Sax Gordon Beadle metaphorically lives the musical equivalent of the old
'50's T.V. Show “The Life Of Riley”.
Constantly on the road touring all over the world, consistently in
studios recording, and seemingly always on special Blues cruises heading
to isles, islands and islets; Sax Gordon's pleasurable existence can
certainly be mistaken for all play and no work.
His life is exactly like a Broadway musical with him starring as
himself. Note after note; and never a rest.
Born and raised in Northern California, he got an early start playing in
garage bands, church groups, jazz combos and big bands. He started to
record with Bay area Blues giant Johnny Heartsman but soon relocated to
the East Coast where he spent five years and many recordings with Luther
“Guitar Jr” Johnson and established himself on the international Blues
“I had to get out of town. I was having a ball working with older
musicians in a local band (they could buy beer!), playing frat parties
at UC Davis and around Northern California. We even opened up for The
Blasters on their first tour at the UC Davis Coffeehouse (laughs).”
During these days he also met the first of one of the many legendary
horn players who would eventually cross his path.
“The great saxist Lee Allen, who played the rippin' solos in Little
Richards' “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” was with them, and I
didn't realize till much later who it was.” And then came the usual
“I was getting into trouble and my folks wanted me to at least try and
get a more formal education so I came to go to school at Berklee in
Boston. It seemed like it would be the least formal choice in “formal
education”. In Boston, he started hitting the Blues jams and ended up
with Little Joe Cook (he had the late 50's Doo-Wop hit “Peanuts”)
playing regularly at The Cantab Lounge across The Charles River, in
During the summers, Beadle was still going back and forth between the coasts
when he started playing with Johnny Heartsman. “I went to his jam at
Sam's Hofbrau in Sacramento, and he eventually asked me to do gigs with
him. He was famous for helping out musicians and he gave me a chance. I
remember being really impressed with Steve Samuels, the one-armed
guitarist who'd come up and gig with us. He was just great. I played a
few tracks on Johnny's cassette-only release “Shine On” that came out
before he did that album for Alligator.”
Little Charlie &The Nightcats were a local band in Sacramento at that
time before they started recording for Alligator Records too and Sax
Gordon started going (underage) to their jam at Club 400 where the
famous rhythm section of Jay and Dobie were in the house band. They
started replacing the bands at the club with strippers, then eventually
it became strippers six nights a week and and a jam on Sundays.
“Everyone was really cool with me there (laughs).”
Finally situated on the East Coast, he found his way into Muddy Waters'
band vet Luther “Guitar Jr” Johnson's camp and spent the next few years
gaining much experience.
“Luther really helped me get going. He would encourage me to go for it
and he had nothing to worry about it because when he started really
singing and playing guitar you couldn't touch him! He'd tell me to 'go
into the audience and try to get the people'; and I did. Not all band
leaders like other people getting the attention but like I said; once he
started singing “Graveyard Dogs” or started playing that rhythm with his
guitar, nodding his head up and down leading the band and then drive
into a serious solo; you couldn't top that.”
Sax Gordon also learned the tricks of his trade in the studio during
these formative years also. “Luther helped establish me by letting me
get heard on tour and on the three CD's we did for Rounder Records'
BullsEye Blues label that Ron Levy(Albert, B.B. King, Roomful of Blues)
was producing for”.
Artist/producer Ron Levy helped him a lot, at this point, by using him
on a lot of BullsEye's productions including albums with Champion Jack
Dupree, Charles Brown, Pinetop Perkins, Billy Boy Arnold, Jimmy
McCracklin, Jimmy McGriff, Roscoe Gordon and some of his own CD's.
His style is hard-blowing, exciting, gutsy sax steeped in the traditions
of Blues and Soul. And his ability to conjure up the style and feeling
of past R&B sax masters led him to gaining more fame and notoriety.
“Well I like rockin' sax. If you get into that and try to discover where
it came from; if you want to learn all the best stuff and all the
tricks; all the sounds and how to handle any situations you find out
real quick that rockin' sax comes from old jump-swing Blues, R&B, New
Orleans music, Texas Blues, Chicago Blues and Soul.”
People often associate the sax with just Jazz but the music of Little
Richard, Otis Redding, Fats Domino, B.B. King, Elmore James, Aretha
Franklin, Albert King, Ike and Tina Turner, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Otis,
Otis Rush, and Bobby Bland is full of horns and saxophone.
And currently, as the generations pass,
Beadle on one hand, has seen
and heard these legends live including: Big Jay McNeely, Joe Houston,
Junior Walker, A.C. Reed and Eddie Shaw. And on the other hand, although
he is still a “youngster” He has also worked with icons like
Little Milton, Solomon Burke, James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin, Johnny
Copeland, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and Sam Moore from Sam and Dave.
“I've been lucky to have worked with some of the old guys, and I always
try to respect them and their music by listening to their stuff when I
was going to play with them. When I was with Duke Robillard (Roomful of
Blues) we'd back up or record with Roscoe Gordon and Billy Boy Arnold. I
remember we were backing up Jimmy Witherspoon and you KNOW he's gonna do
'Ain't Nobody's Business'.
Of course, he recorded it a million times but he did one recording with
a perfect sax solo by Don Hill where Spoon sings along with the solo. So
I tried to learn that and I got a smile from him and he even sang along
for a bit even though I probably didn't get it quite right.”
Sax Gordon also has something of an obsession with Chicago Blues sax
player J.T. Brown who played along with Elmore James and Roosevelt
“I can get into that sound pretty well. It's a rare thing. Nobody seems
to be getting into it that much these days but if a guitar player is
gonna do some Elmore James stuff, and many do, shouldn't the sax player
know the stuff that goes along with it? I never really copy, REALLY. I
just listen and try to absorb the style and feeling and just play.” But
what about the constant evolution of the current Blues scene?
“Of course the music is going to change. We shouldn't be forever just
recreating the past, but we also lose so much of what is unique about
the music if we don't really dig into it. I've been very fortunate to
work with many musicians who share this attitude with me: guitarists
like Duke Robillard, Junior Watson and Billy Flynn and piano players
like Barrelhouse Chuck, Fred Kaplan and David Maxwell are all able to
play old styles and yet also make them their own and have a unique,
personal sound. There's no sense keeping an old style alive if you can't
knock out the audience with it. It's gotta work; otherwise it's like
giving a clinic or music history lesson!”
Some of the non-musical eccentricities he has experienced still come
quickly to mind and always makes him smile. They also illustrate how the
blues keeps evolving and how one artist adapts and goes with the flow.
“Some of these guys I only worked with for a little bit but they've left
a big impression on me and my playing. Gatemouth really did things his
own way in his music and his life, I think. He was very UNCOMPROMISING
about a lot of things. I remember at one club, Harper's Ferry, in
Allston, Massachusetts he had them turn all the T.V's off in the bar,
when the show was about to start (laughs).
James Cotton used to like to have fun but he always played his ass off.
Even when he was distracted by a lot of people he always took the time
to talk about the music and thank me for doing a good job. Junior Wells
kept you on your toes! Unpredictable. You had to keep paying attention
all the time to see what he was going to do and that kept it exciting!
Of course, Johnny Copeland was an inspiration to many with his
determination and perseverance towards the end. He just kept on giving,
playing shows, giving one hundred and fifty percent when he could have
been taking it easy......”
Modern masters have also benefited from Sax Gordon's unique sound as
heard on recordings by Kim Wilson, Paul Oscher, Jerry Portnoy, Ron Levy
and David Maxwell.
“Well, like me, many of these artists have learned their skills from the
old guys and from records. With the original artists their music was
like the way they talked; the way they breathed. I read something that
Johnny Cash wrote. He was saying that now 'Country is a choice'. You can
choose to buy a pickup truck, wear a cowboy hat, listen to a Country
music station. But when he was coming up, they just WERE country; there
wasn't a choice. So original Blues artists are the same, they're just
being themselves. That's their voice; their culture. So that will always
make them special.”
At this moment, Beadle is still constantly on tour around the world,
still consistently in the studios recording, and seemingly always on
special Blues cruises but he still has time to focus on two of his own
The Sax Gordon Band has it's own horn section and Sax Gordon And The
Little Town Rockers are two distinctly separate music entities that
allow him to continue growing locally, nationally and on the
international blues scene.
“I love the power and excitement of a horn section and on my most recent
solo CD, “Showtime!” its a basic part of many of the songs. I couldn't
do the song “Get Into It” without those horns. But I still do plenty of
shows with small groups, guitar trios and organ combos.” Rest assured,
he still likes to perform fun, rockin' Blues and funky R&B with both of
“The Little Town Rockers” came about from all the Swing dances I play.
The idea is to focus on the old Jump/Swing/R&B sax traditions. That's a
huge specialty and passion of mine, but I don't want to do it unless
we're really gonna do it all the way (laughs). This group is an outlet
What new Blues artists keep him interested and catch Sax Gordon's ears
“Well, all the guys I work with around the world are worth a listen.
Jimmy Reiter released a CD last year, that's great. The new Igor Prado
Band CD/DVD is really special. Luca Giordano is getting ready to record
again. I have a new collaboration with Lluis Coloma, that's really
different, that I think will be worth a listen. Raphael Wressnig has a
lot of recordings featuring people like Alex Schultz, Tad Robinson,
Deitra Farr and myself. Listen to these recordings.”
Many, many notes and not a lot of rests.”
Here are some clips of Sax Gordon performing live
Kid Ramos and Sax Gordon CLICK HERE
Junior Watson, Fred Kaplan and Sax Gordon
Junior Watson & Sax Gordon again
Sax Gordon & Lluis Coloma Trío
Sharrie Williams & Sax Gordon in Dubai
For more info on Sax Gordon
visit his website at
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine
and Marilyn Stringer
© 2013 as
Interviewer A. J. Wachtel is a long-time entertainment journalist in
New England and the East Coast who currently writes for The Boston Blues
Society and The Noise Magazine. He is well known in the Boston and N.Y.C
areas for his work in the Blues for the last two decades.
For other reviews and interviews on our website