The unmistakable sound of Steve Douglas’ honking saxophone can be heard on countless recordings by the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Duane Eddy and others.
Among the most in-demand West Coast sessionmen, Douglas was a key player in producer Phil Spector’s “Wrecking Crew,” the collective of sideman that Spector used on virtually all his sessions. Douglas played sax and percussion on most of Spector’s early-1960s productions, including all of the Ronettes’ and Crystals’ recordings and such epic singles as Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep - Mountain High” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” He played on every Beach Boys album from Surfin’ U.S.A. through Pet Sounds, as well as later recordings. He can be heard blowing tenor and baritone sax on many of Jan and Dean’s 1960s hits, including “Surf City” and “Dead Man’s Curve.” His hornwork also adorned recordings by such artists as Bobby Darin, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and Elvis Presley.
Born Steven Kreisman, Douglas got caught up in the rhythm & blues scene around Los Angeles as a teenager in the early 1950s. He took up tenor sax after hearing Chuck Higgins’ “Pachuco Hop.” In addition to Higgins, his influences included such R&B hornmen as Big Jay McNeely, Sam “The Man” Taylor and Joe Houston. Douglas’ background served him well when emerging rock and roll figures like Duane Eddy wanted to add some horn-fueled R&B grit to their music. After year-long stint with Eddy, Douglas formed his own “Vegas-style group,” which included Phil Spector on guitar and vocals. When Spector subsequently began to establish himself as a producer in New York, he called Douglas to overdub sax on some early Crystals records. After Spector returned to L.A., Douglas played on and even contracted musicians for his sessions. In addition to tenor and baritone sax, he’d contribute flute and percussion. He remained a member of Spector's “Wrecking Crew” till the producer’s semi-retirement in 1966. In the 1970s, Douglas would play on Spector-produced projects by Cher, Leonard Cohen and the Ramones.
Douglas' work with Spector led to calls from Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys) and Jan Berry (of Jan and Dean), as they and the entire West Coast pop scene began taking off. Douglas played on such instrumental hits as the Routers’ “Let’s Go (Pony).” Douglas was offered all the work he could handle and recalls once doing 18 sessions in a single week. In the mid-1960s, he spent two years as an A&R man at Capitol Records, where he produced Bobby Darin and others.
Health problems in the early 1970s forced Douglas to adopt a lower profile. During that decade, in addition to session work, he began releasing albums under his own name. He recorded one of his more notable projects, The Music of Cleops, inside the King’s Chamber at the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt. In 1978, Douglas joined Bob Dylan’s touring band and can be heard on Bob Dylan at Budokan. He played on Mink DeVille’s first two albums and produced the third, Le Chat Bleu, in 1981. Douglas’ Hot Sax album, released in 1982, includes his remake of “Peter Gunn,” which he’d originally recorded with Duane Eddy two decades earlier.
Douglas died in 1993 of heart failure.