bandleader on Alan Freed’s radio show “Camel Rock n Roll Dance Party.” Alan Freed was the guy who sold rock ‘n’ roll to the mainstream American teenage audience.
Although so much in demand in the music industry, Sam the Man Taylor didn’t get the audience recognition he deserved. He even had a record deal with MG but his records didn’t sell, because he wasn’t well known. In fact, he has never been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, so he’s as unrecognised in death as he was in life.
Interestingly, Sam Taylor had a surprise second recording career in Japan. When Beatlemania overtook the music scene, the saxophone dropped out of favour. Sam Taylor began recording and performing in Japan and built up a large following, with a gentler and more tranquil style.
Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor: Recordings to Check Out
So if you want to start checking out Sam the Man Taylor’s sax playing, where should you start? I’d begin with Rockin’ at the Hop. On this album, Taylor leads his own band. It’s an album of classic fifties R ‘n’ B with Taylor’s rocking, tough tenor sound. A great track on this album is Oo Wee for an example of what you can do with just one note.
Another track you should definitely listen to is Taylor Made. It’s got the lot – smears, articulation and altissimo – and he swings hard.
If you want to explore further, have a listen to the track Midnight Rambler on the awesomely named Honkers and Screamers compilation album. This album also features tracks by other great blues sax players of the day – Lee Allen, Big Jay McNeely, and Hal Singer.
Midnight Rambler: The Solo Transcription
In fact, the solo transcription I’ve got for you today is from “Midnight Rambler.”
As a teenage sax player, I heard this track on the radio in Melbourne. Straight away, I knew that was the sound I wanted on my saxophone. I even rang the radio station to find out the name of the track. I scoured the record shops to find it, and this was one of the first sax solos I ever transcribed. This track had a huge influence on my saxophone playing, and even now there’s so much great stuff here.
This is a great track to learn if you’re into R’n’B saxophone playing. It’s got fantastic growling, smears, scoops, and fall-offs. It covers the standard range from low B flat to high F. It isn’t harmonically complicated – it’s firmly in the language of rhythm ‘n’ Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll saxophone.
Watch the video as I play this solo through for you, and don’t forget to get the transcription from our Locker.
In the transcription I’ve included some articulation, but there’s a lot that I haven’t included, such as bends and fall-offs. So listen closely to Sam Taylor’s playing and see if you can replicate it yourself. Have fun digging into it!
Sam Taylor’s Influence
Because Sam the Man Taylor is not a big, well known name, you don’t often hear him name-checked in interviews. Other, more famous players don’t mention him as an influence on their playing. In fact, not much has been written about him at all.
But you might hear his influence in the music of many of the Rock ‘n’ Roll sax players of the day, and even legends from more recent times, like the great Clarence Clemons.
Pretty much everything Sam Taylor played became the definition of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rhythm ‘n’ Blues saxophone. Whether it’s his tone, his growl, his articulation, his scoops, his smears – if you want to get the style of a great blues saxophone player, listen to Sam Taylor. It will really help you to get that authentic Rock ‘n’ Roll sound.
So have fun exploring the tracks we’ve mentioned. And if you want to go further, check out the huge range of lessons, including loads on “the Blues,” in Sax School. You can find out more and grab a 14 day trial here.