A Side Man Steps Up Front
"(Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone" (Montrell-Marascalco-Blackwell)
Roy Montrell, Specialty, 1956
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Here’s a classic New Orleans record that was not a hit but should be familiar to many of you. If you’ve heard it before, listen again; if not, feast your ears. The featured artists on this record are the side men, even though only one, guitarist and vocalist Roy Montrell, gets the credit. An active HOTG studio player in the Fifties and through much of the Sixties, Montrell was working on Little Richard sessions for Specialty Records around the time this single was cut in mid-1956. The Los Angeles based label had been recording Richard’s history-making rock ‘n roll mostly in New Orleans since the previous year, using the prodigious local talent for backing and tracking at engineer Cosimo Matassa’s legendary J&M Music Shop backroom studio. Specialty was a major presence in town during the 1950’s, cutting hits and misses with such artists as Lloyd Price, Guitar Slim, Art Neville, and, to a lesser extent, Larry Williams (who did many of his sides in California, but with seasoned HOTG players).
“(Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone” is an object lesson in making records New Orleans style. The joyous, oddball lyrics by Mississippian John Marascalco, who had written several hits for Little Richard, are sung by Montrell with a hoarse hipster voice and a little scatting a la Satchmo. Meanwhile, the band cooks, rockin’ atop Earl Palmer’s locomotive syncopation, with the pumping saxes of Red Tyler on bari and Lee Allen, who turns out a signature solo, on tenor. The rest of the rhythm section is Clem Turvalon on bass, and Ed Frank on piano. Despite the song’s lyrics, there is nothing mellow about either the saxes or this tune! With players like these, I guarantee that all Specialty’s A&R man, Bumps Blackwell, had to do was stay out of the way. The flip side, “Ooh Wow” is also a scorcher.
After this, Montrell went back to the side, with only one other single, “Mudd”, an instrumental, released under his name in 1960, while doing sessions for Minit. In the Fifties, he befriended and taught guitar to a teenager named Mac Rebennack and helped him break into the local music scene. Roy was one of the founding musician/members of AFO (All For One) Records in the early Sixties; and later, when session work slowed down in New Orleans, he joined Fats Domino’s road band and played with him until dying on tour in Europe in the late Seventies.
Roy Montrell, c. 1960