By Bill Doggett
(Audio samples below)
Percy France was the young man that really turned me and my group around, because I had started recording with King with a trio. And when I heard the music that I had recorded with King on a playback, Wild Bill Davis and I sounded so much alike, so I thought I’d add a saxophone. I can't remember the young fellow’s name who recommended Percy France to me. But anyhow, he had a band and we were both with Shaw Artists. And I met him down there one afternoon and I was talking with him and I said, you know, man, I sure would like to have a nice young saxophone player. He said, Well, I know just the fellow for you. Said he's a fine young man. He plays wonderful tenor. And that's how I met Percy France.
Percy France had the unique ability to be able to, as we say in the business, build a solo. He would start off simply. And he had the ability to pick you up and carry you with him with his solos, as a singer would do, just lift you, you don't know what's happening to you, but you're enjoying it.
One of the first records that we made was a thing called "Early Bird." And you'll notice how his solo builds. It's just built off of a blues pattern. But Percy’s solo just starts off easy and melodically and gradually builds, just sort of raises you up, almost out of your seat.
And when he played some of those ballads, like "The Nearness of You," and to listen to some of those interludes and little things that he played in his solo was just unique. We didn't have to do much rehearsing at all, because I would just say, Well, I'm going to make the introduction and after that, you pick up the melody line. Or I would say, Well, I got the middle and you got the last eight. I would play the chords. And he would play the feeling. And he played some of the most melodic solos that I had ever heard in my life.
I would place Percy France’s sound more in the realm of a Don Byas. You see where you had that wonderful sound, (the) ability to sub-tone and Percy’s ability to play melodic. You know, some of the guys at that time were doing a lot of honking. And I think that that was the difference in Percy’s sound. And Percy being a young man, you would think that he would follow in that tradition. But he was following in the tradition of the more elite players.
He was well liked. Everybody that met Percy loved him. You know, some of the things that happened later on in his life people didn't necessarily like, but Percy as an individual was a beautiful person. A wonderful man, a wonderful friend, a wonderful musician.
Adopted from interview conducted by Phil Schaap,
broadcast during WKCR Percy France Memorial January 11, 1992.