Joe McQueen's Kickstarter
SALT LAKE CITY — There are some people who find exactly what they were put on this earth to do. Joe McQueen is one of them.
The saxophone is his purpose.
"I play it because I love it. I love playing. You're gonna find very damn few guys my age still playing the horn,” said McQueen, after he was done with a recording session at a Salt Lake City studio.
He was 14 years old when he first picked one up. Now, at 95, he's never put it down.
"I don't intend to stop unless I get to the place where I just can't do it. As long as I can and enjoy it, I'm gonna keep on doing it until the good Lord says, ‘Well, ole' boy, that's enough,'" said McQueen with a laugh.
McQueen is a jazz music legend. He has played with all the other legends, has been to all the popular jazz clubs, and knows all the classic tunes.
McQueen came to Utah for a gig in Ogden in 1945. The manager of his band spent all their money, so they couldn’t leave right away. He liked it so much, he decided to make Ogden his home.
"There's so many things that have happened to me in Ogden, I'm just glad I stayed, really. My friends asked me, ‘What about them Mormons?’ I said you haven’t met any better people in the world. They have done so much for me,” said McQueen.
When he first came to Utah, things were tough.
A black man playing in white clubs was unheard of, and many times, his friends couldn’t see him play. That’s when McQueen decided to be a voice for equality.
I don't intend to stop unless I get to the place where I just can't do it. As long as I can and enjoy it, I'm gonna keep on doing it until the good Lord says, 'Well, ole' boy, that's enough.'
"They're my friends and they're the same color I am. And then they say they can't come in to hear you, well damn, then I don't need to play in your place,” said McQueen. “When they wanted me to play uptown, I would tell them hell no, because I can play here in Ogden and anybody can come in. If my friends want to come and hear me and I come to your place and you say no, then I’m not gonna do this. Then they said, ‘No no no. We’ll let anybody.” One did it, then another did it, and pretty soon, all that stuff was gone by the board."
McQueen knew his music brought in large crowds. The club owners knew it, too.
"I had that place jam-packed every night,” said McQueen with a laugh.
He has had an amazing career, but he's not done. For the past few years, McQueen has been jamming with his new band, the Legendary Joe McQueen Quartet.
They often play at The Garage, a popular Salt Lake City bar on the north side of town.
"The coolest thing about playing with Joe is you will see everyone from age 90 to 21 just fresh out of the gates,” said Ryan Conger, who plays piano in the quartet and is one of the young guys in the group.
They're doing so well, McQueen is releasing another album, and they're doing it the old-fashioned way—on vinyl record.
"I remember mentioning to Joe, ‘Hey, what do you think if we pressed it to vinyl because they're doing that again. It's kind of coming back.’ Joe looked at me like I was crazy, but I also saw this twinkle in his eye like, Joe is gonna think this is cool, actually,” said Conger.
Pressing vinyl isn't cheap, though. So, the younger guys introduced McQueen to Kickstarter — an Internet funding site they hope will help raise money.
"I have absolutely no idea what they're doing. I tell them all the time I don't know about that stuff,” said McQueen. “He's got one of these phones he can pick it up and do anything with it. I got this common little old phone just so I can call somebody and talk to them and they can call me and that's all I want. I don’t have a computer. I have an old tape deck, a CD player and my horn.”
McQueen says the new album will feature old music so it will be new again.
“I'm gonna play all those old tunes that were popular back during World War II because there are a lot of older people around that would enjoy those old tunes,” said McQueen. “I’m going to call it 'The Tunes of World War II.'”
McQueen also spent his career as an automotive mechanic instructor at Weber State University. As much fun as he had in automotive repair, McQueen knows his legacy is in jazz music history.
He thanks his wife of 70 years for understanding his other love, but he thanks God for everything else.
“I thank the good Lord every day for just letting me be here, man. Just letting me be here. I thank God. I give God all the credit for what's happened to me and what is still happening to me,” said McQueen.
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