Karl Denson to tour with Rolling Stones
Veteran San Diego saxophonist signs on for 9 concerts this month and next in Australia & New Zealand with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and company.
By George Varga (/staff/george-varga/)3:37 p.m.Oct. 13, 2014
Karl Denson (http://karldenson.us/home/) has a very sound reason for abruptly canceling the six shows he was scheduled to perform between Friday and October 25 with his funk-jazz band Tiny Universe, including an Oct. 24 date at the North Park Theatre.
The veteran San Diego saxophonist has just been selected to tour with the biggest band in the universe, the Rolling Stones, who have hired Denson to perform nine concerts in Australia and New Zealand. (http://www.rollingstones.com/tickets/) He flies out Friday to begin rehearsing down under with the Stones. His first date with the band will be Oct. 25 stadium date in Adelaide, Australia.
Denson is no stranger to big-name gigs. He embarks on annual amphitheater tours as a member of San Diego jam band Slightly Stoopid and has also worked with Lenny Kravitz, the Allman Brothers Band, Steve Winwood and such jazz greats as guitarist John Scofield, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
But doing a Rolling Stones' stadium tour with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood and the band's elite touring lineup will take him into a rarefied performing world that few musicians get to experience. He'll be joining a sax section that includes longtime band collaborator Bobby Keys and Tim Ries, who has been on board for tours by the Stones since the 1990s.
"This is way beyond my wildest dreams, for sure!" Denson, 57, said Monday, speaking from his Scripps Ranch home. "I wouldn’t have even put it on my bucket list, because I would have considered it ludicrous (to contemplate)."
Denson is the co-founder of the San Diego band Greyboy Allstars. His upcoming tour with the Stones is the result of a recommendation from Lenny Kravtiz, with whom he toured and recorded in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and again in 2008.
Kravitz phoned Denson several times on Oct. 2, while the saxophonist was rehearsing at home with fellow Slightly Stoopid saxophonist DeLa. Since Kravitz was calling from a blocked number, Denson didn't know who the missed calls were from, let alone why Kravitz was contacting him.
"When he called a fourth time, I answered," Denson said. "Lenny told me he had received a call, and that: 'Somebody needs a sax player to go on road.' My initial response was: 'I don't think I'm the right guy. I just finished my summer tour (With Slightly Stoopid) and I'm doing weekend warrior stuff for the rest of the year, so I can be home with my family.'
"Then, Lenny said: 'I think you'll want to take this,' and that it was the Stones and he'd recommended me.
After that, I sent out some of my music to them. They got it, liked it took it committee (for a band vote). A week later, I was on a Skype conference with Mick. That was this past Thursday; it all transpired pretty quickly."
Asked what it was like talking music and business with Jagger, Denson replied: "You know, it was pretty mellow. He'd already decided to hire me and asked me about what I'd been doing. He said: 'You were with Lenny from this time to that time?' I said: 'Yeah. I left to do my own thing.' Then he said: 'Have you been doing your own stuff since then?' I said: 'Yes.'
"He explained to me about the nine shows we'd be doing and the logistics of getting together with the other sax player and sussing out the material. It was, like, a 10-minute Skype call."
By coincidence, Denson did a North American concert tour in 2012 billed as "Karl Denson's Tiny Universe presents the Rolling Stones' album, 'Sticky Fingers,' in its entirety." He threw in a recording from that tour, including his version of the Stones' sax-happy "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," with the samples of his music that he sent to the legendary band before they hired him.
"Mick mentioned that when we spoke," Denson said. I asked him if he wanted me to play Bobby Keys' (original) sax solo, verbatim. He said I'd get some chances to play alongside Bobby on other stuff, where I could quote or not quote (the original recordings).
"I told Mick that when I was in college when I was 18, and had just started playing nightclub gigs, it was a regular occurrence where these random, drunken guys would stumble up to me, and go: 'Hey, man, can you play some Bobby Keys?' I didn’t really know who Keys was at time. After the third third or fourth inebriated patron hit me up to 'Play some Keys,' I figured out who he was. 'Oh, he's the guy with the Stones.' So I've been familiar with him for a long time."
Since none of the Stones' touring band members use sheet music, Denson will need to memorize all his sax parts. Before he flies to Australia for rehearsals, he has been glued to YouTube, watching as many recent concerts by the band as he can find.
"I've been listening to their concerts in their entirety to get the vibe," said Denson, who slyly added: "since I couldn't afford to go to any of their (2013 U.S.) shows (http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/may/04/rolling-stones-open-tour/)!"
Did the saxophonist share that tidbit about high ticket prices with Jagger?
Denson roared with laughter.
"No!" he replied, before assuming a more serious tone.
At 57, Denson is too old to be a fan boy, even when dealing with the world's most famous rock band. But he does have a topic he hopes to discuss, should the opportunity arise.
"I know what my first question for Mick and Keith and the guys will be," he said . It's: 'What was it like as a kid to hear (blues pioneer) Howlin' Wolf for the first time?'
"Because I remember what it was like when I first heard certain music when I was young. I know, for myself, that when I discovered Howlin' Wolf 10 years ago, it was the most mind-blowing thing, ever. And I want to pick the brains of the guys in the Stones about that. Because it must have been insane for a little English kid to hear Howlin' Wolf!"
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2014-10-14 22:56 by bv.