“He recorded [A Sailor’s Guide to Earth] with horns and then wanted his own guys to hit the road with,” saxophonist Brad Walker explains of sudden megawatt star Sturgill Simpson and his smash sophomore album. “He didn’t want a Nashville horn section; he specifically wanted a New Orleans horn section. His wife went to Tulane and he’s come down here to hang out a lot. So he knows this is where you come to get a good horn section that can do the type of loose and dirty shit he’s looking for.”
With years of playing New Orleans, from Bourbon Street’s Swamp Room to Tipitina’s, Walker explains that Simpson contacted him based on a recommendation from a mutual connection. “I get a text from Sturgill. Very humble. He said, ‘Hey I’m a Nashville songwriter and looking for a very New Orleans horn section to do a world tour. Is that something you’d be interested in?’
“Over the next few months, we went through this process and finally Sturgill says to me, ‘It’s time to turn it loose. Get the guys you enjoy making music with, guys you enjoying hanging out with, and let’s go.’”
Walker recruited local players Scott Frock (King James and the Special Men, Delfeayo Marsalis), who he calls “the trumpet specialist in New Orleans,” and Jon Ramm of Magnetic Ear: “a great trombone player, solid musician, great ear, great dude to hang out with.”
Walker states, “Sturgill has got all these amazing songs he’s written, but he’s not afraid to change them up and take chances. Like ‘A Little Light’ [from Simpson’s 2014 breakthrough album, Meta-modern Sounds in Country Music]—that tune now has a breakdown in the middle where we apply a funky New Orleans street-beat.”
The capacity in Simpson’s catalogue for his horn section to shine arrived on “The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon” on July 28, when the band performed “All Around You,” with Walker framed perfectly by the camera as he blasted the intro to the song’s instrumental climax. “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my musical career,” Walker explains by phone the following day. “It was nerve-racking. When they told me that was the song we were going to play, a sax-featured song, I was just like… ”
Walker puts the high-profile gig with Simpson into perspective. “The coolest thing about all this is that we get a chance to represent what, to me, is the greatest music city in the world on a national and international stage with a really compelling artist. It’s a great honor to represent the music of this great city. We take it very seriously and represent it in the truest way we can.”
Sturgill Simpson plays the Saenger Theatre on Friday, September 9.