He’s toured with some of the biggest stars in the world, not only performing on stage with them but also being invited into their homes and private lives.
Now, top American saxophonist Jim Horn, 78, has lifted the lid on some of the huge names he’s played alongside over the past few decades, from Elton John, John Denver and all four of The Beatles, to Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys and The Carpenters.
While many of them were everything he’d possibly hoped for, having watched and admired them himself for years before, others surprised him when he saw what they were really like backstage – proving a far cry from their confident and outgoing personas on stage.
One of his top highlights was working with all four of the Beatles individually after the band split up. And speaking in an exclusive chat with Starts at 60, he revealed they couldn’t have been more different from each other off stage.
“George was very spiritual, John [Lennon] was very quiet – you’d have to strike up a conversation with him, Ringo [Starr] on the other hand was jovial and funny. And Paul [McCartney] was the best musician on guitar, bass, piano and singing,” he said.
“I got to work with all of them separately. That’s what was a lot of fun.”
He perhaps got to know Harrison the most and revealed he’d often get a last minute call and end up spending weeks living at his house with him and his family while they recorded together.
“He was great. He’d call me up and say, ‘Can you come over? I’m working on the new album’. I’d fly over and stay at his house for a couple of weeks,” Jim added.
“He loved his studio, he got out there and was very creative. He was always very inventive, he had his own sound and the songs he wrote were incredible. But he was always funny and had a very spiritual side, too. I remember I’d be playing a solo on one of his tracks and he’d suddenly stop and say, ‘Tea time’. I’d point out I hadn’t finished but he’d just say we’d finish it later.
“I remember we’d walk around the garden together and just talk. It was beautiful there.”
Asked if any of them ever spoke about the band coming to an end, Jim said: “After they did break up, there was talk of Yoko Ono kind of messing things up between the rest of them – with John – but they never went on about that. They just carried on and did well for themselves.”
He added: “I think things happened within their group and they kept it that way.”
Meanwhile, another of his best memories was working with global superstar Elton John – who he said was as flamboyant and dramatic off stage as he was on.
“Elton, silly as he is, was so much fun to work with,” he explained. “I remember walking in and there he was in some shorts and a funny shirt and jacket on and big glasses, but it was Elton – you knew him.”
His biggest highlights however were The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and late country music sensation John Denver – both of whom gave him the opportunity to put his own stamp on the songs they performed together.
On working with Wilson, he revealed: “It was the highlight of my career. He was great, he’d get me to play all the pieces and choose from them. ‘Good Vibrations’ was in three pieces, each in a three hour session, and he then added them together for the finished song. He was one of my favourites.”
Meanwhile, speaking of Denver – who he performed with for most of the country star’s career until his death in 1997 – Jim said: “We were very close. When I first joined him, he told me, ‘Now, if you hear any sounds on any of your instruments, go ahead and play them’. He’d turn around and smile at me and give me the thumbs up, so I’d know I’d done well.”
However, not everyone lived up to his expectations and two huge stars ended up surprising Jim when he had the opportunity to briefly work with them – as he claimed they both remained quiet and hardly spoke to him or the rest of the band off stage.
“Jimi Hendrix is very quiet and he’d just start playing without talking much. You couldn’t get close enough to him,” Jim revealed of the ‘All Along the Watchtower’ singer.
Meanwhile, the late Michael Jackson valued his own space even more, as Jim explained: “He stayed in his little cocoon room while I put on saxophones for him and he never came out.
“But I played with the Jackson Five when he was the little guy, around 10 or 12 years old, he was so cute and nice and then he changed as he got older. You couldn’t really hang out with Michael much, he kept to himself.”