Saxa, English Beat Saxophonist, Dies
Saxa, the Jamaican saxophonist for the English Beat, died May 3. He was 87.
On May 3, Ranking Roger, the band's vocalist and toaster, took to Facebook to announce Saxa's passing.
“I am so very sad and sorry to have to announce to the world that the great Saxa passed away in his sleep last night. I am in tears and will miss you so much. Nobody could ever be like you. We will miss you dearly my mentor. :(((“ he wrote.
Saxa recorded three albums with the British ska-pop band. I Can’t Stop It (1980) and Wha’ppen? (1981) both reached No. 3 on U.K. charts. Their third record, Special Beat Service (1982), didn’t fare as well in the U.K, but made the biggest splash of the three in the U.S. They had five Top 10 hits in the U.K., including their first single, a cover of the Smokey Robinson & the Miracles hit, “Tears of a Clown.”
In 1983, the band broke up, and Saxa, born Lionel Martin, later went on to play in the International Beat from 1990-95, along with the English Beat’s drummer Everett Morton and singer Tony Beet.
Saxa had gotten his start in his native country, where he played with artists like Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and Laurel Aitken. He was already an established 40-something session musician in Jamaica when he was recruited to join the English Beat, and toured the world with a variety of acts including David Bowie, the Clash, the Police, R.E.M., Talking Heads and the Specials.
The original lineup of the English Beat, sans Andy Cox and David Steele, played a sold-out show at Royal Festival Hall in 2003. The following year, VH1’s Bands Reunited tried their hand at prompting a full-scale reunion but failed. Various factions of the band have been playing together for the past decade. The English Beat featuring Ranking Roger released a new album in 2016, and the English Beat Starring Dave Wakeling is set to release one this year.
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