David 'Fathead' Newman: Saxophonist who worked with Ray Charles

The Oscar-winning film biography of Ray Charles, Ray (2005), pays scant attention to many of the key figures in the pianist and soul-singer's life, most notably his saxophonist, David "Fathead" Newman. During Charles's key years, Newman was his most accomplished musician, his best friend, and the man who knew where to buy the dope.

Two years younger than Charles, Newman was born in Corsicana, Texas, in 1933. His family moved to Dallas and during a school lesson, a teacher called him a "fathead", a name which stuck. Academically bright, Newman studied for a degree at Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas. In the evenings he played alto sax in jazz clubs and began to experiment with drugs. After two years, he toured around the Dallas and Fort Worth areas in a band led by Buster Smith, who had been a strong influence on Charlie Parker.

In 1952, Newman went on a national tour, playing alto for the pianist Lloyd Glenn. At a booking in Atlanta, Georgia, he met and befriended Charles, who was the support act for the evening. When Charles became successful, he recruited Newman for his band.

Newman played baritone sax at first, but then switched to tenor. He was also Charles's driver and one of his duties was to obtain heroin for his employer. Newman would heat Charles's dose and then shoot it into his arm. Once, in Houston, Newman was arrested, leaving Ray, a blind man, alone in the car. "You've gotta find your own way back," said a callous policeman.

Newman can be heard on all of Charles's groundbreaking singles for the Atlantic label. They include "Lonely Avenue", "I Got a Woman", "What'd I Say" and "Night Time is the Right Time" as well as the highly atmospheric live album Ray Charles at Newport (1958). Charles was so appreciative that he produced Ray Charles Presents David "Fathead" Newman (1959), Newman's first solo album. The tracks include the blues-drenched "Hard Times" featuring Charles on piano.

When Charles switched to ABC Records, Newman was featured on several of his best tracks, including a commentary on civil rights, "The Danger Zone", the B-side to the classic comic song of marital disharmony – also featuring Newman – "Hit the Road Jack" (1961).

Both Charles and Newman came off drugs in the early Sixties, and when Newman left Charles in 1964, he established himself as a session musician. He is featured on such memorable albums as Joe Cocker's Luxury You Can Afford (1978), B.B. King's There Must Be a Better World Somewhere (1981), Lou Rawls's At Last (1989), Eric Clapton's Journeyman (1989), Natalie Cole's tribute to her father, Nat "King" Cole, Unforgettable – with Love (1991) and Jimmy Scott's All the Way (1992). He returned to play with Charles at a number of big events and toured with him in 1970-71.

Newman often worked with his own quartet and he undertook European tours. His albums included Blue Head (1989) ,with the tenor player Clifford Jordan, and a tribute to Duke Ellington, Mr Gentle, Mr Cool (1994). In 1990, he, Art Blakey and Dr John were nominated for a Grammy with their album, Bluesiana Triangle, and in 1996 he appeared as a musician at the Hey-Hey Club in Robert Altman's film Kansas City.

When Newman moved from New York to the country, he made the idyllic Under a Woodstock Moon (1996), which featured such songs as "Nature Boy" and "Skylark". He released a tribute album to Ray Charles, I Remember Brother Ray, to coincide with the film in 2005. He also worked with his son, the vocalist and drummer, Cadino Newman.

Spencer Leigh

David Newman, musician: born Corsicana, Texas 24 February 1933; married (four sons); died Kingston, New York 20 January 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works