Since jazz history is most easily studied through recordings, and seemingly set in stone through such swinging documentation, a legendary performer such as reed master Roy Butler may wind up without much of a monument. Nonetheless, students of the historic days of the genre will come across this man's name not only in the context of great bands such as Sammy Stewart & His Orchestra, but in any accounting of the groundbreaking adventures of the first jazzmen to visit such exotic locations as South America and India. Following such a muse may have resulted in a shorter discography, but it can be speculated that Butler's experiences left him happier than the fellow with the studio tan.
Ironically born in the once important recording locale of Richmond, IN, Butler began touring with carnival bands in the early '20s. By the mid-'20s, he had already joined up with Stewart, whose surviving recordings do not feature very much of Butler's playing, quite a typical situation in the man's recording career. In 1925, Butler joined up with Jimmy Wade, and several years later was gigging in New York City with banjoist Henri Saparo. His first trip to Europe came in the summer of the following year with pianist Anthony Spaulding, and Butler also worked with pianist Herb Fleming during the same period. In 1933 the latter leader took him to South America and by the end of the year had his entire group performing an extended stint in India.
Butler's experiences performing in such an unusual locale, and under extreme political conditions to boot, is only one part of the extensive curry of information Butler would provide to jazz historians in the mid-'70s. The Indian audience may not have been interested in, or ready for the latest developments in, jazz, but on-stage morale was bolstered by the presence of excellent players such as Crickett Smith, Leon Abbey, and Teddy Weatherford. In 1944 Butler finally showed up back in the United States. While his eventual decision was to give up full-time music, he continued playing oboe in several different Midwest orchestras. Discographer Tom Lord has tracked Butler into 11 different recording sessions between 1924-1944, all material that has gone out of print.