Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Floyd Newman - Sassy (Stax 143)


Floyd Newman is a national treasure.

Besides B.B. himself, Floyd is the only person pictured in the iconic Ernest C. Withers photograph above that is still with us. As the baritone man in B.B.'s mid fifties Memphis outfit, that bus served as his second home as it rolled countless miles on the Chitlin' Circuit.

Floyd is also one of the few people left on this earth to have eaten a bowl of chili upstairs at 'Sunbeam' Mitchell's Club Handy, and is a veteran of those legendary late night jam sessions where the Sound of Memphis was born. A contemporary of influential Beale Street sax men like Bill Harvey, Fred Ford, George Coleman and Ben Branch, Floyd's unique Baritone sound laid the foundation for what was to come.

In the early sixties, Floyd would form his own group with some of the younger members of Ben Branch's band, including a couple of kids named Howard Grimes and Isaac Hayes. The Floyd Newman Orchestra would become the house band at the fabled Plantation Inn, and they were there on McElmore Avenue with Chips Moman at the very dawn of the Stax era.

Although not a vocalist by any stretch of the imagination, Floyd's voice is one of the most recognized in the history of Memphis R&B. He was the man who intoned "Ooh... Last Night" and "Ohh... YEAH!" on the fledgling (as in it was still called Satellite) label's breakthrough smash by The Mar-Keys in the Summer of 1961. It was Floyd and tenor sax partner Gilbert Caple who came up with that trademark horn riff that will live on forever.

Mining the same territory, this cool B Side we have here was issued as the flip of the only 45 Stax would press under Floyd's name, released shortly after he helped propel another Stax classic into the top ten, Rufus Thomas' Walking The Dog. It was that baritone heavy Stax sound that Jerry Wexler dubbed 'those Memphis horns' and, along with folks like Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love, Bowlegs Miller, Jack Hale, James Mitchell and Joe Arnold, Floyd began to deliver that big fat sound to Muscle Shoals and beyond, playing on scores of hit records in the process.

As Issac Hayes became Black Moses, he never forgot his mentor, and took Floyd with him on his way to Super Stardom. He was an integral part of Hayes' triumphal appearance at Wattstax, and remained with him on the road until Isaac decided to 'take a break' and open his own studio and label that he would name after his monster 1969 LP, Hot Buttered Soul (HBS).

Although Floyd considers Isaac a true musical genius, he told us "That was a mistake. While we were taking a break, they released a man that sounded just like him - Barry White. Barry White just killed Isaac. Everybody thought it was Isaac, but Isaac wasn't on the road. So then, Isaac said, 'Let's go back...', but Barry White had taken it away from him... Barry White smothered him."

Floyd Newman, however, landed on his feet. After playing baritone on Stephen Stills 2, Stephen took him on tour with him. This was back when Stills' phone was still ringing, and being 'on tour' included the full rock-star magilla of private jets to Europe, limos, red carpets and the finest hotels. Quite a different experience than riding on the B.B. King bus!
As the Memphis music scene continued to self-destruct in the late seventies, Floyd settled in to his career as Music Director and Guidance Counselor at area schools, thereby influencing generations of up and coming musicians...

When Preston Lauterbach and I were scheming and plotting to put Hi Rhythm back together with Otis Clay for the O.V. Wright benefit and tribute concert in Memphis in 2008, we left the recruitment of the horn section up to them. I'm not sure if it was Floyd's former Plantation Inn bandmate Howard Grimes who made the call that brought Floyd out of retirement to anchor 'those Memphis horns' for us that night, but it was an experience I'll never forget. "If you think you're the Soul Detective," Howard said, "you ought to talk to Floyd..."

...and so I did, beginning an ongoing discussion through letters and phone calls that culminated in Floyd and his remarkable wife Jean welcoming the Soul Detective team into their home in August of 2012.

Floyd's tales of his life in music are truly fascinating, but perhaps the most amazing one is the story of his horn: "I'm still playing that 1949 horn that my father bought for me that cost $200 out of the pawn shop. I've never played but one horn all these years... I didn't need but one." Running down the serial numbers years later, he found out that the horn was manufactured in 1918. Imagine? Talk about an artifact of Soul! After blowing that baritone on The Bo-Keys 2011 album Got To Get Back, Floyd had tucked it away in a closet, and we had to convince him to dig it out...

We're sure glad he did. It was an honor to stand in the presence of this man and his marvelous horn, and to hear once again the deep pure tones they create when they're together... a couple of weeks ago, I got a letter in the mail:

So humble and under-stated, just like the man himself, this giant of Memphis music (and his solitary horn) should have received their 'note' long ago. If I wasn't 1200 miles away (or Soul Detective had any kind of budget), you know I'd be there.

Thank You Floyd for your years of dedication and hard work in spreading The Sound of Memphis to the world at large.
"Ohh... YEAH!"

NOVEMBER 1st 2014, 1pm
Be there!


Blogger Drop G said...

Hi Red
Thanks for the great article about this Memphis giant. I have good memories of the afternoon we spent at his house.
All the best from misty Amsterdam.
Paul Pollmann

5:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you so much
who's playing guitar on "Sassy"
C.Freeman ,S.Cropper ?

1:04 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Very good question there, Mr. Anonymous...

If I had to guess, I'd go with Charlie Freeman, as this track is usually included on Mar-Keys compilations, and by '63 Steve was well established as the M.G.'s guitarist...

I'll ask Floyd next time I speak with him.


8:28 PM  

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