April 19, 2010

Reconsidering “The Sidewinder”

The SidewinderTrumpeter Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” is an example of familiarity breeding contempt. The 1963 hit tune, from the album of the same name, was used as the theme in Chrysler car commercials at the time. This was without permission from Morgan or Blue Note Records – threats of lawsuits caused the commercials to be quickly taken off the air. But even Morgan thought the tune was just “filler” for the album. This is a bit surprising because he desperately needed a comeback, as he was coming off several years of trouble due to a heroin addiction.
     “The Sidewinder” opens the album with ten minutes of great blues. The catchy rhythm is deep blues mixed with a Latin riff and is sustained throughout. Lee’s opening solo is on the showy side, but there’s also some wonderfully intimate playing, almost a talking quality to the trumpet. Joe Henderson follows on tenor sax with a melodious solo that is immediately recognizable. (The following year, Henderson would make another memorable guest appearance with a seminal solo on Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father.”) Barry Harris on piano and Bob Cranshaw on bass are also given ample room for bluesy solos in “Sidewinder.” Hey, “catchy” doesn’t necessarily mean bad.
     Blue Note tried to repeat the formula on later Morgan albums, attempting to capture the magic again with opening extended blues songs. This is part of what contributed to the dismissive attitude toward this tune/album. (And did we really need an album called The Rumproller?) Morgan continued to record prolifically throughout the Sixties until his untimely death in 1972, when he was shot by his common law wife at the club where he was performing, the unfortunately named Slugs’.


  1. Hello! I really love this album, just as much as everything Lee has ever recorded, by himself or as a sideman - he's my favorite trumpeter, period, so I admit I'm quite biased. :) "The Sidewinder" is the most well known Morgan cd, but in my opinion his best is "Cornbread". "The Rumproller"? Ok, it may be an attempt at quick cash in, following the success of its predecessor, still I find it highly enjoyable and in the end beautiful. The more Morgan we got, the better! :)

  2. I heartily agree. The point of the post is that he is sometimes dismissed by some because of some of the formulaic albums he produced trying to emulate the success of "The Sidewinder." Many of these albums are quite good if people bother to listen to them. Morgan also did some terrific stuff in the late Fifties and early Sixties, on his own and with the Jazz Messengers.