Boyd Atkins

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In something of an epic music career, midwest reed player Boyd Atkins went from the mainstream New Orleans jazz sound of Louis Armstrong's band to some of the hardest-edged Chicago blues, as practiced…
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In something of an epic music career, midwest reed player Boyd Atkins went from the mainstream New Orleans jazz sound of Louis Armstrong's band to some of the hardest-edged Chicago blues, as practiced by the likes of guitar slinger Magic Sam. He is also one of the reverb-drenched saxophonists who strived to stay in tune with wild slide guitarist Elmore James, not that anyone wanted them to. As a songwriter, Atkins created material for bands he was in from as far back as the Armstrong days. Satchmo was one of many artists that recorded Atkins' most famous song, "Heebie Jeebies," which was written in collaboration with Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. He came out of the St. Louis scene, and began showing up professionally in the bands of Dewey Jackson and Fate Marable in the early '20s. Atkins subsequently pitched his tent in Chicago and began leading his own group, as well as working with pianist and innovative bandleader Earl Hines. In the spring of 1927, Armstrong brought his band called Louis Armstrong's Stompers to the windy city's Sunset Cafe, and put the full-sounding Atkins in his reed section. At this stage, Atkins was playing clarinet, soprano, and alto saxophone; he would later add the tenor when he began playing more rhythm & blues.

By the late '20s, he was again leading his own groups including the Firecrackers. From 1931 through 1934, he was mostly in the musical bowl of Eli Rice. In the mid '30s Atkins had the strength to brave the Minneapolis winters to front his own group there, as well as collaborating with Rook Ganz. Atkins' profile as a bandleader continued through the end of the '30s, and his group became one of several associated with the popular Cotton Club. Beginning in 1940, he led the Society Swingsters at the Faust Club in Peoria, IL, but was also gigging quite often in nearby Chicago, as well. Atkins began to flower as an arranger by the '50s, when he also proved himself able to adapt to the changing styles of blues. His 1953 recordings with James illustrate this perfectly. Atkins recorded with Magic Sam in the late '50s, and seems to have dropped off the scene after this. John Chilton's Who's Who of Jazz indicates that he is deceased, but no other details are available concerning his death.