ALVIN "RED" TYLER
Born Alvin Owens Tyler, 5 December 1925, New Orleans, Louisiana
Saxophonist / arranger / producer / composer / band leader
Red Tyler is one of the most important figures in New Orleans R&B. He has a most impressive track record as the baritone saxophonist adding depth and rhythm to the famous Studio Band sound of the 1950s, while backing artists such as Little Richard, Huey 'Piano' Smith and Frankie Ford.
Alvin Tyler, known as 'Red' because of his light tanned skin, was born in New Orleans' 9th Ward in 1925. It wasn't until 1939 that he first became interested in music, inspired by the funeral parade bands which would make their way through the neighbourhood. As his biggest influence he has mentioned Sam Lee, who played the sax in the swing band of Sidney Desvigne. Tyler began seriously playing the saxophone while in the Navy in 1945-46. Upon his discharge he enrolled into the Grunewald School of Music under the GI Bill. After a short stint with the ensemble of Clyde Kerr, he joined Dave Bartholomew's band in 1949, then the hottest outfit in the Crescent City. The band that Bartholomew carried during 1949 was one of his best and deserves special mention. Its members were : Ernest McLean, guitar ; Dave Bartholomew, trumpet ; Clarence Hall, tenor sax ; Joe Harris, alto sax ; Red Tyler, baritone sax (sometimes tenor sax) ; Frank Fields, bass ; Salvador Doucette, piano ; Earl Palmer, drums.
Tyler made his recording debut with this band (minus Doucette, plus Herb Hardesty) in December 1949, on Fats Domino's first session, which resulted in the classic "The Fat Man" and three other tracks. The band would develop into Cosimo Matassa's Studio Band, which can be heard on hundreds of sessions and which defined the classic 1950's New Orleans sound. They hardly ever worked with written arrangements. Especially Tyler was well-versed in the art of creating quick "head arrangements" in the studio.
Red's first love was jazz, but his professional career was focused on the more commercially lucrative rhythm and blues genre (and later rock 'n' roll). During the fifties he recorded with Little Richard, Lloyd Price, Smiley Lewis, Guitar Slim, Shirley and Lee, Bobby Charles, Paul Gayten and Bobby Mitchell, to name but a few.
When Johnny Vincent formed his Ace label in 1955, he contacted Tyler to do A&R work for the label. Soon Red was acting as a producer, arranger, composer and even photographer for Ace, overseeing sessions by Huey 'Piano' Smith. Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Ford and others. It was Johnny Vincent who came up with the idea of an instrumental album by Tyler in 1959. Until then the idea of making solo records had never crossed Red's mind. He was a humble, talented and dependable musician, who seemed most comfortable in a support role and took pride in helping other artists reach their potential. The LP, called "Rockin' and Rollin'", was quickly recorded, during two sessions, with Justin Adams on guitar, Frank Fields on bass, Allen Toussaint on piano, Rufus Gore on second tenor sax and June Gardner on drums. Also James Booker on organ on some tracks. Credit went to "Alvin 'Red' Tyler and the Gyros". The two wildest (and best, IMO) tracks, "Snake Eyes" and "Walk On", were coupled for single release (Ace 556, both sides co-written with Allen Toussaint), but failed to sell. Due to his prolific studio work, Tyler was unable to promote the record.
After leaving Ace in 1961, he helped form AFO Records (All For One) with Harold Battiste. The label, intended to be a co-operative of New Orleans session men, scored a # 3 hit with its second release, "I Know" by Barbara George (early 1962), but folded within two years. Tyler then moved to the West Coast where he worked with Sam Cooke, but returned to New Orleans in the mid-60s. He became a partner in Parlo Records, which had a smash hit with Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is" (# 2, 1967). During the 1970s he divided his time between leading the Gentlemen Of Jazz at Mason's Motel and working as a salesman for a liquor distributor. By the 1980s he was augmenting his work as a jazz player with R&B sessions on James Booker, Johnny Adams, Chuck Carbo and Gatemouth Brown. He also cut two jazz LP's for the Rounder label in the mid-1980s.
In 1994 he cut a praiseworthy album ("The Ultimate Session") with his old New Orleans buddies Allen Toussaint, Mac Rebennack, Earl Palmer, Lee Allen and Edward Frank. The group was credited as Crescent City Gold (High Street Records, still available).
Red Tyler died at his New Orleans home in 1998 of natural causes, aged 72. Posthumously, the New Orleans Jazz Festival organised a Red Tyler tribute concert which featured many musicians that were influenced and assisted by Tyler during his long career.
More info :
CD: Alvin 'Red' Tyler and the Gyros, Simply 'Red'. Westside WESM 529. 18 tracks, the 1959 album plus six previously unissued alternates. Annotated by Jeff Hannusch. Released 1998.
Acknowledgements : John Broven (liner notes for Ace CH 182 & book "Walking To New Orleans"), Jeff Hannusch.
Dik, November 2012
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