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Legendary jazz pianist/keyboardist Joe Sample was born in Houston, Texas on February 1, 1939. He learned to play the piano at age five. Sample was one of the founding members of a group that was known originally as The Swingsters, then The Nighthawks, and, in 1961, The Jazz Crusaders. In 1972, the name was shortened to simply The Crusaders and the group’s focus broadened to include other musical styles in addition to jazz.
While still a member of The Crusaders, Sample began pursuing an active solo career, during which he  played with virtually every “A” list musician you care to name, including Diana Ross, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Eric Clapton, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Randy Crawford, Les McCann, The Rolling Stones, Tom Scott’s L.A. Express, Ella Fitzgerald, and others.
In 2003, The Crusaders re-united for one final album, “Rural Renewal”, which brought together all the original members and featured two tracks including Samples old friend, Eric Clapton on guitar. On September 24, 2011, I wrote about “Rural Renewal”, and you can read that article hereif you like.
Guitarist David T. Walker was born on June 25, 1941 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When he was two years old, his family moved to San Pedro, California, and when Walker was ten he began playing the saxophone. Four years later the family moved to the Watts area of Los Angeles. When he was sixteen, Walker began playing the guitar and, while still in high school, formed a professional band called “The Kinfolk” who played venues far and wide. After high school, the group went on to sign with Motown Records and performed with such luminaries as Etta James and Martha And The Vandellas.
Walker signed his first solo contract at age twenty-eight, and became a much-sought-after session guitarist. He has worked with Sammy Davis Jr., Herbie Hancock, Billy Preston, Quincy Jones, Nancy Wilson, Ray Charles, Carole King, and many others.
“Swing Street Cafe”, Crusaders Records/MCA Records, 1981
The album I’m going to discuss tonight is, as far as I know, the only time Sample and Walker performed together. And what a performance this is! The album is called, “Swing Street Café”, and features a kick-ass backing band that just doesn’t quit!
The personnel are:
Joe Sample, piano, keyboards
David T. Walker, guitar
James Jamerson Jr., bass
Al Aarons, trumpet
Ernie Fields Jr., saxophone
Jackie Kelso (AKA John Kelson, his birth name), saxophone
Herman Riley, tenor sax
Earl Palmer, drums
There are eight songs on “Swing Street Café”, no two from the same composer. The guys get the set off to a rousing start with the Ray Charles classic, “Hallelujah, I Love Her So”. Sample and Walker both jump right into it and get it off to a fast start. Gradually the others join in and the group carries it along for just over five minutes of pure jazzy/bluesy pleasure.
Here are Joe Sample, David T. Walker and the guys performing “Hallelujah, I Love Her So”:
“Rockhouse” by Maybelle Smith is a song you don’t hear every day. Or even every year, now that I think about it. It’s a great funky piece of music that, in the hands of this group, will make you wonder why it’s not played more often. Sample opens the action for us, but the horns quickly take over, then just as quickly step back.
With a touch of honkey tonk, “Rockhouse” is one of those songs that is so infectious that you want to nod your head, snap your fingers, tap your toes, or just do SOMETHING to keep pace with it.
The next song is Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do”, an R&B mainstay. Although the two principals dominate it, this one shows why Sample and Walker picked the backup players they did. Everyone does an outstanding job. “Honest I Do” runs about three and a half minutes, which makes it the shortest song on the album. It will definitely leave you wanting more.
“Next Time U See Me”, from the pen of old-time blues man Earl Forest, is next. This one might appeal to blues fans more than jazz folk, but you know what? Jazz or blues, it’s a great song and this group sets it on fire! Walker and Sample pretty well rule this one start to finish, but the horns and rhythm section make sure you never forget this is a collaborative event. The only thing I don’t like, and this is a petty quibble to be sure, is the ending… Instead of doing an actual, real ending, the guys just fade to nothing.
Like a novel or movie with no real ending, a song that just sort of dribbles away to silence tends to leave this listener emotionally unsatisfied.
Okie dokie, I’m now hopping off the pedant’s soapbox and heading on to the next song. 🙂
“Woke Up This Morning” starts out with Walker giving us some very quiet, mellow fretwork. Soon however the rest of the group joins in and the whole tenor of the song changes. From mild to wild, this song runs the gamut. Walker mostly leads the way and does a wonderful job of it. And considering what I said about the fade-away ending of “Next Time U See Me”, I’m not even going to mention the abrupt, unexpected ending of “Woke Up This Morning.” Heh.
“C.C. Rider” has been covered by more people than just about any song around, except perhaps “Happy Birthday” or “The Hokey Pokey”. This version won’t let you down. Sample bangs out the piano part with wild abandon and you can picture Walker’s fingers flying over that fretboard.
“Honkey Tonk” is another R&B standard that you’ll probably recognize from the first note. It’s quieter than “C.C. Rider”, the pace is considerably less frenetic, more deliberate. Despite that, you’ll still find yourself moving to the rhythm, and when Riley and Fields take over with their saxes the whole thing gets a nice, juicy, funky feel that you just have to hear to understand. (And yes, “Honky Tonk” does have a real, honest-to-goodness ending. Ahem.)
The album closes with a song I don’t recall ever hearing until I bought the album “After Hours With The 3B’s“, which was the subject of one of these articles way back on February 25 of this year. I love that version of it, and I have to say I love this version to. The song is, of course, “After Hours”, from trumpeter Erskine Hawkins and pianist Avery Parrish.
(Parrish had an all-too-short career that ended when he was only 24 years old. You can read more about him on the allaboutjazz web site, here.)
Tragedy, drama, great music. They all go hand-in-hand, and you’ll find it all on this album. Needless to say, I think you’ll find “Swing Street Café” from Joe Sample and David T. Walker to be an excellent addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
You can learn more about Joe Sample and his music by visiting his Facebook page, and Verve Music has an area on their web site devoted to him, including a much more extensive biography than I had room for here.
And you can learn more about David T. Walker and his music by visiting his web site.
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Thank you! J
Copyright © 2012 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.