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A Thousand Honey Creeks Later: My Life from Basie to Motown by Preston Love

This is the latest and, I believe, the best of the books written by jazz musicians. Most of them, particularly those by Bill Coleman, Drew Page, and Harry Dial, are rewarding in one way or another. All of these men, including Preston Love, came up in the years before World War II and gained experience working in local bands, then territory outfits, and finally on the national stage as members of some of the greatest bands of that era. Except for this memoir by Preston Love, all of these books have an as-told-to aura, which is not necessarily bad considering the almost total recall for news, dates and places that prove so valuable to the historian trying to assemble events years later.

In Mr. Love’s case – perhaps because he is a decade or more younger than the other men – are drawn in by his incisive portraits of the players and leaders with whom he came in contact. His book is more useful than the others if, for no other reason than he continued to have a high profile career long after the big band era was over and therefore brings the narrative to recent time.

Even before he became a player, Love started out idolizing the sound and style of Earl Warren, the lead saxist with Count Basie between 1937 and 1949. Before long he became an adept alto player and a particularly swift and accurate reader, in demand with the best territory outfits like the ones run by Lloyd Hunter and Nat Towles. The difficult arrangements he had to read in the Towles band prepared him for his stint with the Count Basie band which he joined in 1943 due to Earl Warren’s illness. On Warren’s return six weeks later, Love moved into Lucky Millinder’s band and was on his way.

Each chapter is a gem. Those dealing with the Basie years are particularly moving. When he joined it full time in 1945, they were playing to packed houses throughout the country. This continued through 1946 with enthusiastic crowds greeting Basie’s superb band. Almost without warning, in 1947, they found themselves playing to half-empty theaters with indifferent, almost hostile audiences. Rhythm and blues and be pob had drawn the audience away. The inevitable consequence was an erosion of the standard Basie had established with his swing style for so many years. Love returned to Omaha the next year and started his own territory band without success. But by the early 1950’s, he was well established in the field and was earning good money playing a mix of swing and Lombardo style that kept him well employed for almost a decade.

In 1961, Johnny Otis, the drummer who was his old friend, and with whom he had first worked in Lloyd Hunter’s band twenty years earlier, called him to come out to Los Angeles and get in on the burgeoning soul bandwagon. A year or two later, Love answered an audition to work for the Temptations. When Love’s turn came around, he played their big hit, “My Girl,” which was written in a particularly difficult high key, with a stunning rich full tone. Quickly dismissing the other contenders, Cornelius Grant, their bandleader, said, “We have had this music, especially “My Girl,” played by alto men all over the country, but nobody ever played it as quickly or with all that soulful phrasing.” From then on, Love’s status as an important member of the Temptations’ back-up band and ultimately the west coast bandleader for all of Motown’s acts were assured.

Eventually Love gave up his lucrative life to return to Omaha where he still plays locally, writes for the Omaha Star, lectures at colleges in the area, and occasionally tours Europe. In A Thousand Honey Creeks Later, he has produced a lively and colorful memoir.

Originally Published