August 27, 1990 12:00 PM

Noble Watts

Back in the ’40s and ’50s, when rhythm and blues was beginning to be called rock and roll, the tenor saxophone played a pivotal role in the evolving sound and style of this loud, sometimes lewd music.

One of the legion of sax honkers, screamers and blasters to make his mark on the day was Noble “Thin Man” Watts. Born in Florida in 1926, he played piano, violin and trumpet before switching to tenor sax and was in the same college marching band as Cannonball and Nat Adderly.

After studying music at Florida A&M, Watts toured with the Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams R&B band and then went on to back such popular early rock and rollers as Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackie Wilson and Chuck Berry. In the late ’50s, Watts came up with a couple of modest hits, “Hard Times” and “Jookin’,” that showcased his fat and sassy rifling.

This album, first released in 1987 on King Snake Records and now reissued by the relatively big-time Alligator label, features Watts with his Florida party band, the Midnight Creepers. Bluesman Taj Mahal plays guitar on the jumping “Blow Your Horn,” and contributes a written appreciation of the tenorman’s “big sax sound.”

The songs, most written by Watts, range from the funky “Spunky” to the fiery “Burn, Creepers, Burn.” Watts dishes out mellower sax fare on “Slow Draggin’ ” and on “Red Beans & Rice,” which needs a bit more sauce. His singing isn’t on a par with his playing, but Watts’s vocals often carry and I’ve-been-there feel that is sorrowful and satisfying.

Still honking after 40 years, Watts, in the words of Taj Mahal, is one of rock’s “Survivors DEE-Lux!” (Alligator)

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