Passing of a Giant “Pee Wee” Ellis

Just learned that the great, great saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis has passed. I’d been a lifelong fan of his work and back in 2010 I was looking around to see how to catch one of my new favorite bands Lettuce for the first time.  At the same time I was checking out Maceo Parker’s live shows and saw that both were going to be in Live Oak, Fl.  I looked it up and thought, “What the hell was in Live Oak?” and then found the fantastic Bear Creek Music Festival!

Lo and behold, Maceo and Lettuce were gonna both be on the bill with and Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley were Artists at Large AND they were all gonna be doing a set together. I had never been to a festival (like this) before and certainly not one that was so funky and so huge.  So I made plans to go, first class VIP and headed down to Florida bursting with excitement.

Being up there in years, me and my buddy decided to stay at the nearby Holiday Inn.  On the first day I was like a racehorse chomping at the bit ready to go!  I went down to breakfast and an older guy was next to me on line and I asked if he was gonna be at the festival.  When he responded yes, I told him I was really pumped to see a band called Lettuce. He quietly responded that he was gonna be playing with Lettuce.  I said “Really, what do you play?” and he said “saxophone.” 

Of course, with my head in the clouds (or elsewhere) I asked him his name and when he said “Pee Wee” I nearly fell on the floor embarrassed.  I told him I should’ve recognized him from my records and he dryly replied, “well, I look a little younger on those records.” Just my little contact with greatness…he was so nice and gracious.

And then of course, he seemingly appeared on stage with EVERYONE at the festival.  He was all over with bands like The New Mastersounds and others and then lit up the stage with Lettuce on the festival finale.  Of course I was there, front row center, eating it up. Here’s The JB Horns with Lettuce doing the all time classic, “I Got You (I Feel Good )” at a slower tempo.

In a lot of ways, that event was a rebirth for me, starting me on my newest funk journey, down the rabbit hole of the world of festivals and in the process evolving into Jake Funkmayor and development of the brand.  That whole time has had a profound impact on me and I’m so saddened to hear of Pee Wee’s passing.

Here’s a link to a Rolling Stone article on his death.

Pee Wee Ellis, Legendary Saxophonist for James Brown, Van Morrison, Dead at 80

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