"I not only remember his
I feel his
By Bill Easley
Percy was a beautiful cat. I played a couple gigs with him, one led by Benny Powell. The element that Benny was looking for was what is commonly called “grease.” Now, what that means is a bit complicated. They certainly don’t teach it in jazz school. I can’t tell one how to acquire it. It comes from living.
When I was a kid, I remember a lady saying to me after hearing me play, “I like the way you play but I want to hear you after you’ve suffered.”
From 1968 - 1970, I was with George Benson. Often, as I was starting a solo, George would holler at me “PLAY FUNKY.” I remember thinking to myself, “That is precisely what I’m doing Dag Nab It.” It kind of hurt my feelings. I knew he thought something was missing in my playing.
To make a long story short, life happens and eventually comes out of your horn. I am not talking about the phrases, inflections, or hot licks you copied from your mentors. I am talking about real life, commonly referred to as grease or the blues.
When you stand next to a player like Percy France the last thing that comes to your mind is a cutting contest. (Unless you are stupid.) Contrary to popular belief, Soul does not bleed.
The best you can hope for is respect. If you receive that respect you carry it with you for the rest of your life. You play back that moment any time you want to feel good. I not only remember his sound. I feel his spirit and respect.
For over 50 years, reedman Bill Easley has recorded his own leader dates, as well as with a who's who of jazz and soul legends.
Photo of Percy France by Otto Flückiger.