Versatile and highly-rated musician who supported some of the greats

 

John Earlewas a saxophonist who performed and recorded with some of the top international pop and rock'n'roll acts. He is best known for his playing on Thin Lizzy's Dancing in the Moonlight (1977), the Boomtown Rats' Rat Trap (1978) and Katrina and the Waves' Walking on Sunshine (1985).

A highly-rated session musician, he also recorded with Rory Gallagher, Dave Edmunds, Jona Lewie, Kirsty McColl, Johnny Thunders, Carlene Carter and Mike and the Mechanics. In addition, he featured on the Clash's seminal album London Calling.

A statement posted on the Thin Lizzy website noted: "John was a total gentleman and was highly regarded by those who had the pleasure of meeting him."

The rock journalist BP Fallon recalled meeting him "many full moonlights ago, when he was playing sax with the Mexicans Showband. He was gloriously eccentric even then . . . a special musician and a lovely man."

His friend and fellow musician Peter Moore said, "John was a front man who made everyone he played with feel like a front man or front woman". Born in Terenure, Dublin, in 1944, he was one of the four children of Albert Earle and his wife Kathleen (née Ryan). He was educated at Synge Street CBS, where he showed a talent for art, and later worked for a time as a commercial artist.

An avid Radio Luxembourg listener, he was inspired to learn the clarinet and then the saxophone. King Curtis, Charlie Parker and Dave Sanborn were major influences. He served his apprenticeship in Irish dancehalls under band leaders such as Jim Farrelly, and in the mid-1960s embarked on his international career with a band called Scotch and Soda, touring US bases in Libya.

He lived in Germany for several years, playing with Nine Days' Wonder and later Gnidrolog; he recorded albums with both bands. Moving to Enfield in north London, he worked at various jobs and at one stage considered giving up music. But his wife Loni urged him not to quit, and he teamed up with Ian Dury in the pre-punk Kilburn and the High Roads, which attracted a sizeable following on the pub-rock circuit.

Dave Robinson of Stiff Records recruited him to the brass section of the up-and-coming Graham Parker and the Rumour, and the band supported Thin Lizzy on tour. The Rumour Brass joined the Boomtown Rats on a US tour, and later toured with rock-poet Heinz Rudolf Kunze.

Earle also toured with Randy Crawford and Al Jarreau, and with Shakin' Stevens made a return visit to Libya where he was photographed with Col Gadafy.

While he played pop and rock, he had a strong blues sensibility and for 12 years from the mid-1980s played regular gigs with Ruthless Blues, making it a family occasion when his son Iain sat in for the regular drummer.

In 1996, he returned to live in Dublin, settling in Rathmines. He became a mainstay of the International Blues Band, also playing with The Chaps, Subtonics and the tribute band Thin Az Lizzy. He was very supportive of emerging talent, and did occasional session work with young bands.

He is survived by his wife Loni and son Iain.

John Earle: born October 6th, 1944; died May 7th, 2008