Noble “Thin Man” Watts Dies

Noble “Thin Man” Watts, an R&B and jazz saxophonist who played with Nat Adderley and Lionel Hampton, as well as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, died on August 24 in his hometown of DeLand, Florida. He was 78.

Born in 1926, Watts worked raking leaves to pay for violin lessons as a boy before learning to play trumpet and saxophone in his teens. In 1942 he enrolled at Florida A&M University and played in the school’s marching band with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and his brother, cornetist Nat Adderley.

The Griffin Brothers, one of Dot Records’ most popular touring R&B acts, hired Watts right after he finished college, and he toured with them for a time. In 1952, he joined baritone saxophonist Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams as a member of the house band for the TV show Showtime At The Apollo. Later on, he had a stint playing with Lionel Hampton’s big band. He also played on late ’50s tour packages behind Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.

Watts’ first recording came in 1954 on DeLuxe Records. A 1956 single for VeeJay Records preceded his two-year association with New York’s Baton label. The song “Hard Times (The Slop)” brought Watts to the pop charts in 1957. Countless tours and performances—as well as a string of singles for various labels—kept Watts busy through the 1960s and into the 1970s.

A comeback album in 1987, Return of the Thin Man, received critical acclaim. Watts teamed with Nat Adderely in 1990 for Noble and Nat, an album on the Kingsnake label that also featured Lucky Peterson on bass and organ. King of the Boogie Sax followed in 1993.

Although Watts performed less frequently in recent years, he did headline a DeLand, Fla. concert in 2001 to celebrate his 75th birthday. He received an honorary doctorate in 2000 from Stetson University in DeLand. In May 2004, the African American Museum of the Arts in his hometown dedicated an amphitheatre named after Watts.

Watts is survived by his wife, son, daughter, sister, five grand children and two great grandchildren.