GROVER Washington Jr. became one of Kudu's brightest lights by a complete one in a million accident. "I was called in to do a background session for Hank Crawford." the amiable Grover the Second smiled, "but when we got there and all the tracks were down, it was learned that Hank was in Europe and likely to be there for a while. So I was asked if I could play alto sax as well as the tenor saxophone that I had already put on the tapes. I explained that I hadn't played alto since my old army days but I would be happy to give it a try. So I did!
"I guess it's really a case of being in the right place at the right time. Anyway, that's how the "Inner City Blues" album was born — you really should have been hearing Hank Crawford in the foreground." In which case, Hank would have no doubt had the hit single with "Inner City Blues", which turned out to be one of the best selling instrumentals in both America and Britain last year.
Of course, the album put Grover on the right path but it had not been that way throughout his career, which began some fifteen years ago in his native city of Buffalo, where he was born thirteen days before Christmas. 1943. He first played with a group called the Four Clefs at local and small clubs, primarily backing visiting Blues artists. Grover would play either tenor or alto sax in those days. After five years together, the group went their own ways in 1963, with Grover joining a band called the Mark III Trio.
By this time, he had based himself in the Columbus. Ohio area. It was with Mark III Trio that Grover had his first recording experience — and it makes an amusing tale! I simply said that I had never heard of the group or the reputed album, to which Grover replied: "I can only hope nobody has heard it anywhere!
"The recording wasn't that bad, it was well made and the group was a good one. But the fella who was putting up the money was experimenting in a special type of vinyl for record cutting — that was his major trade, you might say! Anyway, I'll just say that it was all a bit of a disaster and we have tried to forget it ever since."
But there is funnier to still come! I asked Grover on which label the album was released. There was a stunned silence on the other end of the phone before he answered: "I hoped you weren't going to ask me that…but here goes! He called the company Downhill Records and that's just the way the company went!"
Grover recovered and was called into the service in 1965, spending eighteen months at Fort Dix, New Jersey, During his army years, Grover furthered his musical education, learning to play fender bass in the process. When he was demobbed in 1967, he settled in nearby Philadelphia, where he still lives with his wife and two young children — the junior of whom is Grover III.
The recording of the first Kudu album came in the mid-summer of 1971 and by Christmas it was climbing the charts. During the early part of last year, Grover set about recording his second album — although in reality it was the first Grover Washington Jr. album.
"I think it turned out to be a better album," Grover said, "because it's got a wider musical concept, a wider musical scope if you like. The first album was already geared for radio station play before I even came along whereas the "All The King's Horses" album was made to suit me."
Now for some good news — within a month or so, the third Grover album will be ready. "It may even be a double set," he excitedly confided, "but they haven't made up their minds yet. We've only got a little bit of overdubbing to do, then the mix and we'll be ready. The album has its fair share of long tracks — for example, there will be a long track on the Temptations' hit, "Masterpiece", and on Marvin Gaye's main theme from the "Trouble Man" movie score. Then I have always liked old standards and with Billie Holiday being so much in vogue, we took the opportunity to cut one of her songs — "Don't Explain", which I have always liked.
"The next single? I really don't know. The album or double album is almost all long tracks. In fact, the only two short tracks I can think of are the Stevie Wonder song. "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" and a song that was written by Bread, called "Aubrey". We don't even have a name for the album yet but it will all get sorted out within the next three or four weeks."
One of Grover's ambitions is to return to London. He was here for four days during the CTI Jazz tour that played several European cities last August. The whole entourage came to London for their four days off and Grover was sufficiently impressed that he should want to come back. The feeling is certainly mutual.