Bennie Ross “Hank” Crawford, Jr. born December 21, 1934, Memphis, Tennessee, died January 29, 2009, Memphis, Tennessee.
To celebrate the day of Hank Crawford’s birth, as well as my usual notes, research, and a few unique finds, I have a mix of some examples of Hank’s work, and a 4-part interview with Hank by visual artist Jomo Cheatham.
Press play and read on
Critics Are Going To Be Critical
Crawford’s solid jazz background, especially post performing with, and arranging for Ray Charles and his orchestra, and his later solo recording for Atlantic records, subjected him to more critical analysis than perhaps Taylor’s young artists. As a result, Crawford suffered as much or possibly even more by attacks from the jazz purists and cognoscenti, for recording with Creed Taylor.
Ron Wynn, writing in the “All Music Guide” to Jazz said:
A brilliant, often hypnotic blues, R&B, and ballad alto saxophonist Hank Crawford’s career was affected negatively by the onslaught of background music and vapid fare issued on the ’70s albums that bear his name. While he’d been doing wonderful material with commercial possibilities for years, Crawford was suddenly burdened with glossy, limp, and generic compositions, plus arrangements weighed down by faceless background vocalists.Ron Wynn, All Music Guide To Jazz, P179, 1994. ISBN 0879303085
During the ’70s, Crawford joined Kudu, a division of Creed Taylor’s CTI label. His Kudu albums went steadily downhill; fans of the Charles and Atlantic years listened in horror.
These same critics are the people that were happy to be just critical as jazz started another downward spiral. By the late 1960’s it was getting harder and harder to make a living from jazz. Pop, and the newly electric rock were performing in stadium concerts to tens of thousands of people, according to the critics, jazz still had to be small clubs, played for the love, not the ticket money.
They are the same people, who in the seventies, made a living by defining musicians and their music into ever smaller categories, and trying to hold onto what they, the critics knew. Jazz Funk, Cool Jazz, jazz rock, jazz fusion, even jazz pop all tried to be a thing. They despised disco and smooth jazz was a sellout. Creed Taylor had already learned by 1970, people didn’t care how music was classified, they wanted music for the times. Even the old racial sepeerations of R&B, Soul, Jazz and Popular were becoming less important. The people complain the most, are the people with the most to lose. As early as 1963, Taylor was pushing back on over-classification of music:
These men[musicians], no longer concern themselves with critical limitations,imposed by journalists within the jazz fraternity. More and more of them are looking at the music business as a whole instead of their single segment of it.Creed Taylor, October 1963, P32, Billboard Magazine.- “A Buck Melts Even A Jazzman’s Heart”
and in 1965,
The most successful jazz records today borrow from R&B.
It’s very difficult to talk about categories in music anymore, that’s the real trend. Iif the jazz artist doesn’t hit the charts, he’s still a jazz artist; if he does, then he’s a pop artist.
No major musical idiom is going to die. One can borrow from another so that a hybrid is formed.Creed Taylor, December 18, 1965, P26,RECORD WORLD Article by Doug McClelland
While Grover Washington, Jr. ploughed the smooth jazz furrow, Hank Crawford was, without a doubt, the soul man.
By May 1976, Hank and Grover Washington, Jr, would become the #1 performing auditorium artists, as reported in Billboard, June 5th, 1976. At the Contemporary Oklahoma Civic Center Music Hall, Oklahoma City, -Okla., pulling in a paying audience of 1,100, paying $5.50 -$6.50, producing $71,195 in gross receipts, that would be equivalent to more the half-a-million dollars. Who could have seen that two jazz sax players could have done that just 6-years earlier when Taylor went independent with CTI amid another “Jazz is dead” period? Crawford was a key player(pun intended) in that revolution.
The CTI Recordings
Hank Crawford self describes as a “loyal artist”. He had been with Ray charles and Ray’s Orchestra for 7-years before going solo, still with Atlantic, where he stayed for another 7-years. Hank was working on a deal with Organic Productions, the division of The Richmond Organization headed by Joe Carlton, when he was offered a deal by Creed.
Hank’s recordings with new CTI offshoot, KUDU, got off to a rocky start when Crawford was arrested for a 2-year old driving charge on the eve of the recording date. Crawford shared that fate with Turrentine, who also couldn’t make his first recording session with the new CTI and was subbed by Hubert Laws on the Memphis “Crying Song ” album.
Crawford record “Help Me Make It Through The Night” in August 1971, and was scheduled to record the remaining tracks in September. It was before the September recording Crawford was arrested and at that those sessions, Crawford was subbed with Grover Washington, Jr. The remaining tracks on what then became Crawford’s debut KUDU album were recorded in January 1972 and released soon after.
If the album cover picture of Crawford looks strangely familiar, that’s because it was a deliberate play on the character Kwai Chang Caine, David Carradine’s character in the 1972 hit series, Kung Fu. photograph by William Cadge
Crawford went on to record with Creed and KUDU for, coincidentally, for 7-years again. Crawford toured solo, with the CTI ALL-Stars, delivering 8-albums.
Ray Charles Years
To get an idea of Hank’s time with Ray Charles, Michael Lydon’s book “Ray Charles: The Man and his music” it’s a fascinating read. Crawford is quoted liberally about both how Ray and Hank worked together, but also depressingly, Ray Charles cocaine addiction.
As noted, Hank left Ray Charles in 1963 to record solo. Cashing in on Hank’s new found success at KUDU, in 1973, Atlantic reissued of “The Art of Hank Crawford”. It has some fine examples of Hank and the Ray Charles orchestra without Ray. It’s a double album, never on CD as far as I’m aware, and can be bought online for around $5.
While searching for video or film of Hank Crawford, I came across a 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Ray Charles. It’s actually a pretty good episode in which Charles does a great job of making fun of both the cast, sighted, and racial stereotypes. Charles is accompanied as always by his cadre of female singers, and a small band. I can’t name the others, but there, on sax, is Hank Crawford.
You can watch the whole episode through the Internet Archive. Saturday Night Live Season-3, Episode-5 Saturday Night Live S03E05 – Ray Charles : SNL : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
The Crawford Interview
I couldn’t find much in-depth about Hank, I did find this 4-part video interview on YouTube. It’s well worth a listen.
My favorite quote about Hank comes from rock guitarist and keyboards player, Al Kooper. Al recorded with Hank as a “sideman” a number of times.
one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard in my life: Misty by Hank Crawford, on an album, called “More Soul” .
In Blood, Sweat & Tears, which had four horns, had no tenor sax. That was unheard of: To not have a tenor sax in that lineup of four horns is nuts! We had two trumpets. an alto[sax], and a trombone, only because I’m f*****’ sick and a Hank Crawford maniac.Al Kooper, Classic Rock Keyboards – Rideout. P9 – From Blues to Psychedelia
I love saxophones to cry, and no one cries like Hank Crawford.
Happy Born Day Hank Crawford!
12/21/2020 16:11 added missing 4th YouTube video