In memoriam: David “Fathead” Newman

Newman: Gene Martin
David “Fathead” Newman
Photograph by Gene Martin

With his free-flowing, honeyed sound, David “Fathead” Newman would doubtless have enjoyed a fine career even without the chance encounter that transformed his life. The Corsicana saxophonist split college to play with famed Texas alto Buster Smith. He went on to tour with, among others, Lowell Fulson and T-Bone Walker. During one marathon procession of overnighters, he met and befriended a blind pianist named Ray Charles. Newman became Charles’s most prominent accompanist, and their reign on Atlantic Records defined the careers of both men. As Charles’s fame grew, he pushed Newman to record his own album. Released in 1959, Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman yielded Newman’s signature tune, “Hard Times.” He stayed with Charles for twelve years and remained in the R&B limelight for many more, recording with artists like Aretha Franklin, Dr. John, and Doug Sahm. But mainstream jazz was his true love, and that’s where he applied his rich, undiluted tone and exquisite sensibilities in his later years, producing a string of solid releases. He died in January, at age 75.

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