Al King

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Al King got several chances to record as a bandleader beginning in the early '50s, when instrumental pop outings featuring extended tenor saxophone solos were actually considered commercial. On the tracks…
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Al King got several chances to record as a bandleader beginning in the early '50s, when instrumental pop outings featuring extended tenor saxophone solos were actually considered commercial. On the tracks of Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train," King fronted a quartet with pianist Harry Van Walls anointed the Royal Crowns. A few years later the saxophonist had expanded to a sextet sound that hunkered down at Pittsburgh's Hurricane Club. An existing session log from an early King date gives a taste of methodology, and more amusingly can be interpreted as indicating a severe loss in proficiency as the combo worked through the day. "Royal Crown Blues," combining an appropriate regal reference to the leader's surname with the necessary nod to a soft drink sponsor, was recorded with only one retake. The next track, "Flyin' with the King," still got off the ground quicker than most commercial flights with a total of three takes.

Twice as many tries were required to complete "A King Is Blue," suggesting that the morose title came after the fact. "Big Wind" was the final tune on the program and was only mastered after seven other attempts faltered. King had a better hand that included a "Royal Flush" on an even earlier session for a Philadelphia label, Melford. Al King & His Kingsmen was the name of the aforementioned sextet, active in the mid-'50s and responsible for a somewhat botched but "Joy Ride." By no means a prolific sideman, the tenor saxophonist also shows up on sides featuring classic female blues singer Lizzie Baker and the Tommy Dorsey big band.