One of rock’s most prolific session musicians whose saxophone – and occasional harmonica – graced countless hits over the 1950’s and 60’s on the New York scene as well as cutting occasional solo records under his own name.

Alonzo “Buddy” Lucas was born in 1914 in Alabama but moved to Connecticut when he was little where he took up the clarinet before switching to saxophone at 19 as he began playing local clubs. His musical activities for the next fifteen years or so are lost to time but in the late 1940’s he moved to New York and began playing in the city with drummer Herman Bradley, eventually getting session work at the dawn of the 1950’s, first writing material for others – Little Sylvia Vanterpool on Columbia – and then being signed to be the bandleader for the studio musicians at Jubilee in 1951 where he made his recording debut on own vocal sides.

He made the charts twice in the same month, April 1952, first backing Edna McGriff on the soulful ballad “Heavenly Father” on which he received backing credit and on his own he hit #2 with a tender version of “Diane” from the 1920’s whose style was far removed from rock ‘n’ roll, but following that success he still didn’t shy away from rocking and after a move to RCA the next year he began making his mark as a songwriter for vocal acts, scoring a hit with The Drifters “Steamboat” in 1955.

With the popularity of vocal groups during the mid-1950’s Lucas became one of the go-to sax players to provide the honking breaks the records were known for, appearing on a wide array of classics on George Goldern’s labels including Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”, The Chantels “Maybe” and Little Anthony & The Imperials “Tears On My Pillow”, all Top Ten hits as well as getting his last hit as lead artist (albeit under the name Gone All-Stars) with “7-11” which hit the Top Thirty in early 1958.

At the tail end of the decade he was heard on Dave “Baby” Cortez’s smash instrumental “The Happy Organ” and starting in 1960 he provided most of the tenor solos on Dion’s solo hits – with Jerome Richardson on alto – including “The Wanderer” which many consider his most indelible performance. His pace never slowed and his saxophone was hard to escape, whether on Ray Charles’s “Busted”, Billy Bland’s “Let The Little Girl Dance”, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters’ “The Switch-A-Roo” or an early Aretha Franklin album on Columbia. When he wasn’t playing sax on a session he was often blowing a harmonica, making that the defining sound of James Ray’s “If You Got To Make A Fool Of Somebody”, and sides for The Coasters, The Rascals and others.

With the tenor sax being phased out of many rock arrangements by the end of the 1960’s Lucas turned to commercials with just occasional session work, usually for jazz, blues or various hybrid type artists in the early 1970’s before playing for two years on Broadway in the play Purlie. After that he moved back to Connecticut and resumed playing with Herman Bradley, his first benefactor in New York from back in the 1940’s. In March of 1983 a few years after having a lung removed which hadn’t stopped him from playing, Lucas died of cancer at the age of 68, silencing one of the mightiest horns of rock’s golden age.

BUDDY LUCAS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Jubilee 5058; May, 1951)
A strong debut as both a singer and sax player on record, his vocals on this Stick McGhee-inspired cut are very credible while his sax solo is really good, showing and equal amount of grit and patience in allowing the horn to establish a mood perfect for rock ‘n’ roll. (6)

(Jubilee 5058; May, 1951)
Another vocal turn by the saxophonist which is hardly bad but not nearly as good as it’d be if he picked up his horn and played… he may get the solo here but the prominent backing horn is someone else, making this an odd choice for the debut of a horn player. (5)