Noble "Thin Man" WattsView in iTunes
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The 1950s R&B scene was rife with fire-breathing tenor sax honkers. Noble "Thin Man" Watts was one of the most incendiary. Watts enrolled at Florida A&M University in 1942 (his mates in the school marching band included future jazz luminaries Nat and Cannonball Adderly). The Griffin Brothers, one of Dot Records' top R&B acts (obviously, this was before the days when Randy Wood's label provided safe haven for the hopelessly pale likes of Pat Boone and Gale Storm) hired young Noble Watts after he got out of college. Watts joined baritone saxist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams in 1952, recording with him for Jax and taking sax solos behind Dinah Washington, Amos Milburn, and Ruth Brown on the groundbreaking mid-'50s TV program Showtime at the Apollo (Williams led the house band for the Willie Bryant-hosted extravaganza). Later, there was a stint with Lionel Hampton. Watts' own discography commenced in 1954 with a tasty coupling for DeLuxe ("Mashing Potatoes"/"Pig Ears and Rice"). A 1956 single for Vee-Jay with Williams' band ("South Shore Drive") came just prior to Watts' salad days on the New York-based Baton label. With his band the Rhythm Sparks in support, Watts wailed "Easy Going," "Blast Off," "Shakin'," "Flap Jack," and quite a few more searing instrumentals for Baton from 1957 to 1959, the biggest of all being "Hard Times (The Slop)," which propelled the saxist onto the pop charts in December of 1957. Guitar twanger Duane Eddy must have dug what he heard: he covered the grinding shuffle for Jamie a few years later. That wasn't Noble Watts' only connection to rock & roll. He played behind Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, and many more on various late-'50s package tours. Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson managed Watts during the late '50s and early '60s, recruiting the saxist to lead the house band at the pugilist's Harlem lounge. Things got thin for the Thin Man during the '60s (45s for Sir, Cub, Enjoy, Peanut, Jell, Clamike, and Brunswick came and went without much notice) and '70s, but he mounted a comeback bid in 1987 with a fresh album, Return of the Thin Man, for Bob Greenlee's Kingsnake logo (later picked up by Alligator). King of the Boogie Sax followed in 1993 for Ichiban's Wild Dog imprint. Watts continues to work as a session saxist for Greenlee when he's not pursuing his own interests. ~ Bill Dahl