David Sanborn
" Interview "

David Sanborn is an extraordinary saxophonist who has left his mark on Pop, R&B, and crossover players of the last thirty-five years. His greatest contributions to music have been his emotive sound and his interpretations of melodies, which generally add color to any record he is on. Sanborn has that unique quality that is immediately recognizable within a few notes of his distinctive solos.

Growing up in St. Louis, Sanborn became a skilled alto saxophonist despite battling polio in his youth and played with many Chicago Blues greats (including Albert King). After stints with Paul Butterfield (he played with him at Woodstock), Gil Evans, Stevie Wonder, Dr. John, and the Brecker Brothers, Sanborn began recording as a leader in the mid 1970s and racked up a bunch of Pop successes. In the early 1990s, Sanborn hosted the syndicated television series Night Music, which had a very eclectic lineup of musicians (including Sonny Rollins, NRBQ, Sun Ra, James Taylor), most of whom were given the opportunity to play together, which displayed Sanborn's varied interests and musical curiosity.

His latest recording Here and Gone on the Decca recording label, is a welcome return to his roots. It's a tribute to Brother Ray (one of his main influences) and the late, great Hank Crawford, who himself was a Ray Charles alumnus and arranger. Also featured on Here & Gone are Blues/roots icons like Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks, Joss Stone, and Sam Moore.

Right about the time when Here & Gone was making its run up the charts I had my first opportunity to chat with David Sanborn.

Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Dave, nice crew of "A" team players on your new recording, Steve Gadd, Russell Malone, Christian McBride...

David Sanborn: It's definitely a great bunch of players.

BW: And, of course, doing the Hank Crawford thing.

DS: Hank was my hero, as well as Fathead Newman and Ray Charles, those three guys were the pillars of my entire foundation as they opened the door and turned on the lights for me.

BW: Joel Dorn was a regular guest on my radio show, and always made references to Ray, Fathead, and Hank.

DS: That's right, they were the alpha and omega of the music for me. They changed my life and had an elegance and sophistication as they combined all the elements of American music, Gospel, Blues, Jazz, and R&B. In a way, they formulated the foundation for all the Rhythm & Blues that followed.

BW: And we lost Fathead and Hank this year.

DS: How ironic that within weeks of each other, we lost them both.

BW: Did you ever get to play with them?

DS: Yes; I had a television show in the early '90s called Night Music where I was fortunate to have them on my TV show.

BW: I remember the time you had NRBQ on your show.

DS: Correct, we really had a wide range of people on the show.

BW: Are those broadcasts available on DVD?

DS: Not yet, not legally, probably on YouTube; we're trying to get the clearances from publishing people. So it's like the cat is totally out of the bag, and I'm hopeful these shows will become available on DVD.

BW: It was great late-night TV.

DS: I know; it was kind of people's little-known hidden secret.

BW: No secret to me, plus in those days there wasn't a lot of options for music on TV.

DS: There was hardly any, especially for any music outside of the mainstream, and that was what was so unusual and great about that show. I think we really opened up a lot of people's ears.

BW: It was about that time when people started to categorize music in boxes.

DS: We really tried to breakdown those boundaries.

BW: Which is what you did on your latest recording, Here & Gone.

DS: Its odd how this new record started. I was downloading some CDs onto a iPod and I came across some early Hank Crawford stuff that I actually bought on vinyl, which reminded me how much I loved that music, that still sounds so fresh and current. So as I got into it more I immersed into that period, I realized that's really where I've been musically. I then thought that this would be a really good time to reexamine that music and recapture that spirit.

BW: When I first heard about Here & Gone I went, "Wow, it's so cool to hear you playing the Blues again," like you did with Butterfield and others from the great days of R&B.

DS: Thank you very much, Bob, we did all of those tracks in the studio, other than a couple of vocal overdubs.

BW: Clapton and you go back a bit.

DS: Yeah, we've known each other for a long time, plus he was the perfect guy for this disc and that tune, "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town."

BW: That track is interesting as I would have thought Eric would have played guitar on that tune, but his vocals work so sweetly.

DS: When I asked Eric to sing on that track, Clapton asked me, "Well, you don't want me to play?" [Laughs]

BW: And Derek Trucks on Marcus Miller's "Brother Ray"?

DS: Derek is a phenomenal guitarist! I think he's one of the most talented musicians I ever heard.

BW: Derek's really amazing, and has no musical boundaries either.

DS: Exactly! Derek really nails it on "Brother Ray."

BW: You've been touring with Tower of Power.

DS: Yeah, we have the same manager, so we do a set, then they play, and their horn section sits in on a couple of tunes with me.

BW: You stole my next question!

DS: I've known those guys since they started.

BW: Back in the late '60s, I first heard you on the Fabulous Rhinestones second LP, Freewheelin' on Just Sunshine Records.

DS: The instrumental "Whitecaps" or something like that?

BW: "Whitecaps," yes. Your solo really captivated me and I had to find out who is David Sanborn?

DS: Thanks, that was around 1973, Mike and Randy Brecker were also on that album. That record was fun, producer Michael Lang was involved and he was one of the promoters of Woodstock. The producer of that LP was the great Bill Szymczyk.

BW: Who produced hundreds of recordings, and B.B. King's Completely Well, which had "The Thrill is Gone" on it.

DS: I think so. Bill also produced all of those Eagles records, too.

BW: Very impressive, but the Rhinestones never made it.

DS: No, it was funny as they were a collection of great musicians who all lived up in Woodstock. Bassist Harvey Brooks played with Bob Dylan and on Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. BW: Pretty interesting to be able to say he recorded with Miles and Dylan.

DS: Exactly! Harvey was at ground zero for a lot of great recordings, and he decided to start a band which ultimately became the Fabulous Rhinestones, with Kal David and Marty Grebb.

BW: Harvey worked a lot with Al Kooper, too.

DS: Al Kooper who started the band Blood, Sweet & Tears, but got voted out or something like that?

BW: Kooper was forced out, and the last time I spoke to Al, he loves to say how that first BS&T recording is to this day the biggest selling recording by BS&T.

DS: It was a great record! I remember when that record first came out, plus they had a lot great musicians in that band, like Randy Brecker.

BW: From that same era, remember the band Dreams?

DS: With Billy Cobham, John Abercrombie, and the Brecker Brothers, yes.

BW: I actually saw them open for someone once! You also worked with the Brecker Brothers?

DS: I played in their first band in the '70s, actually Randy Brecker and I have known each other since I was fifteen years old; we went to music camp together. When I moved to New York City, Randy was one of the first musicians I called.

BW: It was a great scene in New York City back then.

DS: It was, there were a lot of great musicians around, as there was a very active studio scene where you could make money on sessions.

BW: And after the recording sessions, a lot of you guys played out at night.

DS: There was a lot of activity, you could go out on 48th street and within an hour see everyone you knew. The funny thing is, when you are in those periods of time you don't realize how great it was, and you just think that's the way it's always going to be.

BW: Very true for sure, I definitely miss those days, too. Quick thought on Hiram Bullock?

DS: Hiram was a fantastic musician! What was great about him was that he was so versatile, and he could fit into almost any kind of context. He was a great rhythm guitarist, too.

BW: And a pretty good singer, too.

DS: Yeah, a crooner.

BW: Hiram was a piece of work; I sure do miss him. He also loved to come here on WFDU to play on-air, and play some Blues for us.

DS: Really?

BW: Solo, plus he loved to tell stories.

DS: He was good at that!

BW: David, I could talk to you for days, but I know we have to let you go.

DS: It's been a great pleasure, Bob.

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com