Trumpeter Steve Madaio, whose trademark sound on dozens of million-selling records was as distinctive as his black, broad-brimmed hat, died late Tuesday after suffering a heart attack in his Palm Desert home. He was 70.
Madaio toured with the Rolling Stones in the 1970s and was a regular member of bands led by Stevie Wonder in the 1970s and Paul Butterfield in the 1960s. He recorded with such rock legends as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Ringo Starr, and such blues and jazz greats as B.B. King, Etta James, Robert Cray, Freddie Hubbard and Billy Cobham.
Jim “JIMI Fitz” Fitzgerald, a CV 104.3 DJ and singer-guitarist who played with Madaio and began his musical promotions in the Coachella Valley as a partner with Madaio on the “Fitz at the Ritz” series of the 1990s, said Madaio's sound was so distinctive, you could pick him out of a chorus of 50 trumpeters.
That's what made him one of the most in-demand session players in the recording industry.
“He used to hang with me on the air all the time,"Fitzgerald said. "I’d play something, like Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day,’ and he’d go, ‘Oh, I’m on that.’ I’d play Earth Wind & Fire’s ‘September’ and, ‘I’m on that.’ He arranged John Lennon’s ‘Walls and Bridges’ album. He’s on (the single with Elton John from that LP) “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.’ So, among all of us musicians, it’s not what artists he’s played with and what records he’s played on, but, who hasn’t he played with?”
Madaio performed in both the Woodstock and Monterey Pop festivals with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the 1960s. He remembered talking to Jimi Hendrix and landing in the Woodstock fields in a helicopter in the middle of the night and not being able to get out.
But he didn’t remember playing Monterey until he saw a video of himself on YouTube.
“I didn’t believe I was at Monterey Pop Festival,” Madaio said in a 2009 Desert Sun interview. “I kept insisting I wasn’t. Then people said to me, ‘I’m looking at this video and you’re on it!’ And the next thing I know, I’d say, ‘Well, that’s me. I guess I was there!’ If you realize how much goes down in your life, multiplied by 25 or 30 years of doing this, it’s impossible, even if I was totally straight – and a lot of times I wasn’t – to remember it all.”
Madaio played trumpet in the Pat Rizzo Big Band in New York at age 16 and played many recording sessions with Rizzo in Los Angeles in the 1970s. He moved to the Coachella Valley in the 1990s after going through a chemical dependency rehab, Rizzo said, and began sitting in with Rizzo’s band at the Hyatt Hotel lounge in downtown Palm Springs.
Rizzo told him Palm Springs was such a philanthropic town, he could do good and make a living at it. Madaio bought a home on Rizzo’s block and often said he was attracted to the Coachella Valley by its philanthropy.
“I’m in a surreal mood because I can’t imagine him not being here,” Rizzo said Wednesday. “He was so good.”
Madaio was greatly influenced by the late Hubbard, but he also helped bring the Chicago blues to a mainstream white audience with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The band featured Butterfield on harmonica and great lead guitarists, such as Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. But the horn section, including Madaio and saxophonists David Sanborn and Trevor Lawrence in the late 1960s, had a bluesier sound then other horn-driven bands of the time, such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
When Stevie Wonder wanted to create a more “grown-up” sound for Motown, he hired the Butterfield horn section and created his most popular and critically-acclaimed work, including the Grammy Award-winning albums, “Talking Book,” “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and “Songs in the Key of Life.” His 1972 hit, “Superstition,” was recorded by just Wonder, Lawrence and Madaio.
When Madaio was asked why Wonder peaked artistically in the 1970s, he said his accompanying musicians, including drummer Ollie Brown and back-up vocalist Deniece Williams, had a lot to do with it.
“When he went to the piano and he got to the second verse, everything was already done,” said Madaio. “They were instantaneous arrangements. I think having that freedom musically, at that period in his life when he was growing up, (enabled him to have) a pretty prolific period.”
Madaio toured North America with the Rolling Stones in 1972, and he told Fitzgerald, as part of a series of podcasts and audio recordings for an as-yet unpublished book, that Wonder had to be talked into doing the tour.
“Stevie got an offer to go out with the Stones and be their opening act,” Fitzgerald said, “but Stevie didn’t feel it was his audience. Madaio was the main impetus in pushing him off the ledge to agree to do the Stones tour. Madaio said he had to point out, ‘This is a whole new audience for you.’
“So, they get to the end of the tour and one night, (Mick) Jagger and (Keith) Richards are in a limo and they call Madaio out to the limo. To make a long story short, they made him a offer that he turned down at first. They wanted him to leave Stevie Wonder and go out with them. One of the comments he made to them was, ‘You guys are simple three-chord guys. What do you need me for?’ (But) they made him an offer so huge, he ended up leaving Stevie for a while.”
Madaio toured Europe with the Stones amid rumors that Richards was getting blood transfusions to help him avoid an addiction from his heroin use. Madaio couldn’t confirm that, but he said the Stones had a doctor on tour whose job was to keep Richards alive.
After leaving Wonder after “Songs in the Key of Life” in 1976, Madaio worked as a sideman on such historic albums as “Beautiful Noise” by Neil Diamond, “Street Legal” by Dylan and “Blondes Have More Fun” by Stewart. He also joined Cobham on “B.C.” and “The Love Connection” by Hubbard.
Upon moving to the desert, he opened his own nightclub in Palm Desert and recorded with local artists including Rizzo, Will Donato and Barry Minniefield. He played numerous charity gigs, often with Lauri Bono and Kal David, who he had played with before moving to the desert. In 2013, he performed at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland with other Stones sidemen in a tribute to the band.
Madaio also recorded a solo album in 2006, “Midnight Rendezvous,” that is the definitive representation of the Madaio sound – melodic but with rapidly cascading flights, like a flutter in the highest registers.
“I think, with all the music I hear and all the music I curate and the (stuff) that comes to me, his ‘Midnight Renezvous’ album is so good, man. His version of ‘Harlem Nocturne’ and ‘Europa’… Steve had a knowledge and appreciation of every genre. He loved jazz, but he also was classically-trained. His discography is huge. It’s a shock to see all the (stuff) he’s on.”
Madaio got a chance to work with French singer-songwriter (and Stephen Stills’ wife of the 1970s), Véronique Sanson, in 1978. He continued working with her off-and-on on albums and tours through her 2015 LP, “Les Annees Americaines.” He spent much of the past four years working with Sanson in France, but, when she canceled her recent tours for health reasons, Madaio and co-author Tad Sisler were able to finish his memoir, “Stories in the Key of Life.” Fitzgerald said they also finished the audio version.
“He was so excited about this book, and this audio book and us doing these podcasts,” Fitzgerald said. “We had a little get-together a few weeks ago talking about how we were going to launch it. We were looking to get some quotes from Keith and Mick and Stevie. He was in a great head.”
They finished four podcasts. Fitzgerald said he doesn't know when the book will be released.
Funeral or memorial services are pending. Madaio is survived by his girlfriend of some 20 years, Eileen Collins; his daughter, Jamie Hogg; a brother and two sisters.