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King Curtis

King Curtis
Background information
Birth name Curtis Ousley
Born February 7, 1934(1934-02-07)
Fort Worth, Texas
Origin Fort Worth, Texas, United States
Died August 13, 1971 (aged 37)
New York
Genres Soul, R&B, rock, funk, jazz
Occupations Musician, bandleader, producer
Instruments Saxophone
Years active 1950–1971
Labels King, Prestige, True Sound, Capitol, Atlantic, Groove
Associated acts Aretha Franklin, The Coasters, The King Pins, Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, The Shirelles, The Noble Band, Cornell Dupree
Notable instruments

Curtis Ousley (February 7, 1934 – August 13, 1971), who performed under the name King Curtis, was an American tenor, alto, and soprano saxophonist and session musician who played rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, funk and soul jazz. He was also a musical director and record producer. He was best known for his distinctive sax riffs and solos such as on "Yakety Yak", which later became the inspiration for Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" and his own "Memphis Soul Stew".[1]



From the 1950s until the mid 1960s, he worked as a session player, recording under his own name and with others such as the Coasters, with whom he recorded "Yakety Yak". Buddy Holly hired him for session work, during which they recorded "Reminiscing". His best-known singles from this period are "Soul Twist" and "Soul Serenade" .

In 1965, he moved to Atlantic Records and recorded his most successful singles, "Memphis Soul Stew" and "Ode to Billie Joe" (1967). He worked with The Coasters, led Aretha Franklin's backing band The Kingpins. Curtis produced records, often working with Jerry Wexler and recorded for Groove Records during this period. [2]

In 1970, he appeared with Aretha Franklin and The King Pins on Aretha Live at Fillmore West, and another record, King Curtis Live At Fillmore West, which included a version of "Memphis Soul Stew" and covers of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours". The line-up for these performances included: Hammond organ player Billy Preston, bassist Jerry Jemmott, guitarist Cornell Dupree, Pancho Morales (percussion), drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie and The Memphis Horns. The cover of Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" was taken from this album, and used as the title music in the cult British comedy film, Withnail & I. During 1971, Curtis recorded a saxophone solo on "It's So Hard" from John Lennon's Imagine.[3]


On August 13, 1971,[4] Curtis became involved in an argument [5] with two men outside his apartment on West 86th Street. One of the men, Juan Montañez, stabbed Curtis in the heart. He was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, where he died from his wounds.[6] On the day of the funeral Atlantic Records closed their offices.[7] Jesse Jackson administered the service and as the mourners filed in, Curtis's band 'The Kingpins' played "Soul Serenade". Amongst those attending were Aretha Franklin, Cissy Houston, Brook Benton and Duane Allman.[8 ] Franklin sang the closing spiritual "Never Grow Old" and Stevie Wonder performed "Abraham, Martin & John and now King Curtis".[9]

Grammy Award

In 1970, Curtis won the Best R&B Instrumental Performance Grammy for "Games People Play".[10]

Hall of fame

Curtis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 6, 2000.[11]



King Curtis

  • The Good Old Fifties (1959)
  • Have Tenor Sax, Will Blow (1959)
  • Azure(1960)
  • King Soul (1960)
  • Soul Meeting (1960)
  • Party Time (1961)
  • Trouble in Mind (1961)
  • Old Gold (1961)
  • Night Train (1961)
  • Doin' the Dixie Twist (1962)
  • Country Soul (1962)
  • Soul Twist and other Golden Classics (1962)
  • It's Party Time (1962)
  • The Best of (1962)
  • Soul Serenade (1964)
  • Plays Hits made by Sam Cooke (1965)
  • That Lovin' Feeling (1966)
  • Live at Small's Paradise (1966)
  • Play Great Memphis Hits (1967)
  • Sweet Soul (1968)
  • Sax in Motion (1968)
  • Instant Groove (1969)
  • Everybody Talkin (1970)
  • Get Ready (1970)
  • Blues at Montreux (1971)

King Curtis and The Kingpins

  • King Size Soul (1967)
  • Eternally, Soul (1968) with The Shirelles
  • Soul Twist(1962) with The Noble Nights
  • Live at Fillmore West (1971)


  1. ^ Porter, Bob. "King Curtis". Retrieved 2009-05-21.  
  2. ^ Shaw, Arnold. Honkers and Shouters. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. pp. 460–466.  
  3. ^ "Imagine". Retrieved 2009-05-21.  
  4. ^ Kernfield, Barry Dean. Newgrove Dictionary of Jazz. Grove's Dictionaries. p. 544.  
  5. ^ Tortorici,Frank. "King Curtis". Retrieved 2009-10-02.  
  6. ^ Schumach, Murray (1971-08-15). "King Curtis is stabbed to death". Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
  7. ^ Poe Randy and Gibbons, Billy F. Sky Dog. Backbeat Books. pp. 195.  
  8. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. pp. 229. CN 5585.  
  9. ^ Jet Vol 40, No 23. Johnson Publishing Company. 1971-09-02. pp. 54, 55, 56.  
  10. ^ Clifford, Mike, and Futrell, John. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Black music. Harmony Books. p. 36.  
  11. ^ "King Curtis (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)".  
  12. ^ "King Curtis". Retrieved 2009-05-21.  


  • Clifford, Mike: Futrell, John and Bonds, Ray. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Black music. Harmony Books (1982). Digitized 29 Dec (2006)
  • Kernfield, Barry Dean. Newgrove Dictionary of Jazz. Grove's Dictionaries (2002). Digitized 21 Dec 2006. ISBN 9781561592845
  • Shaw, Arnold. Honkers and Shouters. Macmillan Publishing Company (1978). Macmillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0020617402
  • Poe, Randy and Gibbons, Billy F. Sky Dog. Backbeat Books (2006) ISBN 9780879308919


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