The Horn Blows : Red Prysock©2002JCMarion


Red Prysock was one of the first of the big blasting tenor sax players of the rock 'n roll era. He was born Wilbert Prysock in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1926. He was first noticed as the lead sax on tenor with the Tiny Bradshaw band on the R & B hits "Soft" and "Heavy Juice" for King records in the late forties. In the early fifties Red backed up blues singer Lonnie Johnson for some sessions with King Records which produced the sides "Darlin" / "Seven Long Days" on King #4503, and "My Mother's Eyes" and "Me And My Crazy Self" on ##4510. Red signed with Mercury Records, the Chicago based major in early January of 1954.

Red started out the new year with a week long date at the Apollo Theater in Harlem along with The Four Tunes. Soon his first release on the Mercury label is out - the songs were "Jump Red Jump" and "Body And Soul", the time proven sax tune initiated years ago by Coleman Hawkins. The record on Mercury #70367 is released in May to coincide with a long stay at Weeke's Lounge in Atlantic City, New Jersey. "Jump" is picked up by many listeners, and even more listeners with "Blow Your Horn" and "Happy Feet" on #70419 which is a popular jump instrumental. Red had recorded some tunes for small local labels and one that was released was on the small New York based independent label Red Robin with his House Rockers on the tune called "Wiggles" (the flip side was "Crying My Heart Out") on #107. Riding out the popularity of "Wiggles" which appealed to a lot of the new listeners to the sound of R & B via the Moondog Freed show over WINS radio in New York, Red becomes one of the primary first wave of rock 'n roll heroes. Late in the year while "Wiggles" is getting airplay and generating sales, "Fats Place" and "Hey There" is out on Mercury on #70460 is released. At the end of the year Red Prysock is signed to play at the Moondog Jubilee ball to be held at St. Nicholas Arena in New York in mid January of 1955, Freed's first offering in the New York City area. Before the Moondog gig, Red and his combo do a tour of one nighters throughout the South with Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters.

That January the Moondog Jubilee was a resounding success with turnaway crowds. Red is quickly signed for Freed's Easter Jubilee of Stars at the Brooklyn Paramount in April. In March Alan Freed signs up to record his big rock 'n roll band which stars Red Prysock along with Sam "the man" Taylor, Big Al Sears, guitarist Mickey Baker, and drummer Panama Francis. The band would record for Coral Records, part of the Decca Records family. In March Mercury releases the all time classic instrumental titled simply "Rock And Roll" on Mercury #70540. The flip side was the frantic tune "Little Jamie". After the Easter Jubilee at the Brooklyn Paramount, Prysock returns to St. Nick's Arena and appears at the springtime Rock & Roll Festival along with Varetta Dillard, The Cadillacs, Mellows, Otis Blackwell, and the Joe Morris Orchestra. In May Mercury releases "The Horn Blows" and "Zonked" on #70602.

In July of 1955 Alan Freed again signs Red for his Labor Day Week show at the Brooklyn Paramount. During the summer Red Prysock and his band are on tour with Sarah Vaughn, The Cardinals, and Al Hibbler, in the Southern states. After the Freed show in September, Red joins Al Hibbler, LaVern Baker, and The El Dorados, at the Howard Theater in D.C., the Earle in Philadelphia, and the Royal in Baltimore. In October Mercury releases the blasting tune that will be Red Prysock's signature song - "Hand Clapping" on #70674. The great sales and airplay of the last two records for Mercury lead Red Robin to re-release "Hard Rock" and "Jump For George" on Red Robin #113, and "Jackpot" and "The Hammer" on #139. Late in the year Red is in the Midwest with Big Maybell and Nappy Brown, and plays the Regal in Chicago and the Royal in Detroit.

Irving Feld launches a huge traveling R & B show early in 1956 that will tour the South for two months. Joining Red are Bill Haley & The Comets, The Platters, Drifters, Shirley & Lee, LaVern Baker, The Five Keys, Turbans, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, and Roy Hamilton. Mercury issues a Red Prysock LP called "Rock And Roll" (on #20088) and features Mercury singles that Red had recorded for the label. In mid February, Red and his brother Arthur do a rare joint appearance at New Jersey's Crossing Inn in Trenton. Mercury releases "Red Speaks" and "Zip" on #70787. In March Mercury shifts Red to its subsidiary label Wing Records. In April the first Wing release is out - "Fruit Boots" and "Hard Laces" on Wing #90070. In May Red Prysock wins an award from the Pittsburgh Courier for being the best musical combo in the Rhythm & Blues field. Despite the announced plan to issue Red Prysock on Wing, the Mercury label releases continue. In August "Rock And Roll Party" and "Rock And Roll Mambo" on #70918. Red joins Bill Haley & The Comets and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers on tour. In October Mercury issues an LP of Red Prysock recordings. In November Mercury issues "Paquino Walk" and "Teen Age Rock" with vocal by Harold Mills on #70985.

The sax instrumentals keep coming for Red. "What's The Word ? Thunderbird" and Satellite" is released on Mercury #71214. He does a turn with brother Arthur on vocal on "Woke Up This Morning", and the tunes "Short Circuit", the unique "Red's House Party", "Rock The House", 125th Street Sunrise", "Finger Tips", "Head Snappin'" and "The Pog Wog" on #71054, "Rooster Walk", and the interestingly named "Two Point Eight (2.8)" on #71175 follow into 1958. Mercury releases "Billie's Blues" on #71358. The flip side was "Willow Weep For Me". In November Red appears at a benefit show organized by Roy Hamilton in Jersey City, New Jersey. A second LP is released by Mercury called "Swing Softly Red" on #20512. By 1959 there were big changes in American music, and R & B originals suffered. Mercury releases "Margie" and "Chop Suey" on #71411 in January of 1959. Another old standard "And The Angels Sing" is coupled with "Riffin With Red" on #71476. Red plays dates at Carr's Beach in Annapolis and then into the Midwest at Columbus,Ohio and Indianapolis. Prysock left Mercury after five productive years and Red continued to appear in different areas and labels. He recorded an LP for Checker Records in Chicago, but it was never released. In a hint of what was to come, he backed up his brother Arthur, on a series of classic recordings of pop standards for Old Town Records in the late fifties. In the early sixties Red Prysock recorded with Dr. Horse on the Fire label on tunes such as "I'm Tired Of It" / "I Think I Know" on #501, and "Jack, That Cat Was Clean" and "Salt Pork, West Virginia" on #514 in 1962.

Once his days as an R & B sax man was over he spent many years beginning in the mid sixties fronting a small combo backing his brother, vocalist Arthur Prysock on many club dates and even some television spots as Arthur gained popularity. Red Prysock passed away in July of 1993, a remembered king of the tenor sax. There are some who say Red is in reality the sax man depicted in the Clint Eastwood produced bio film of Charlie Parker ("Bird" starring Forrest Whittaker), when Parker checks out a tenor man honking out a R & B number for a wild rock 'n roll crowd. Miffed at the public's acceptance of this style, he grabs the sax, tootles a few notes and hands it back derisively commenting that he just wanted to see if it had "more than one note" in it. Prysock and Bird's paths did cross on more than one occasion in the late forties-early fifties, and so the assumption is held. Whatever the truth, Red Prysock paid his dues, and harnessed the wild horse of rock 'n roll and became the music's first wave of rock idols. For proof just listen to "Wiggles', "Rock And Roll", "Little Jamie", "Hand Clappin", and "Red's House Party" for starters. Red Prysock rules !

to next page . . . . . . . . .

back to title page . . . . . .