Denis Payton was probably the most visible saxophonist in rock -- and certainly in British rock & roll -- of the mid-'60s. As a member of the Dave Clark Five, his baritone sax helped punch up the rhythm section of innumerable songs by the group between 1962 and 1970, while his harmonica and acoustic guitar contributions greatly embellished the timbre and tonal color of the band's music. Born in London in 1943, Denis West Payton developed an interest in music as a boy, mostly by listening to New Orleans jazz on 78 rpm records. Music as a livelihood seemed a long way off as he grew up, and he was aiming for a more practical career as an electric engineer when he chanced to meet Dave Clark. The latter's band had included a saxman, Stan Saxon (who also sang), in its lineup from its earliest days as a part-time band, playing locally, and by 1962 Payton was filling the spot. His aggressive technique, coupled with Clark's unique approach to engineering and recording, put his baritone sax right at the center of the band's sound and made that sound unusual, if not downright unique at the time. Among major British Invasion acts, only Manfred Mann and the Undertakers made much use of the saxophone, and did so in a very different manner than the Dave Clark Five. Payton's sax was the instrument that everyone seemed to recognize instantly and remember on such hits as "Glad All Over," "Bits and Pieces," and "Anyway You Want It." Payton's skills on tenor sax, acoustic guitar, and harmonica, as well as his backing vocals and his jazz orientation, also added a special richness to the mix of sounds that comprised the Dave Clark Five's records. Additionally, although Mike Smith dominated the group's in-house compositions, Payton also wrote several significant songs for their LPs, including "I Want You Still," "Nineteen Days," and "You Don't Want My Lovin'." Payton hadn't been heard from much in the music business since the group disbanded in 1970. He passed away in Bournemouth in December of 2006 at the age of 63, before the Dave Clark Five were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Denis Payton Biography
by Bruce Eder