Steve Gregory – Careless Whisper

The hits keep on rolling in! This is another one of those all-time famous saxophone lines in pop music. And the story behind it is fascinating

If you believe Wikipedia, George Michael came up with the sax line first, and wrote the song around it. He got some local sax player from the pub to lay down a demo, and then when he went to record the real thing, he churned through multiple top-flight studio musicians, none of whom could live up to the vision that George Michael had in his head. 

Finally, it came to Steve Gregory, who had the idea to play it down a half-step, and then speed it up to match the pitch. Bingo – that did the trick!

Steve did it for practical reasons. Like me, he plays a Mark VI, which doesn’t have a high F# key, making the opening bar extremely awkward to play. F#-E-B is a tough transition. On my horn, I play high F# with the first finger in each hand, left hand on the fork F key. From here, the transition to E that makes sense is to put down 2-3 in the left hand and lift up the right hand. Not too bad, but then the transition to B requires you to slide your first finger from the fork F key down to the B key. That’s hard to do smoothly, as you will hear in my video! No matter what horn you prefer, I would bet money that if you are a saxophone player touring with George Michael, you run out and get a horn with a proper high F# key for this tune.

It’s a bright sounding passage, so it can be hard to tell if it’s alto or tenor without listening closely. It would definitely be easier to play on Alto, but I wanted to try the ‘real’ thing, which I guess doesn’t even exist because of the studio magic involved in the original recording. 

Steve Gregory - Careless Whisper


  • Artist: Steve Gregory
  • Album: George Michael – Make it Big
  • Track: Careless Whisper
  • Instrument: Tenor Sax