Gene Ammons: Blue Groove


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Between 1961 and '62, tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was struggling with a menacing heroin habit. His sizable number of recording sessions during these years was partly due to his need for cash. Ammons's first arrest, conviction and prison term lasted from 1958 to 1960. The second bust came in late 1962. According to Bob Porter, writing in Soul Jazz: Jazz in the Black Community 1945-1975, “The arrest warrant charge was possession with intent to sell. The case against Ammons was built with all the subtlety of an inquisition. In today’s judicial climate, the case would clearly be one of entrapment, but that didn’t help Ammons in the Illinois of 1962. He spent more than seven years behind bars."

Before Ammons's career came to a screeching halt in '62, he furtively recorded three albums for Chicago's Argo Records while under an exclusive contract for Prestige. Ammons's motive again was to raise cash, this time while touring in the Midwest. When Prestige found out about the Argo dates after Ammons's incarceration at Joliet Penitentiary in Illinois in '62, Prestige's owner, Bob Weinstock, sued Argo's parent company, Chess Records, and was awarded Ammons's Argo recordings and a sizable financial settlement.

Among Argo's Ammons tapes were tracks that would find their way onto Prestige's Blue Groove, which wasn't issued on vinyl until 1982, when it was produced by Bob Porter. The original session was recorded in April 1962 and featured Ammons (ts), Clarence “Sleepy Anderson (org, p) and an unknown guitarist, bassist and drummer. The song titles were Blue Groove, You Better Go Now, It Never Goes Away, Blinky, Yea!, Someone to Watch Over Me, Sleep and The Masquerade Is Over.

Ammons was released from prison in 1969 and quickly resumed recording for Prestige. To Weinstock's credit, he had kept Ammons's name alive among jazz fans by slowly releasing albums by Ammons that had been recorded in 1961 and '62. But for some reason, Blue Groove wasn't among them, perhaps because the date's personnel wasn't fully known.

Gene Ammons died in 1974 at age 49.

JazzWax clip: Here's You Better Go Now from Blue Groove...

And here's It Never Goes Away...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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