Jazz saxophonist, bandleader
Paul Williams, jazz saxophonist and bandleader credited with helping usher in rock ‘n’ roll, died of natural causes Sept. 14 in New York. He was 87.
He is best known for his raucous 1948 recording of “The Hucklebuck,” a saxophone-driven tune (written by Andy Gibson and adapted without credit from Charlie Parker’s 1945 “Now’s the Time”) that is considered a precursor to rock. Song was No. 1 on the rhythm-and-blues chart for 14 weeks and earned him the billing of Paul Hucklebuck Williams.
He was also on the bill at deejay Alan Freed’s landmark 1952 Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland, often called the first rock concert. Williams’ band was the only act to perform that night after massive gate crashing and overcrowding led fire marshals to stop the show not long after it started.
Lewisburg, Tenn., native began his career as a jazz musician in Detroit. He went on to record several hits for Savoy Records between 1947 and 1951, with “The Hucklebuck” the biggest. In the 1960s, he became music director for James Brown and Lloyd Price. He also did session work for Atlantic Records and opened a talent agency in New York.
He is survived by two sons and a daughter.