1934 – Born on this day, US sax player King Curtis. Stabbed to death by a vagrant

1934 – Born on This Day In Rock, US sax player King Curtis.  On August 13th 1971 Curtis was stabbed to death by a vagrant on the front steps of his New York home. He worked with John Lennon and played on The Coasters “Yakety Yak”.

At the age of twelve King Curtis started playing saxophone in the Fort Worth area. He took interest in many musical genres including rhythm and blues, popular music and jazz. As a student pursuing music he turned down college scholarships to join the Lionel Hampton Band. He was able to write and arrange music and learn guitar during his time with Lionel Hampton. Curtis decided to move to New York in 1952 and became a session musician, recording for such labels as Prestige, Capitol, Enjoy, and Atco. Curtis was fortunate to record with Buddy Holly and Andy Williams, Nat Adderly and Wynton Kelly.

Stylistically, Curtis took inspiration from saxophonists Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan, Gene Ammons and Earl Bostic. He was both versatile and powerful as a musician known for his syncopated and percussive style. During his time as a session musician, he put together a group to include Cornell Dupree, Richard Tee, Jerry Jemmott, and Bernard Purdie.

King Curtis enjoyed playing both jazz and rock but decided he would make more money as a rock musician. He worked as a session player from the 1950s until the mid 1960s recording under his own name and with others such as the Coasters, with whom he recorded “Yakety Yak”. Buddy Holly hired Curtis for session work, during which they recorded “Reminiscing.” Buddy wrote the song, but gave Curtis the songwriting credit for flying down to the session. “Soul Twist” and “Soul Serenade” are his best-known singles from this period.

He moved to Atlantic Records in 1965 and recorded his biggest singles, “Memphis Soul Stew” and “Ode to Billie Joe” (1967). He led Aretha Franklin’s backing band The Kingpins and worked with The Coasters. The Kingpins opened for The Beatles during their 1965 Shea Stadium performance.

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