Frank Culley

For the wieners who love wieners and the weirdos who love weird song titles, all Frank Culley had to do was fry up some "Flying Sausages" for RCA in the early '50s to earn a state of eternal grace. For the more discerning, tenor saxophonist Culley can be credited with helping to create the entire sound of the R&B saxophone, leading to a dependable spot for the horn in many a combo. He grew up in in Norfolk, VA, learning tenor sax when he was only ten years old. Professionally his first major engagement was with the exuberant Johnson's Happy Pals; by the '40s he was leading his own groups, before long presented with opportunities to record for labels such as Lenox and Continental. Even while leading he still made time to blow energetic solos on other people's records, his sound also becoming an essential part of some vintage Wynonie Harris material. The then tiny Atlantic outfit signed him in 1948, Culley commandeering a house band that accompanied quite a few of the R&B singers who recorded during this period. As well, dozens of tracks of his own were cut, of which "Coleslaw" is well worth mentioning as a perfect side to the previously mentioned sausages. Van Walls came up with terrific piano parts on these records, some of which skirted the edges of jazz such as a Lionel Hampton cover. The RCA Victor contract followed, as did sides for labels such as Parrot, Chess, and Baton. Success eluded Culley however -- he was, no doubt, eating sausages and coleslaw on the road as well as playing music about them. This must have been something of a frustration considering how much effort he put into crazy performance antics that led to the nickname "Floorshow." In the mid-'70s he called it quits and retired to Newark, NJ. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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