Saturday, 17 January 2009

Johnny Beecher (Plas Johnson) - Sax 5th Ave.

Beecher's Bossa Nova

Sax 5th Ave.

256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from Charter CLM-102

Whether you're familiar with the name Plas Johnson or not, one thing is certain: you've heard his sax more times than you can possibly count - and that's just when it comes to his lead on the The Pink Panther Theme. In fact, odds are that those 4 bars popped into your head the moment you finished reading that sentence, didn't they? Then factor in his session work on signature recordings by names like Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley & The Comets, Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, The Monkees, Blue Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Willie Hutch, Shuggie Otis, Leon Ware, Les McCann, Bobby Hutcherson, Roy Ayers, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur plus dozens more over the past 50 years and it's likely that regardless of your tastes, his playing has been a prominent part of your musical enjoyment. If you want to learn more about this living legend check out the short 'n' sweet bio on Space Age Pop Music or, even better, head on over to his excellent website.

The Plas Panther

Although neither of the LPs he did under the nom de plume Johnny Beecher have been reissued, all the tracks are available on the combined Blue Moon compilations The Warm Sounds of Plas Johnson Tenor Sax. Word to the wise: apparently they are unlicensed bootlegs with no royalties going to Plas, so if supporting the artist is a priority in your hard-copy purchasing decisions then caveat emptor. Note that this album has no connection to the recent posthumous Teo Macero disc with an identical title outside of them both covering the Eddie Harris track for which the albums are named.

While the first side could certainly be called smooth jazz for the 60s thanks to all the sultry sax on these smoky ballads and silky standards, Plas and pals kick it into gear on the second side. Not only does the pace pick up but the solos from vibist Emil Richards (who's been featured here on Soundological before) and organist Bert Kendrix on boppish tracks like Artie Shaw's "Summit Ridge Drive" or PJ originals "Scrips 'n' Scraps" and "The Spirited Gim Bulls." In fact, for a guy who made quite the comfy career out of his interpretation of others' compositions, it's somewhat surprising, and certainly satisfying, to hear his tracks outshine a couple of the popular classics on the same album.

Sax 5th Ave.

Dusty Groove review
An obscure session from Plas Johnson -- recording here away from Capitol, under another name, quite possibly for contractual reasons! The album's got the gentle groove of Plas' best records of the time -- deep deep tenor sax solos, recorded in a moody, echoey, late nite setting -- all augmented by small combo instrumentation that includes vibes by Emil Richards, bass by Jimmy Bond, and organ by Bert Kendrix. Titles include "Summit Ridge Drive", "Beecher's Bossa Nova", "May Cees Blues", "The Spirited Gim Blues", and "Sax Fifth Avenue".

Johnny Beecher (Plas Johnson) - Sax
Earl Palmer - Drums
Wayne Robinson - Drums
Emil Richards - Vibes
Jimmy Bond - Bass
Bert Kendrix - Organ

1 Reveries
2 Star Dust
3 Diane
4 Flamingo
5 Lonely Feeling
6 Sax Fifth Avenue
7 Summit Ridge Drive
8 Scrips 'n' Scraps
9 Beecher's Bossa Nova
10 The Spirited Gim Bulls
11 May Cees Blues
12 Cherokee


1956 Plas Johnson
(a.k.a. Drum Stuff / Drum Suite / Screamin' Sax!)

1956 Bop Me Daddy

1959 Mood For The Blues
at Licorice Pizza

1959 This Must Be the Plas

1963 Sax 5th Ave. (as Johnny Beecher)
at Soundological

1963 On The Scene (as Johnny Beecher)

1964 Blue Martini
at Portal of Groove

1975 The Blues

1976 Positively
at Licorice Pizza / showmethebesthiphop
(both links dead, anyone have now?)

1983 L.A. (1955) (with the Grease Patrol)

1990 Hot Blue & Saxy

1999 Evening Delight

2000 Christmas in Hollywood

2001 Keep That Groove Going! (with Red Holloway)

2008 All Blues (with Ernie Watts)


1983 Rockin' With The Plas: The Capitol Singles

1996 Warm Sound of Plas Johnson Vol 1
Midnight Blues

1996 Warm Sound of Plas Johnson Vol 2
Madison Avenue Strut

2000 The Best of Plas Johnson: The King of Sax

Shop for your star-studded sax at Soundological HERE or HERE.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the share. I didn't know that Plas recorded under the Beecher name but it's not surprising. Those kind of records were sold in supermarkets in the late 50's and early 60's at budget prices - many cool LP's to be found. I could've sworn I came across another LP recently also named "Sax 5th Ave."
-Jack the Bellboy

cheeba said...

Hi Jack!

I found this in a $1 bin over a decade ago and never looked into Beecher until a couple months ago. I know what you mean - I was surprised it was Plas but not surprised that such a ubiquitous session man would put out an LP under a pseudonym.

I know that there was a "Teo Macero Presents" album by that title released a few years ago and that's all I've found so far...any other clues to go on for the one you saw?

KL from NYC said...

Came over from Portal of Groove. Thank you.
By the way, re: the cartoon at the bottom of the page -- is that someone's reaction after receiving an LP bought on the Internet? (Could be.)

cheeba said...

Welcome, KL! Glad you could stop by! Love yr blog, so was a pleasure to discover it and link you up here!

As for the pic below...sounds like you may have some experience in that area LOL!!

KL from NYC said...

I'm just a visitor at Portal; Oracle runs it.

cheeba said...

Duly noted, KL!

But "just" a visitor? I don't think many of us would be doing this w/o folks like you who don't "just" vist but also say hi and leave a comment now and then.

Thanks for being a class act!

Anonymous said...

Thank you SI ... Johnny Beecher ... Baron VB

Anonymous said...

Have a DYNAMITE day my friend!.