Jim Horn’s Name May Not Be Familiar, But His Work Is
Jim Horn has played on records by George Harrison, Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. He’s played in movies with Elvis Presley and Spencer Tracy. And he’s played the theme songs for such TV shows as “The Odd Couple” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”
Ex-Beatle Harrison recruited him for the historic 1971 concert and movie, “Concert for Bangladesh.” He was part of the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” concert tour in 1970 that propelled Joe Cocker to star status.
The public may not have heard of Jim Horn, but in recording circles in the United States and Europe, he’s a versatile instrumentalist.
“I’ve been around awhile and I’ve been able to do some things,” he says modestly about his 25-year music career.
His specialty is the saxophone, but he also plays the flute, piccolo and recorder. Over the years, he has played a multitude of other instruments while being associated with many of the top names in show business.
On Harrison’s LP
He can be heard playing his horn on Harrison’s latest hit LP, “Cloud Nine.”
“His (Harrison’s) singing sounded better than ever,” Horn said in an interview before a recording session with country star Hank Williams Jr. “And when he plays, you know it’s him--that slide guitar.”
Horn worked with another former Beatle, Paul McCartney, a year ago when McCartney helped produce an album by guitar legend Duane Eddy.
“He (McCartney) worked with the musicians well,” he recalled. “Everyone knew what to do. He was real jovial and funny, cracking jokes. He was fun to work with.”
Presley, too, was a free spirit when Horn played in the movies “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Roustabout.”
“He liked to sit around and play,” Horn said. “He’d jam. He was into karate and he’d break wood when the producer and director weren’t around. They didn’t like him doing that.”
Sinatra a Pro
Sinatra, for whom Horn played flute on the hit “Strangers in the Night,” was businesslike and a quick worker.
“He’d rehearse once and then do one take,” Horn recalled. “He made it relaxed. He was a real pro.”
It was Horn’s piccolo playing on the Beach Boys’ hit “Good Vibrations.”
“People like their Hawaiian shirts and visualize themselves on the sand with a beer in their hand,” he said. “The Beach Boys make fun music and they didn’t let it die.”
Horn, who lists his age as “as old as the Beatles,” was born in Compton and spent most of his life in Los Angeles. While living there, he played music in the movies “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” starring Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier, “Grease,” “Footloose,” “Shaft,” “Stayin’ Alive” and many others.
Working on Own Album
He moved to Nashville four years ago and is now working on his own album of sax instrumentals, “Neon Nights.”
He learned how to play the piano at age 7, the trumpet at 9 and the sax at 12.
“The sax was a real popular instrument when I learned,” he said. “There was a sax solo on every record. I wanted my own band and wanted to be able to do solos. I thought they were a whole lot of fun.”
He said he correctly developed his talent and always worked to get better.
“I practiced a lot as a kid. I learned the proper way to play, then listened to albums, especially the sax solos, and played along with them. It gave me insight. I concentrated on my ‘ear.’ ”
Even today, he’s constantly updating his style and listening to music for trends.
Change With the Times
“I hear songs on the radio and then I may change my style a little,” Horn said. “But I have the same conviction. Some musicians are lazy. They won’t buy new equipment. You have to change with the times. It’s easier to relate to music that way. I listen to pop and rock on the radio a lot and switch back and forth.”
He owns seven saxes, four flutes and five recorders. His most expensive instrument is a $4,000 baritone sax.
Despite his success, some instruments have given him trouble. He played the oboe and English horn for records by the Carpenters but later gave them up.
“They were too demanding,” he said. “You had to make your own double reeds. It was too time-consuming.”
And he can’t master the harmonica, which even schoolchildren can play with little training.
“I’m trying,” he said. “I can’t get the hang of it. I’m used to blowing out.”
‘I practiced a lot as a kid. I learned the proper way to play, then listened to albums, especially the sax solos, and played along with them. It gave me insight. I concentrated on my “ear.” ’