In 1960, following the demise of a few short-lived Houston-based groups called The Swingsters and the Nite Hawks, Joe Sample (piano), Stix Hooper (drums), Wilton Felder (saxophone), and Wayne Henderson (trombone), relocated to Los Angeles, CA. After changing their name to The Jazz Crusaders, the group signed with Pacific Jazz Records, where they would remain throughout the 1960s. Employing a two-manned front-line horn section (trombone and tenor saxophone), the group’s sound was rooted in hard bop, with an emphasis on R&B and soul.
The group shortened their name to The Crusaders in 1971, and adopted a jazz-funk style.They also incorporated the electric bass and electric guitar into their music. Bass guitarist Robert “Pops” Popwell and guitarist Larry Carlton joined the band, and featured on the group’s albums throughout most of the 1970s. With this new style came increased crossover appeal, and the group’s recordings started to appear on the Billboard pop charts. The height of the group’s commercial success came with 1979’s Street Life, with Randy Crawford as featured singer, which peaked at No. 18 on the pop album charts and the title track from the album made the Top 10 on the R&B chart and No. 36 on Billboard′s Hot 100 chart.
In 1975, following the release of their 28th album (their ninth as The Crusaders), Henderson left the group to pursue a full-time career as a producer. His departure created a void, permanently changing the character of the group. Another founding member, Hooper, left the group in 1983, thus signaling the end to the group’s most popular period. Three more albums were recorded in the mid-1980s; however by the 1990s, The Crusaders, for the most part, had disbanded, with a comprehensive discography behind them.
In 1991, The Crusaders (with Sample and Felder the only original members present) released Healing the Wounds. The album peaked at No. 1 on the Top Contemporary Jazz chart and No. 174 on the Billboard 200. The group did not release any more albums during the decade, as Sample focused on a solo career.
Henderson, who had left the group in 1975, revived the Jazz Crusaders moniker (despite Sample’s objections) for 1995’s Happy Again. The lineup for Happy Again included founding member Wilton Felder and former Crusaders guitarist Larry Carlton. The new Jazz Crusaders released a series of recordings in the late 1990s, but the music bore little resemblance to the acoustic, hard bop style of the original group, instead emphasizing synthesizers, sampling, electronics, and drum machines in the style of smooth jazz, rap music, or contemporary R&B.
In 2003, founding members Sample, Felder and Hooper revived The Crusaders and released Rural Renewal. Ray Parker Jr. and Eric Clapton played guitar on the album. That same year, the Henderson-led Jazz Crusaders released Soul Axess.
In April 2010, Joe Sample announced a reunion tour with Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder (but not Stix Hooper) – the first reunion of these founding members of the Jazz Crusaders since 1974. Henderson died on April 5, 2014. Joe Sample died in Houston on September 12, 2014. Felder died on September 27, 2015.
In the video below, The Crusaders take the stage at the 1987 Newport Jazz Festival. Beginning in the early ’60s as a hard bop group, the band eventually adopted a sound incorporating elements of R&B and pop.
1. Mischievous Ways
2. Chain Reaction
3. Blue Ballet
5. The Good Times
6. Way It Goes
Eddie Davis – trumpet
Wilton Felder – tenor sax
Joe Sample – keyboard
David T. Walker – guitar
John Peña – bass
Scott Peaker – drums