The Crusaders – A special look back

One of the great joys of doing, ISPYSOUL.COM throughout the years of its existence was the opportunity it gave me to meet and interview some very talented musicians and artists — all of which, I have great respect and admiration for, but also some, I hold in even higher regard because they were major influences on me as a young, aspiring musician and artist. One of those artists was the legendary pianist, composer and producer, Joe Sample, who sadly passed a little more than a year ago at the age of 75. Another was the also renowned saxophonist and bassist Wilton Felder who we just lost ironically at the same age of 75. As founding members, along with drummer, “Stix” Hooper, of famed jazz group The Crusaders, their music was part of a soundtrack for me as a kid that included the likes of Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Weather Report, David Sanborn, Miles Davis, George Benson and others that I listened to over and over again and that undoubtedly shaped my musical palette. Sample’s passing a year ago reminded me of the great opportunity I had to interview he, Felder and, briefly, “Stix “ Hooper upon the release of their then new reunion project, Rural Renewal. Felder’s unfortunate passing once again reminded me not only of that opportunity, but also of the musical heroes they were and still are to me. Those who know me know that rarely am I star-struck or amped with school – boy anxiety. And even though this was a phone interview, this was indeed one of those rare times. However, though still in awe throughout, they made that anxiety quickly dissipate. They were engaging – Humble yet proud of what they had accomplished in their long and illustrious careers. They were also seemingly hurt and moved with the frustration of an aspiring artist less than half their age at what the music industry had become, but still excited about making their brand of music and confident others were too. The profile that appears below was the result and was one of the most viewed and acknowledged pieces the site had enjoyed. At the end are also audio snippets from that interview with Joe Sample and Wilton Felder. BC

From the original monthly feature IN FOCUS on ISPYSOUL.COM 2003

CRUSADERS
REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD

As we all get older, reminiscing on our younger years and times past becomes a common practice. The catalyst – varying from person to person – could be seeing an old friend or perhaps rummaging through old pictures. Something also that’s real good for triggering a nostalgic noggin ride is music. The combination of melody or lyric, beat and arrangement infused with a spectrum of emotions are perfect for whipping up thoughts of good times. Simpler times. First, last, and perhaps, even better times. That is, in essence, what happened for legendary musicians and artists Joe imageSample, Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper. It was the fondness of the terrific sounds they started creating in Houston, Texas over 50 years ago as the Swingsters, the Modern Jazz Sextet, the Night Hawks, the Jazz Crusaders and finally, as many have come to know and love them as, The Crusaders, that halted a 20 year pause and reunited them to release the down-home, soulful hipness that is their latest, Rural Renewal. But fondness for their musical history, a history that boasts such notable albums as Southern Comfort, Scratch, Those Southern Knights or their huge hit, Street Life, was not the only reason for the coming together again.

After a stalled attempt at a reunion tour back in 1991, a common strand of urgency fueled talks with keyboardist Joe Sample and drummer, Stix Hooper. “As the 90s went on I had numerous conversations with Stix,” says Sample, “I began to realize that of course, he was very proud of what [the Crusaders] had done, but we also noticed that there was a lack of wonderful music that was being recorded anymore. Wonderful jazz, wonderful soul music, wonderful R&B. Things that would get me or Stix excited. Eventually, I found out that Wilton [Felder, saxophonist/bassist] was feeling the same way. So we then started planning. ” I guess that the real catalyst was that we really missed involving ourselves in the music we had previously made.” Talking with Sample and Felder, both of whom still continued to record during the group’s long hiatus, it was clear, once the decision had been made to embark upon a new “crusade”, that it would, indeed, become the focus for them all. “I had been working on a solo project,” says Felder. “I’d actually finished it and had it in the can, but I hadn’t placed it yet. But when news came about that we would actually do this album, it took priority because I really wanted to do it.”

The commitment to reviving the trademark Crusader magic shows all through Rural Renewal, an instant classic that places “scions”, “blues”, “jazz”, “soul” and “R&B,” in the rightful company of their Spiritual forefather. It’s the sound that even twenty years of dormancy couldn’t diminish. It’s what they themselves had been thirsting to hear for so many years. When asked if picking up where they let off was as effortless as it sounds, Sample begins this way: “As soon as we hit the studio there was no doubt. As soon as we kicked off the first song we knew right away that, boy, nothing had vanished. “In fact, it may be better than ever!” Felder adds, “All of us just longed for the music that only we can make.”

Hearing them speak so passionately about this project makes one wonder why they ever stopped recording as a crew to begin with. As Sample explains it, “There were a number of reasons and a lot of personal things that were going on in everyone’s life.” But he lays the greatest fault perhaps, on the evolution of the music industry – An industry that had become more concerned with the business than with the music itself. Sample tells of a time in the early eighties, that now still ignites exasperation in his voice, when he was told by record label honchos that, “This was a brand new world” and that the Crusaders brand of groove-laden, eclectic smoothness, “had no importance anymore.” Hard to believe. Especially when you consider the many R&B, hip-hop and rap artists who, years later, continue to employ slices of their classic gems for the full-flavored bounce The Crusaders are known for or the scores of worldwide fans elated at their return. A return, in the form of Rural Renewal, which represents what Felder, Sample and Hooper felt, was missing in music. “We all had agreed, in previous conversations”, says Sample, “that what had been missing in music was a sense of spirituality, soulfulness and rhythm & groove.” The Crusaders have indeed done as the saying goes, lead by example, bringing in gospel luminaries, Donnie McClurkin and Sounds of Blackness for the ultimate righteous boost on, “A Healing Coming On” and “Sing The Song.” Brilliant and renowned guitarist Eric Clapton does his thing for the cause with his blues flavored wizardry on the ultra -cool, “Creepin.” And Joe, Wilton, and Stix? Well, with a stellar cast of side-cats, they bring their tried and true artistry to the new millennium with timeless results on tracks like “Heartland”, “Shotgun House Groove”, and the title cut, Rural Renewal. The Crusaders are indeed back again, doing it just like you remembered. Like music used to be. Just like it ought to be. And ah yes, it feels so good.

Bert Caldwell
Photo Credit:William Claxton

(c) ISPYSOUL.COM 2015 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Below are audio snippets from that interview with Joe Sample and Wilton Felder:

 

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