The Singing Sax of Ronnie Laws
“Musicians say that the sax is easy to play. They’re able to do anything they want on it,” says Rick Izumi, vice president and CFO of Rheuben Allen & Associates, the company that manufactures and distributes the Laws signature sax.
Laws has only highest of praise for Allen. While the men have known each other for thirty years, it was just recently that Allen, an instrument designer, sax repairman and manufacturer, approached Laws about creating a line of instruments. Laws represents such a “nice, open person, it was a very good match for us to work with him,” says Izumi. “He’s a goodwill ambassador and one of the greatest saxophonists in the world.”
Many months of dialog back and forth took place to determine how to customize the sax to Laws’ specifications. Modifications were made to the size of the tube—known as the bore—to create the best intonation. The instrument was tested over and over by many musicians.
The composition of the sax, a combination of brass alloy mixed with a lot of copper, makes the horn resonate, says Izumi. The result is a horn that embodies “the big, fat sound” of Laws’ Texas roots. “Ronnie’s sax has a distinctive sound. It’s beautiful, deep and captivating,” says Izumi. “That’s how I hear it.”
“He has a vibrato and a tonality that’s affected and influenced people all around the world,” acknowledges jazz guitarist and longtime friend George Benson.
When he was a budding musician, a 12-year-old Laws shared the stage with Kenny Rodgers for a few nights while one of his sisters sang backup for the country singer. He was a member of Earth, Wind and Fire from 1971 to 1972 at the start of his career, but left the group to tour with South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela in 1973. Then, in his debut as a solo artist, he opened for B.B. King in 1975.
Not bad for a musician who got his start playing on a used saxophone that needed rubber bands on the keys to make it work. At the time, his high school was undergoing integration and Laws was one of ten African American students who attended the school. He thrived under the instruction of Ed Trongone, the inspirational musical director at Robert E. Lee High School. “To come from that background and now have a signature sax is something,” reflects Laws.
Ronnie Laws instruments are available at www.RheubenAllen.com.