Prominent saxophonist during the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s who had some early success as a featured artist before getting even more acclaim backing others in the studio.

Culley was born in 1918 and unlike many of his contemporary sax stars from rock’s early days he didn’t have any notable success in another field of music before moving towards rock ‘n’ roll. Though he’d been leading his own band for a few years, first in Virginia and then with increasing notoriety in New York, he’d never recorded, either on his own or behind others.

But his style was perfectly suited to rock music, already earning him the sobriquet “Floorshow” before he ever stepped into a studio for the first time on the small Lenox/Continental label in late 1948. Soon he was called in to play on sessions behind reigning rock superstar Wynonie Harris for King Records. When that label shortsightedly failed to sign him for a recording contract of his own (after doing the same with Hal “Cornbread” Singer a year earlier, who then went on to a hit making career elsewhere), Atlantic Records stepped in and inked Culley to his own deal, setting his career into orbit.

While with Atlantic over the next three years Culley helped shape the instrument’s capabilities, both with a series of instrumental records which included two sizeable hits, as well as backing other artists in the studio. It was here that he’s credited with his most notable role in rock’s evolution when his group, which included legendary pianist Harry Van Walls, was enlisted to play behind The Clovers on their initial Atlantic session. Culley, as was his right as the leader of the group, insisted on being paid leader scale though the company hadn’t planned to his use his horn at all in the arrangement. When Atlantic had no choice but to pay him per union rules they told him if they were going to pay he was going to play, which he was more than happy to do.

The hastily re-arranged backing for “Don’t You Know I Love You” featured his tenor taking a blistering lead and his performance was widely credited as both helping the record become a #1 hit as well as showing the aesthetic musical value of honking sax interludes in the previously more subdued vocal ensemble approach. This unplanned turn of events gave Culley an enormous amount of influence on rock’s ensuing style, as the raunchy tenor sax became a ubiquitous part of virtually every vocal group record over the next decade.

But his own time with the company was about to come to an end as he left soon after and recorded for a number of labels without success. He remained a popular club performer for years however as it enabled him to unleash his crowd-pleasing antics which had gotten him his reputation to begin with. Though short-lived as a rock star his time was well-spent as well as very productive with serious long-range historical implications to boot.

Culley retired from performing by the mid-1970’s and passed away in 1983.
FRANK “FLOORSHOW” CULLEY DISCOGRAPHY (Reviews To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):
(Continental 5070/Lenox 513; October, 1948)
Serviceable instrumental but Culley’s inexperience in the studio crafting records shows as this suffers from rather haphazard construction with an anticipatory intro leading to a subdued set-up before they start to cut loose by the end. (5)

(Continental 5070/Lenox 513; October, 1948)
A more rousing song than the top side, but one beset with different problems, notably a massed horn section behind Culley’s strong lead which commands too much of the focus and sounds out of place tonally even if their playing is carried off with suitable enthusiasm. (5)

(King 4276; February, 1949)
As sideman… behind Wynonie Harris

(King 4276; February, 1949)
As sideman… behind Wynonie Harris

(Atlantic 874; March, 1949)
A well-deserved hit that takes Jesse Stone’s seven year old swing tune and re-names and re-crafts it – with Stone himself overseeing the changes for Atlantic Records – and turns it into a lean thoroughly modern rock instrumental. (7)

(Atlantic 874; March, 1949)
Culley transforms Lionel Hampton’s jazz classic into a rocker showcasing both his technical skill in transposing the varied piano riffs to sax as well as his lung power but it almost becomes too frantic to be heard often. (5)

(Atlantic 880; August, 1949)
The record named after its artist (not the other way around as often is mistakenly claimed) finds Culley doing everything that’s required of him to keep pace with the sax instrumental brigade, featuring an airtight arrangement and Culley’s impressive chops on tenor. (7)

(Atlantic 880; August, 1949)
Awkward and unconvincing attempt to be “hep” comes across like a parody of the concept, some decent playing but no melody to catch your ear and no real point to it all other than as a gimmick. (4)

(Atlantic 888; November, 1949)
A really good musical change of pace for the honking sax player whose interplay with pianist Harry Van Walls is sublime, but the record is dragged down by unintentionally comical faux hipster patter that can’t be explained or excused. (5)

(Atlantic 888; November, 1949)
The nadir of Culley’s ill-conceived attempts at having spoken patter appear throughout the record as if you were overhearing musicians in their natural element which of course makes it sound as unnatural as anything could. A dreadful idea that goes overboard here. (1)

(Atlantic 902; March, 1950)
A noisy, wild, joyous record, albeit with a few missteps along the way to keep it from true greatness, this is the kind of rave-up performance the band was capable of delivering and shows what a potent duo Vann Walls and Culley could be. (6)

(Atlantic 902; March, 1950)
Despite some good playing from Culley this is rather aimless by design, a loosely connected jumble of mismatched parts, each decent enough in isolation but together they form nothing that could be called definitive. (5)

(Atlantic 918; September, 1950)
A nice instrumental rendition of the pop smash of the day in which Culley skillfully draws out the soulfulness of the song, letting the melody take center stage while he and the band frame it with understated grace. (5)

(Atlantic 922; November, 1950)
A more focused take on the same basic atmospheric concept of Culley’s earlier hit of a similar name, this eliminates the awful vocal patter that marred that song and gives this a more structured feel with room for piano and sax solos over the methodical bass pattern. (7)

(Atlantic 922; November, 1950)
Culley is mostly window dressing on this showcase for teenage singer Arlene Talley who delivers an intense performance while Culley and Van Walls sketch out a melody behind her rather than contributing a much needed instrumental break to off-set her vocals. (5)

(Atlantic 934; March, 1951)
As sideman… behind The Clovers. The most important contribution of Culley’s career, his part was a last minute addition to the arrangement and would go on to define the role the sax would play in vocal group records forever.

(Atlantic 934; March, 1951)
As sideman… behind The Clovers.

(Atlantic 935; March, 1951)
Inventive title aside, this record can’t seem to make up its mind between the rock attitudes that Culley occasionally projects and the cleaner jazz oriented backing the band provides, making a fairly good performance seem slightly schizophrenic. (4)