Chances are if you’re reading these words, you’re intimately familiar with at least one performance by Tom Scott. The saxophonist played the part of the titular “Jazzman” on Carole King’s 1974 No. 2 single of the same name, helped take Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said” all the way up to No. 1 in 1975, and lent support to Whitney Houston as she professed to be “Saving All My Love for You.” But the Grammy-winning Scott was also a prolific recording artist, both solo and with his band The L.A. Express. Australia’s Raven Records has recently reissued three vintage Scott albums originally released between 1974 and 1977 on two CDs with four later bonus tracks added for good measure. Master of Funk: The Essential Albums includes Tom Scott and The L.A. Express’ self-titled Ode debut, its follow-up Tom Cat, and Scott’s solo release New York Connection.
That the Los Angeles-born Scott would pursue a career in music must have seemed like a given; his mother Margery was a pianist and his father Nathan a prolific television composer with a reported 850+ credits including music for Dragnet, Lassie and The Twilight Zone. Tom began his career as a leader before he was twenty years of age. On his debut, 1967’s Impulse! release The Honeysuckle Breeze, he was joined by personnel including pianist Mike Melvoin and drummer Jim Gordon for an eclectic array of pop songs including “Mellow Yellow, “Never My Love” and “She’s Leaving Home” as well as more off-the-beaten-path selections like John Coltrane’s “Naima” and Jefferson Airplane’s “Today.” Breeze was followed by another Impulse! long-player as well as couple of LPs for producer Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label and the aptly-named Great Scott! for A&M. But Scott was also making his name as a first-call session musician, drawing attention for his work with Joni Mitchell on her classic For the Roses and Court and Spark albums. Before the seventies were out, Scott would play with Rod Stewart, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, The Carpenters, Tom Waits, Steely Dan, and just about everybody else!
It was in 1973 that Lou Adler signed Scott to his Ode label for Tom Scott and The L.A. Express featuring leader Scott, keyboardist Joe Sample, bassist Max Bennett, guitarist Larry Carlton and drummer/percussionist John Guerin. Scott’s accessible pop-jazz fusion set even made room for another Coltrane cover (“Dahomey Dance”) but is likely best-remembered for the funky “Sneakin’ in the Back” which has become a staple of sampling; it’s appeared on songs by artists from Madonna to Wu-Tang Clan. Following this debut, Sample and Carlton departed to concentrate more fully on their other group, The Crusaders (formerly The Jazz Crusaders). Scott drafted Larry Nash and Robben Ford into the band, and took the group on the road with Joni Mitchell, resulting in her Miles of Aisles live LP. Subsequent work followed with three-fourths of The Beatles, but before long, The L.A. Express returned to the studio for Tom Cat. Guerin guested on the album, as did Mitchell on the vocal refrain of “Love Poem.” Sticking to the same funky fusion vein as its predecessor, Tom Cat was rewarded with a Top 20 placement on Billboard’s Jazz and R&B charts.
Soon, though, Scott and The L.A. Express decided to go their separate ways. For 1975’s New York Connection, the final album on Raven’s set, Scott assembled an A-list session crew whose names will be familiar to anyone who was reading LP sleeves in the seventies, including Ralph MacDonald (percussion), Hugh McCracken (guitar), Steve Gadd (drums), Eric Gale (guitar), Richard Tee (keyboards), Gary King (bass) and Bob James (electric piano). The new band was no less inspired than the old band, and in fact, Scott is quoted in Ian McFarlane’s new liner notes as admitting, “Although the L.A. Express certainly showed me some of the combinations that are possible in terms of rhythmic interaction, the New York Connection thing was rhythmic interaction and rhythmic subtlety to the nth degree.” New York Connection included tunes written by Scott and Tee as well as by Michel Colombier and the team of Ralph MacDonald and William Salter. A certain “Quiet Beatle” even dropped by the sessions to add slide guitar to Scott’s composition “Appolonia (Foxtrata).”
After the jump: details on Raven's bonus tracks, the complete track listing with discography, and order links!
Raven has filled out its compilation with four songs from Scott’s next – and most successful – offering Blow It Out, including his television theme to Starsky and Hutch, “Gotcha.” Following his tenure at Ode, Scott continued to record for a variety of labels on his own and as a sideman; today, he still maintains a busy concert schedule and has recently contributed to hit records from Michael Buble, Dave Koz, Rod Stewart and George Benson.
This quintessential jazzman’s Master of Funk: The Essential Albums 1974-1977 from Raven Records has been remastered by Warren Barnett and features new liner notes from Ian McFarlane. The 2-CD set is available now for order at the links below!
- Bless My Soul
- Sneakin’ in the Back
- King Cobra
- Dahomey Dance
- Easy Life
- Strut Your Stuff
- L.A. Expression
- Rock Island Rocket
- Tom Cat
- Day Way
- Keep on Doin’ It
- Love Poem
- Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America
- All the Ships at Sea
- Backfence Cattin’
- Dirty Old Man
- Uptown and Country
- New York Connection
- Time and Love
- Midtown Rush
- Looking Out for Number Seven
- Appolonia (Foxtrot)
- You’re Gonna Need Me
- Gotcha (Theme from Starsky and Hutch)
- Smoothin’ on Down
- Dream Lady
CD 1, Tracks 1-10 from Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, Ode LP SP 77021, 1974
CD 1, Tracks 11-17 and CD 2, Tracks 1-2 from Tom Cat, Ode LP SP 77029, 1974
CD 2, Tracks 3-11 from New York Connection, Ode/Epic LP SP 77033/PE 34959, 1975
CD 2, Tracks 12-15 from Blow It Out, Ode/Epic LP PE 34966, 1977