From our most excellent pals at Alligator Records:
- NOBLE “THIN MAN” WATTS: FEBRUARY 17, 1926 – AUGUST 24, 2004
Influential R&B and jazz saxophonist Noble “Thin Man” Watts, whose recording career began in 1954 and who shared stages with such musical luminaries as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, died on August 24 in his hometown of DeLand, Florida. He was 78.
Born in 1926, Watts worked raking leaves to pay for violin lessons as a boy before learning to play trumpet and saxophone in his teens. In 1942 he enrolled at Florida A&M University and played in the school’s esteemed marching band with soon-to-be jazz legends Cannonball Adderley and his brother, cornetist Nat Adderley.
The Griffin Brothers, one of Dot Records’ most popular touring R&B acts, hired Watts right after he finished college, and he toured with them for a time. In 1952, he joined famed baritone saxophonist Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams as a member of the house band for the groundbreaking TV show “Showtime At The Apollo.” Later on, he had a stint playing with Lionel Hampton’s big band. He also played on late ’50s tour packages behind the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.
Watts first recording came in 1954 on DeLuxe Records. A 1956 single for VeeJay Records preceded his two-year association with New York’s Baton label. The song “Hard Times (The Slop)” brought Watts to the pop charts in 1957. Countless tours and performances – as well as a string of singles for various labels – kept Watts busy through the 1960s and into the 1970s.
A comeback album in 1987, RETURN OF THE THIN MAN, for Kingsnake Records (re-released by Alligator Records in 1990) received massive critical acclaim brought Watts to his largest audience. A 1993 album for the Ichiban label, KING OF THE BOOGIE SAX, kept Watts’ visibility high.
Although Watts performed less frequently in recent years, he did headline a DeLand, Florida concert in 2001 to celebrate his 75th birthday. He received an honory doctorate in 2000 from Stetson University in DeLand. In May 2004, the African American Museum of the Arts in his hometown dedicated an amphitheatre named after Watts.
Watts is survived by his wife, son, daughter, sister, five grand children and two great grandchildren.