From 1840-44 he developed two families of seven saxhorn instruments for bands and orchestras (*) in his father’s shop ‘with the brass body of the ophicleide (a kind of bugle), the conical bore of the oboe, the fingering and keywork of a flute and the mouthpiece and single reed of the clarinet’.
His patent expires in 1866; over the next century, extra keys and alternate fingerings are developed. Originally intended for use by military bands, the sax is picked up by big bands; in the 1920s it’s easier to record than bigger instruments and comes into jazz.
After Claude Debussy‘s 1901 Rhapsody for Orchestra and Saxaphone, it gradually becomes a part of many important orchestral works. In the mid-1940s Charlie Parker brings the alto-sax into bebop. It’s also a part of rock’n’roll (never mind Courtney) since the beginning (e.g. Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock, Tequila by The Champs , Comanche by The Revels ). All in all, one of the few instruments heard across the music genre spectrum.
The song, Lewis’ first hit, climbs to USC&W#1 for two weeks in September. Previously recorded on March 21, 1955 by Big Maybelle for Okeh, the song will be covered dozens of times … just like Lewis’ next hit, Great Balls of Fire (the title of a 1989 biopic).
“The Killer” becomes a rock pioneer and his Sun Records recordings a legacy. He transitions into C&W music and regularly charts in the 70s and 80s. A dozen gold records win him a place in the Rock Hall of Fame in 1986.