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  R.I.P. Oliver Sain--by Papa Ray the Soul Selector R.I.P. Oliver Sain -- Tom 'Papa' Ray the Soul Selector


Iíd like to tell you about Oliver Sain, who passed Tuesday morning on October 28, 2003.

I can think of no musician in the past 40 years as important to the music scene in our city as Oliver. First, he was a world class soloist on his first instrument, the alto saxophone. His tart, acidic tone was immediately identifiable, totally his. He was an obvious influence on David Sanborn.

Oliver was a multi-instrumentalist, not only reeds but piano, organ, vibraphone, and percussion. He was also a master of that large instrument we call the recording studio. He was as great a songwriter as ever lived in St. Louis, especially gifted in crafting lyrics for some of the female singers who passed through his orbit. Both Fontella Bass ("Donít Mess Up a Good Thing") and Ann Peebles had career-defining songs from him. Tracy Nelson was once quoted as saying that Oliverís composition "Walk Away" was the finest lyric ever written for any woman to sing. He was a master arranger, working with many people of note in the blues and soul world. Under his name, he recorded many singles as well as albums, released in St. Louis, nationally, and overseas.

Oliver was the consummate bandleader in St. Louis for many years, giving countless singers and players the opportunity to work and learn their craft. His Archway studio, located on Natural Bridge Blvd., recorded the very best talents from the region, including gospel, gut-bucket blues, sweet soul, rap-hip-hop, as well as straight-ahead and avant-guard jazz.

He was the resource of note for visiting touring acts coming to St. Louis; from Ike Turner to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles or Solomon Burke, if your show came to town and you needed a soloist, back-up singers, a horn section, or an entire band, Oliver was who you needed to contact. In other words, Oliver Sain was the absolute musicianís musician in St. Louis for a very long time.

In addition, Oliver was as fine a gentleman and human as I have ever had the pleasure to know, in any field of endeavor. His music and great heart touched Vintage Vinyl throughout our 24-year existence. He was my good friend and visited more kindness upon me than I could ever let you know. I enjoyed every moment I was lucky to have in his company. It was an honor to be involved with him musically. It is no exaggeration to say his spirit was as crucial to the music of St. Louis as any figure at any time in its history.

Leroy Pierson commented that it was odd to look at the reality of all of Oliver's accomplishments over such a long time and to realize how relatively little known he was by his own home-town.  Leroy also said over time people may realize just how great his accomplishments were, and what it means to no longer have an Oliver Sain among us.  Well, the Ry Cooders and Bonnie Raitts and David Sanborns of our world certainly know him, and his level of excellence as a performer meant he could travel to Chicago to their Blues Fest and stop the show as a featured soloist with Ike Turner only a couple of years ago, at a time he was fighting the cancer that would eventually end his life.  In his chosen field of music, American Rhythm & Blues, this man  was a contemporary and peer in the very best company.

If you never saw him perform, turning an audience into a dancing party, or heard him play "Soul Serenade" or "Harlem Nocturne" live, I feel sorry for you. He was the definition of that word used so often, a hero, a musical and individual hero of the highest order. He battled cancer since the mid-1990s, never complaining, and was playing beautifully until the very end. You should all know a great person and spirit has left us. Give thanks and praise right now, for the musician and man, Oliver Sain.

For more columns by the Soul Selector click here
   

 

 

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