Soul Serenade: King Curtis, “Soul Serenade”

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

When it comes to soul music, there’s only one King of the saxophone: King Curtis. Ken Shane begins his new column with a look at Curtis’ most famous song, “Soul Serenade.”

King Curtis - Soul SerenadeI have made no secret of the fact that my favorite music is classic soul. My definition of the genre would include everything from ’50s doo-wop to Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International sound of the early ’70s. Naturally I would include Motown, Stax, southern soul, and James Brown funk in there as well. And never let it be said that Parliament Funkadelic — and Prince, who came along later — aren’t soulful.

So today I embark on a new venture. Every week, I will post a new entry in what I hope will become a sort of personal audio history of soul music. Each entry will focus on one song, which will be presented as a download, a stream, or in video form. There won’t be many words, maybe just some brief information about the song, or a recounting of some memory that I associate with it. There are no rules. I might present a song that was recorded last year, or one by an artist who is not widely considered a soul artist.

Let’s begin.

Appropriately, we begin with the song that lent this new venture its name. When it comes to soul saxophone players, there are a lot of good ones, but only one King. That would be King Curtis, of course. Originally a jazz musician, the Ft. Worth-born Curtis realized that he could make more money playing rock and soul, and collaborated with the Coasters (that’s his solo on “Yakety Yak”) and Buddy Holly, among others. He later formed a band called the Kingpins, to back Aretha Franklin. The Kingpins also opened for the Beatles at their 1965 Shea Stadium show.

All the while, Curtis was putting out his own records. Perhaps his best known song as a solo artist is “Soul Serenade,” which reached #51 on the singles chart in 1964. It’s been covered often, most notably in early live performances by the Allman Brothers Band. When King Curtis was murdered in New York City in 1971, the Kingpins played “Soul Serenade” as the mourners filed in to his funeral service.

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