Sometime in the late seventies I wandered into a record shop on Sloane Square in London. I think it may have been Virgin, but I can’t remember. I had no particular music in mind as I skimmed though the bins. After a while I came across a copy of the Crusaders “Southern Comfort”. I was attracted by the bright green gatefold sleeve with its faux art-nouvaux typeface. I was not that familiar with the Crusaders or their history, but I took a punt on the album. I still have it today – it’s a Portuguese import distributed by Movieplay. Anyway, I got the bus home and as soon as I got into the house I slipped the first disc onto my turntable. Instant gratification ensued as “Stomp and Buck Dance” blasted out of the speakers. An aural assault of the most funky jazz I’d ever heard. I played the two disks through to the end – “A Ballad for Joe Louis” was a fitting finale. Frankly – I was sold, and have been ever since.
I took time to delve a little into the history of the Crusaders. I discovered that the core of what to was later become the Crusaders was born in Texas in 1952, when Stix Hooper and Wilton Felder founded the Swingsters. They were joined in 1953 by Wayne Henderson, Joe Sample and Hubert Laws. In 1957 the band moved from Texas to Los Angeles, where four years later, in 1961, they changed their name to the Jazz Crusaders. Between 1961 and 1969 they recorded 16 albums for Pacific Jazz Records. In 1970 they moved on to record for – Liberty, MoWest and Chisa records, before moving to Blue Thumb in 1972. The jazz in their name was dropped and they became simply The Crusaders. Their first album for Blue Thumb (Crusaders I) sold 250,000 and by 1974 their albums were selling in excess of 500,000 copies. It was during this period a schism developed in the band and their long-term trombone player Wayne Henderson left to pursue a solo career. The rest of the band decided that no one would be able to replace Wayne and decided to soldier on without him. In many ways Henderson’s departure planted to seeds of the Crusaders final demise. By the late seventies they became a cash cow for their record label and financial expediency took precedent over from artistic creativity. The pinnacle of the group’s commercial success came with 1979’s “Street Life”, which peaked at No.18 on the pop album charts, selling more than a million copies. The title track was a classic with Randy Crawford on vocals and is still a radio staple today. But, something had been lost in the lush over-produced sound. From that point on the band disintegrated and in 1982, Stix Hooper, their long time drummer left to become a producer. The band employed a series of session drummer to replace him, but somehow the magic was gone. By the 1990s, The Crusaders, for the most part, had disbanded, though even today various splinter groups remain.
It’s sad to see how musicians swallowed by the corporate decision making, eventually implode on themselves. But don’t despair too much because the Crusaders have left a legacy of great recordings behind. From the Jazz Crusaders early outings such as Freedom Sound to the Crusader’s mid-seventies Chain Reaction. As my tribute to the band I have put together a little mix of some of my favourite tracks. If you want to check it out, you can find it at: http://www.mixcloud.com/tony-todd/dj2tee-presents-the-crusaders/ If you like jazz with soul, you will like this.