Pee Wee Ellis - saxophone
A versatile composer, arranger, saxophonist and keyboard player, a musician whose repertoire encompasses all manner of music from jazz through soul and funk to stadium rock, Alfred Pee Wee Ellis stands distinctive in any company.
Born in Bradenton, Florida in 1941, Pee Wee was raised in Lubbock, Texas where he played his first public show in 1954 while still in Junior High School. His family moved to Rochester, NY, the following year, where he continued to play professionally throughout High School. He also met Sonny Rollins at this time, and spent the summer of 1957 under his masterful tutelage - a pivotal experience. “A great sax player, he taught me a lot and I still listen to him".
Returning to Florida after graduation he formed his own ensemble, Dynamics Incorporated. He also worked on the carny circuit at this time, laying the foundation of his career as a bandleader and musical director, writer and arranger, and by now multi-instrumentalist, with tenor saxophone as his principal musical voice. It was during this period that he first came to the notice of James Brown.
Back in New York, Pee Wee was working with The Sonny Payne Trio in 1965 when he got ‘the call’ from his close friend Wayman Reed to join the James Brown Revue, then the hottest, most sensational and successful head-buster on the R&B circuit, and fast becoming an international phenomenon. “I stood there in the wings and I thought, I should have bought a ticket. It was that much of a privilege to be so close to James Brown and that band” says Pee Wee now of his first exposure to the revue.
Playing alto sax and organ Pee Wee quickly became an integral element in James’ expanding vision, writing arrangements and horn charts, and he was instantly promoted to bandleader when Nat Jones quit in January 1967. That very same day Pee Wee arranged Brown’s R&B Top 5 Hit, “Let Yourself Go” (from which, 'There Was A Time' was born), and then turned the soul world on its head with Brown’s follow-up, “Cold Sweat.” This was a million selling Number 1 Hit in the autumn of 1967 and it redefined the parameters of popular music. Brown had been out on a musical limb since 1964, with unconventional hits such as “I Got You (I feel Good)” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” but Nat Jones’ arrangements had not taken him over the edge. Pee Wee’s “Cold Sweat” propelled James Brown into a new dimension musically, and founded a funk revolution that is still being copied and sampled the world over 30 years on. Pee Wee continued to be a mainspring in James Brown’s musical direction for the next two and a half years, co-writing and arranging the majority of the ‘Godfather’s’ single hits and album tracks during that period and also interjecting commercial success into the instrumental releases of the James Brown Band ('In the Middle', 'Popcorn', 'Soul Pride' and 'The Chicken'.)