Born Alonzo W. Lucas, 16 August 1914, Pritchard, Alabama
Tenor saxophonist / vocalist / harmonica player.
>From the late 1940s onwards, Buddy Lucas was a much-in-demand session saxophonist on the East Coast, who also recorded quite a few vocal sides. Like Big Al Sears, Warren Luckey, Willis Jackson and various other New York saxophonists, he played his part in the growth of rhythm and blues, without garnering much acclaim. Born in Alabama, Buddy moved to Stamford, Connecticut, at the age of three. When he was around eleven years, a neighbour noticed his interest in music and gave him a clarinet. At 19 he bought a saxophone and began playing in the Stamford night clubs and taverns. In the late 1940s he went to New York City, where he met drummer Herman Bradley, who helped him get his gigs and record dates. A booking agent, Jimmy Evans, got Buddy to form a band, and this, tied in with a 15 minute radio show hosted by Alan Freed on which he was a regular, helped to spread the word.
Lucas made his first (vocal) recordings in 1951, for Jerry Blaine's Jubilee label, where he also became leader of the house band. After the first release, "Soppin' Molasses"/"Whoppin' Blues" (Jubilee 5058), Buddy renamed the combo "The Band Of Tomorrow". His second disc, a revival of the 1927 standard "Diane", went to # 2 on the R&B charts in April 1952, but the flip, an instrumental version of "Undecided", was much more interesting. Dave Penny has called it "a marvellously anarchic slab of proto rock n roll". This set the pattern for most of his following Jubilee singles : a lush ballad on the A-side and an R&B sax led instrumental on the flip. "Laura"/ "Organ Grinder's Swing" even had a UK release on London L 1181 in June 1953. Apart from "Diane", Lucas had one other hit on Jubilee, "Heavenly Father", sung by Edna McGriff, "with Buddy Lucas & His Band of Tomorrow", as the label credit read (# 4 R&B in 1952).
In 1953 Buddy moved to RCA, where he had two singles released on the parent label and three on its subsidiary Groove. He was also a songwriter, his most successful composition being "Steamboat", which the Drifters recorded in Hollywood in September 1955, produced by Nesuhi Ertegun (Atlantic 1078). It went to # 5 on the R&B charts, while the other side, "Adorable", did even better and topped the R&B lists for one week.
After a 1956 single for Savoy, Buddy had six 45s released on Bell Records, a budget label specializing in covers of the big hits of the day. Most of these Bell covers (for instance Hound Dog, Blueberry Hill, Don't Be Cruel, When My Dreamboat Comes Home, Priscilla, Honky Tonk, Searchin') can be found on the Redita CD mentioned below. They're not bad, but no match for the originals. Next came a short period with George Goldner's Gone label, where Buddy became the nucleus of the Gone All Stars. This session band had two instrumental singles released in 1958, the first of which, " 7-11" (a rock version of Perez Prado's "Mambo # 5"), went to # 30 on the Billboard pop charts.
In 1959 he worked with Dave "Baby" Cortez on the Clock sessions that produced "The Happy Organ". Buddy was given the opportunity to record "'Deacon John"/"I Want To Know" for the Clock subsidiary Vim. Two good instrumentals, released in the UK on Pye International N 25045.
Until 1964, Lucas went on to record for a host of other labels, for which I refer to Pete Hoppula's fine discography at http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/buddylucas.htm which also gives an impression of Buddy's work as a session musician. The list of artists on whose records he has played is very long and includes the Orioles, the Chantels ("Maybe"), Nappy Brown, Big Joe Turner, Frankie Lymon ( "Why Do Fools Fall In Love"), LaVern Baker, Paul Anka, Mickey and Sylvia, Little Anthony and the Imperials ("Tears On My Pillow"), Big Maybelle, Bill Doggett, Al Caiola, Little Willie John, and, in the sixties, Dion ("The Wanderer"- one of Buddy's greatest sax solos), Ray Charles ("Busted") and Aretha Franklin, among many others.
Buddy is best known as a sax player, but his second instrument was the harmonica, a somewhat unusual combination. His excellent harmonica playing can be heard on "If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody" (James Ray), "Bell Bottom Slacks And A Chinese Kimono" (The Coasters) and "Camp Meeting" (King Curtis), to name just a few. Three Buddy Lucas LP's were released in the 1960s, one on Tru-Sound (a Prestige subsidiary, 1962), one on United Artists (1963, a harmonica album) and one on RCA Camden ("Honkin' Sax", 1967).
In the late 1960s Buddy slowed down on studio work and concentrated on TV and radio commercials. Starting in 1972, he played in the band in the Broadway musical "Purlie" for almost two years, but that was to be his last big job. In 1976 his diabetes began to take its toll. He came back to Stamford and began to work with his old friend Herman Bradley in a trio at the Catch 22, a local club. In 1980 his right lung was removed after cancer was discovered, but he was still able to play a little sax and harmonica in Bradley's group. But in December 1982 he finally had to give up due to ill-health and he passed away on March 18th, 1983.
CD : Hoppin' Bop With Buddy Lucas (Redita 138). 33 tracks from various labels, mostly vocals, but the instrumentals are the most enjoyable tracks. Not released in 1994, as Pete's discography says, but in 2004.
Acknowledgements : The following CD notes were helpful:
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