(c) 2000 K. C. Hoffman
Musical paleontologists tell us that the period before "Rock 'n' Roll" was referred to as "Rhythm and Blues", a time when the saxophone ruled supreme. For the most part the electric guitar displaced the saxophone from its niche at the top of the musical food chain.
Two characteristics made the saxophone top dog of the "Rhythm and Blues" era: its similarity to the human voice and its volume. Although the first electric guitars were played in the mid-thirties, the guitar did not come into vogue until nearly twenty years later. During that twenty year period the guitar was often unamplified and simply not loud enough to be heard as a solo instrument, being used instead as a form of rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment. On the other hand, the saxophone could be played quite loudly and amplified quite easily, and with its bends, growls and moans it could mimic the vocal inflections of the "Rhythm and Blues" singers of the day.
The same characteristics that allowed the saxophone to cut a wide swath through the music of the day, volume and tonal flexibility, were ultimately its liabilities once the electric guitar was fully evolved. The electric guitar was a considerably louder alternative to the saxophone, and although the guitar could not match the saxophone's similarity to the human voice, the terrifying volume of the electric guitar was enough to send saxophones scurrying for the shelter of the Big Band.
The saxophone's reign on the throne of popular music lasted until the time the electric guitar gained acceptance as a solo instrument. Since than, the guitar has eclipsed the popularity of the saxophone so much so that even the most casual music listener is familiar with names such as Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, B. B. King and Eric Clapton but quite unfamiliar with names such as Louis Jordan, Earl Bostic, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson or Plas Johnson.