Sad news from our friends at Alligator Records:
- A.C. REED, MAY 9, 1926 – FEBRUARY 25, 2004
Famed Chicago-based blues saxophonist, vocalist, songwriter and bandleader A.C. Reed – a leading elder figure and the best-known sax player of the Chicago blues scene – died Wednesday, February 25, 2004, from complications due to cancer. He was 77.
During the course of his career, Reed played his fat-toned, elegantly simple tenor sax with artists like Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Son Seals both on stage and on record, as well as leading his own band, the Spark Plugs.
His three solo albums and numerous singles all featured his wry, humorous songs – some of which have been covered by other artists including Magic Slim, Charlie Musselwhite and Eddie Shaw.
Born Aaron Corthen in Wardell, Missouri in 1926, and raised in downstate Illinois, A.C. first heard blues saxophone on an Erskine Hawkins 78 he heard on a jukebox. He was so inspired by the sound of the big honking horn, he decided he wanted to learn how to play the saxophone. DownBeat called Reed, “one of the blues’ most incisive originals.”
He moved to Chicago in early 1942 and found work at a steel mill. With his first paycheck, he bought a saxophone at a pawnshop. He studied at the Chicago Conservatory of Music for a few years, emulating his musical hero, tenor man Gene Ammons. While working at the mill during the day, Reed began gigging on weekends with a variety of blues combos, eventually coming under the tutelage of J.T. Brown, Elmore James’ tenor sax player.
By the end of the 1940s, Reed was gigging regularly with Willie Mabon and Earl Hooker. During the 1950s he toured across the Midwest and Southwest with Hooker and Dennis “Long Man” Binder. Returning to Chicago in the early 1960s, Reed became an in-demand session player for the Chief and Age labels, and recorded his first single for Age, “This Little Voice,” in 1961.
He recorded more singles for Age, USA, Nike and a few other small Chicago labels during the rest of the decade, while playing regularly in the city’s blues clubs.
Reed joined with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells’ band in 1967, toured Africa with Guy and Wells, and even joined the Rolling Stones tour (still as a member of Guy’s band) in 1970. He left Guy’s band in 1977 and joined first Son Seals and then Albert Collins, with whom he spent over a decade as a member of Collins’ band, The Icebreakers. Reed recorded with Seals and Collins on their seminal Alligator Records albums, including Collins’ groundbreaking releases Ice Pickin’ (Grammy-nominated), Frostbite, Don’t Lose Your Cool, and Live In Japan; and Seals’ powerful Live And Burnin’.
Reed’s exposure with Collins led to a reinvigorated solo career. He recorded four songs for Alligator’s “Living Chicago Blues” anthology series in 1980 and an album for his own Ice Cube label, “Take These Blues And Shove ‘Em,” in 1982. By 1983 Reed was performing regularly with his own band, The Spark Plugs, logging over 250 performances a year. Reed’s 1987 Alligator album “I’m In The Wrong Business” featured cameos from Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Reed constantly performed and recorded throughout the years. He worked in clubs and at blues festivals all over the country. Besides his Alligator and Ice Cube releases, he recorded for the Austrian Wolf label and appeared on albums by Lousie Miranda and Larry Davis & Byther Smith in the early 1990s. His two final solo albums – the 1998 “Junk Food” on Delmark and the 2002 “I Got Money” on the French Black And Blue label – both received positive critical acclaim and maintained Reed’s status as a seminal Chicago blues figure.
He is survived by a sister, Sarah Corthen of Carbondale, IL.