Lenni has the distinction of having played on every Sad Café album (as well as a number of the side projects that the band members have been involved in) – but in the early years was a guest and a sideman before becoming a fully fledged part of the band at the peak of their success.
On the first three albums, he was simply the guy that Sad Café could always turn to for the perfect sax solo. From the 4th album, he became a part of the permanent line-up – a situation that continued until the big split in the band that happened in 1984. Since two tracks that were recorded before that time were featured on 1985’s Politics of Existing, he is on that album and he became a regular part of the band again for the tour that promoted that album as well as being part of the band for 1989’s Whatever It Takes.
I suppose my introduction to music was in recorder classes, at school, which usually ended with me playing requests, for the last five minutes. My brother took up the clarinet and when he switched to sax, `he gave it to me. I later bought a saxophone, too, and we did some little local dance gigs.
My first band was called ‘The Gladiators’, which Jimmy Savile handled for a while - I was 16 at the time. We did lots of gigs around the North West of England, gaining a great following and a good reputation for originality.
Our first TV appearance was on ‘Carroll Levis Discoveries’. We beat ‘Johnny and the Moondogs’ (or ‘Silver Beetles’, I can’t remember which), who later became the ‘Beatles, in a competition, which was held at the Ardwick Hippodrome, Manchester.
The hostess, on the show, was Jackie Collins; she made me squirm, by being rather too nice to me. Well, I was only a small town boy, you know! I played a tune called, ‘Rudy’s Rock’, in which I rolled about the stage, and even did the ‘crab’, whilst playing…I think it turned her on.
The Beatles’ first autobiography describes how we beat them to TV, because we had ‘superior amplification’. In fact we had a Selmer Truvoice amp, which was shared by two guitars and a bass.
Hughie Green booked us for his ‘Opportunity Knocks’ show, on Radio Luxembourg, on which we appeared three times. We played on a couple of BBC radio shows, too. Incidentally, British film actor, Patrick Allen, did the 'live' adverts.
Session work followed, in London, including recording demos for the first Eden Kane, who looked like a long tall Adam Faith. (He got the sack and was replaced by Peter Sartsted’s older brother, Richard.) I was given the name Lenny Saxon, which later changed to Lenni Zaksen, although I’ve been known simply as ‘Lenni’, for the last 20 years, or so.
During this time, I was asked to join the ‘Rock and Trad Fantasia’, which featured the first true appearances of Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and Joe Brown and others, and record for Nixa Records, but my father wouldn’t agree to sign the contracts for me. Johnny Dankworth approached me with an offer view to join his set-up, but in view of my dad’s reaction to the other stuff, I reneged the offer. Later, my dad announced that ‘that’ would have been OK. Grrr! However, I did get to play with a few neat people; one of my all-time favourites was Solomon Burke, who had a big hit with, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’. Yeah!
In the early sixties, I joined ‘The Corvettes’ (a Scottish band), which was runner-up in the ‘All-Britain Beat Contest’, beating several (later well known) bands, including Herman’s Hermits, en route. We played at the 'Hope and Anchor', in London, in the run-up to a gig that we did, at the 'Comedy Theatre'. It was actually an old time review, with the stage set out as an open-air café. The artists just got up from their tables and performed at the front, with the exception of the star, Ida Barr. She was pretty old at the time, but had been a big music hall act, in her days. I introduced comedian Jackie Carlton to the show, but he turned out to be a bit too camp for the London audience. It was all great fun, but didn't last very long.
In 1965, I joined the ‘St Louis Union’, which got to number two in the charts with the Beatles song, ‘Girl’, before the group released its own version, on an album. We were the guest band on Otis Redding ‘s British tour, with other 'star' guest bands appearing on each performance, including Georgie Fame, The Alan Price Set and Zoot Money's Rig Roll Band, which featured Andy Summers (Police). Zoot had a baritone sax player who was a great acrobat. In one tune, he handed his sax to another member of the band, then strolled up stage, cartwheeled back down stage, grabbed his horn, and hit his part 'dead on cue'. Marvellous! I remember Andy Summers having a big fat Gretsch guitar and doing an amazing chordal slide shift, on a tune called, ‘Stop the Wedding’.
We did a couple of films and worked with the ‘Small Faces’ on some TV shows. The keyboard player later went on to work (as Dave Formula) in ‘Visage’ (with Steve Strange), ‘Magazine’ and with Howard Devoto (ex-Buzzcocks), on his solo albums. He’s now in a pretty successful band, ‘The Angel Brothers’.
At the end of the sixties, I worked with Tony Christie, staying with him for a couple of years, during which time he had all his hits, including the now notorious ‘Amarillo’. We worked at a Liverpool club called ‘The Wookey Hollow’, a few times, which is where I first met Dave Irving, who I was later to work with in Sad Café.
In 1971, I went to play on the P&O cruise liner, Canberra, for three seasons, and worked with lots of top London session musicians. After, making a nice butty from that, I went to live in Majorca, just chilling out, of course. While I was there, we had a visit from Gary Glitter (a friend, I was staying with, was in his entourage), with his daughter Sarah. He had just done TV, in Italy, and boasted that he was earning £2,000 per day. I suggested that the drinks were on him and he agreed. Hm, my kinda guy! Unfortunately, in recent years...
On returning to Britain, I joined a band called ‘Spider Jive’, which was led by singer/guitarist Mike King, who was hailed, by the NME and others, as Britain’s answer to Bruce Springsteen. He was quite brilliant, but unfortunately never made it. Later, the whole band became the backing band for Dougie James, a soul singer with quite a big following and plenty of work...important! I stayed with him, on and off, until 1991.
Our repertoire stretched from Cab Calloway to James Brown to Stax/Tamla Motown to Stevie Windwood and Robert Palmer, via Frank Zapper. We occasionally added a horn section, to play stuff by Al Jarreau, the Brecker Brothers, Average White Band, etc. What a rockin’ band that was! Incidentally, a few of the band members joined up with Alvin Stardust, for a while.
During the 70s, I started a long association with Norman Beaker. In a variety of combinations, we worked with lots of top blues singers/musicians. Amongst them was Lowell Fulson (Reconsider Baby), who thought highly of my playing. However, when I discovered that Stanley Turrentine, John Coltrane and Ray Charles had all been in his bands, I was curious. He told me that most of the top jazz players, had been in his bands, over the years, but begged me not to mention Ray Charles, again, because "That b…. stole my whole f…ing band!"
In 1979, I was asked by an old mate (Paul Young) to do some work on a new album (Fanx Ta-Ra), for a band called ‘Urban Gorilla’, which later became Sad Café. I only did one track, because the band had over run its budget.
I joined the band, but left when Eric Stewart was asked to produce Facades, because they decided that it was going to be just a rock band and probably wouldn’t need a saxophone player. However, a track from ‘Fanx Ta-Ra’ became a big hit, in the States, so I was asked to rejoin. When in La, I did the track ‘Emptiness' (Facades), and wrote the ‘hook’ sax line, which I wasn't credited for. Fleetwood Mac was doing the album ‘Tsk’, at the same time, but that took about a year to complete; we were in, and out, in a couple of shakes. I spent most of that time in an 'English' pub called 'Ye Olde King'’ head, which had Milwaukee beer, with added gravy browning, to look like British beer; it was full of Aussies.
Ironically, when Sad Café did the next album, Eric Stewart asked me to do more work with him. So, I recorded his solo album 'Frooty Rooties`' and the 10CC album.
Also, in the eighties, I played with a Chicago/mainstream jazz outfit, led by clarinettist Pete Kennedy, alongside one of my old heroes, trombonist Ken Wray. It’s amazing that very few people have heard of this great player, who was in the famous Oscar Rabin band, in the 50’s and played, regularly, with Tubby Hayes, Phil Seaman, Derek Humble (one of Britain’s finest saxophonists), Jimmy Deuchar (Tubby’s sidekick), Ronnie Ross and many top American musicians. (Ronnie Ross played the sax solo on Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and was in the famous eighties pop band, Matt Bianco.). Victor Brox, another great musician with whom I’ve worked, over the years, was on keyboards.
I did a week for Alvin Stardust (it should have been more, but we had a difference of opinion), on which I very nearly lost my life by falling over the back of the stage. At the end of the show, the sound guys had placed a heap of explosives behind the band. There was nothing unusual about that, it was part of the show. But, because I was the new boy, they decided to add ‘just a little’ more. The wall, at the back of the stage, was very low and it was only due to the guitarist’s quick reaction that I stopped me from going over the edge. The drop (about 30 feet) would have finished my career, to say the least. It was several days before I got my hearing back, properly, too - another reason for my departure.
One of my most memorable experiences occurred whilst playing with ‘Look Twice’, a Manchester band led by, singer/ songwriter, Barry James (brother of Dougie). We got picked to do a short tour with Atlantic Starr, when the promoter heard a demo, we’d recorded, being played on Chris Evan’s radio show. On the second night, at the Hammersmith Odeon, Stevie Wonder came to meet us, as he’d heard so much about us. He asked us to send him tapes, with a view to us working together, but that never happened…don’t ask!
In 1990, Albie Donnelly asked me if I knew of any keyboard players, who would like to work in Germany, with his band ‘Supercharge’, which was co-founded by Dave Irving. I asked him if a sax would do…so, I became a member of the band, for several months. We got to work with loads of top people, including BB King and DR John. Unfortunately, I got the sack for nearly falling off stage, in a circus ring, in Rottweil (this was becoming a habit). I’ve never liked Rottweilers since (joke"!). I managed to talk myself back into the job, then completely lost the plot, shortly afterwards, on a tour with Chuck Berry. I think that was when I decided that touring was not for me.
When we were at the Antibes Jazz Festival, I spoke to legendary harmonica player, Toots Thielemans (another of my heroes). He told me to get my sax and have a blow play with him and the keyboard player from ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’. Unfortunately, it was locked away on the bus. Oh, dear!!
I confess that I was partly to blame for the creation of ‘The Amazing Doctor Sausage and his Tasty Chipolatas of Soul’ (or ‘Doc Sausage’ as it was affectionately known), which was (more or less) the ‘Dougie James Soul Train’, without Dougie. It was fronted by singer Red Hoffman, who was pretty well known, in the 60s, as lead singer with a band called ‘The Measles’.
Ian Wilson was on guitar and vocals, and Des Tong appeared, from time to time, though the regular bass player was a brilliant musician, known to all simply as ‘Bo’.
The guitarist was Lyn Oakey, who counted Allen Ginsberg (the American poet) and Nico (Velvet Underground) amongst his friends, worked with Gil Scott-Heron. The horn section was added, on occasions, so that we could play the jazzier stuff that we played with Dougie.