Blues saxophonist extraordinaire Eddie Shaw was born on a Stringtown plantation on March 20, 1937. He learned music at school in Greenville and performed in various local bands before moving to Chicago to join the Muddy Waters band. Shaw served as bandleader for Howlin' Wolf for several years and launched his own busy touring career after Wolf's death in 1976. His hard-hitting horn work won him Instrumentalist of the Year honors in the 2006 and 2007 Blues Music Awards.
Eddie Shaw earned international acclaim as one of the few saxophonists to ever build an enduring career leading a blues band. The most well-known saxophonists have often been jazz musicians, and wild, honking sax players once ruled on the early post-World War II rhythm & blues scene, but in most blues and R&B bands, sax players have been sidemen. Neither is the saxophone commonly associated with the music of the Mississippi Delta; in fact, in blues jargon, the term "Mississippi saxophone" jokingly refers to harmonica (which Shaw learned to play as well). But many of the most prominent bluesmen to emerge from the Delta have employed either a saxophonist or an entire horn section in their bands, including B. B. King, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Little Milton, Ike Turner, and, on many occasions, Muddy Waters.
Horn players in Mississippi tended to develop in larger towns, where there were organized music programs in school or after school, such as Greenville, Clarksdale, Jackson, Natchez, and Vicksburg. Shaw, who moved to Greenville after living in Stringtown and Rosedale, was one of many who learned under the tutelage of Greenville postman Winchester "Little Wynn" Davis, who also hired many of his pupils to play in his band at dances. Shaw first played trombone and clarinet in the Coleman High School band and began playing sax at dances and clubs with the Green Tops, a local band modeled after Vickburg’s famous Red Tops, and with Charlie Booker, Elmore James, Little Milton, Ike Turner, and others, often joined by his friend and fellow saxophonist Oliver Sain. While attending Mississippi Vocational College (now Mississippi Valley State University) in Itta Bena, Shaw sat in with Muddy Waters in 1957. At Muddy’s invitation, Shaw soon headed for Chicago, and after some return trips to Greenville, he finally settled in Chicago, where he worked with Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Freddie King, and others as a sideman when not leading groups of his own. He also operated various businesses, including a barbecue house, laundromat, and nightclubs on the West Side. The Wolf Gang, the band he put together for Howlin’ Wolf in the early 1970s, continued to work with Shaw after Wolf’s death.
Shaw, a prolific songwriter, recorded his first single in 1966 and numerous albums thereafter, in addition to accompanying Wolf, Magic Sam, and others on recording sessions. The titles of his first three albums, Have Blues, Will Travel; Movin’ and Groovin’ Man; and King of the Road, exemplified his tireless travels, which eventually took him to all fifty states and several foreign countries and earned him a widespread following and regular recognition in the annual Blues Music Awards. He made his film debut in the 2007 movie Honeydripper.
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