About our Founder

Santy Runyon

Santy Runyon was a world renowned saxophonist, who played in Al Capone's speakeasy club, The Coliseum, and gave lessons to world class musicians like Charlie Parker.

Over the years Runyon Products has earned a reputation for producing mouthpieces and accessories that are beyond compare. The Santy Runyon story goes back to the turn of the century. He began as a "trap" drummer in the pit of his father's movie house. Runyon would play percussion and supply sound effects for the silent films. He also learned to play the marimba and the vibes and eventually found the instruments that would be the passion of his life: the woodwinds.

Runyon's inventive nature surfaced at an early age. By age 11, he read an article about airplanes and learned that air moves faster over a wing's curved upper surface than it moves beneath the wing. He stuck some chewing gum inside the mouthpiece of his saxophone, creating an instant airfoil. It made the air go faster and produced more volume and was easier to play. This important discovery would later lead Santy to design mouthpieces built around this engineering concept.

Runyon studied music at Oklahoma A&M and the University of Missouri before hitting the road as a traveling musician. He played saxophone with the Benny Maroff, Johnny Green and Henry Busse bands. As a member of the Busse group, at age 25, Runyon created the jazz shuffle beat showcased in Busse's hit recording "Hot Lips."

In 1933, Runyon began an 11-year stint as lead flute player with the Chicago Theater Orchestra. FDR was president, prohibition was the law, and the south side of Chicago was the worst part of town. On Saturday nights, Runyon played The Coliseum, a speakeasy owned by the infamous gangland legend, "Scarface" Al Capone. At the Chicago Theater, he worked with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Edger Bergen, Betty Gable and other show business notables. He even did a running comedy bit with Jack Benny. Between radio, clubs, and the theater, Runyon weathered the Great Depression pretty well, earning $150 a week while many men were taking home $8 or $9 a week.

One night a fellow musician approached him. "I've always liked the way you played," the musician told Runyon. "Could you help me play better?" After only a few hours of coaching, the musician had improved to the point where he moved up to lead saxophone player in the band. He recommended Runyon to a colleague, and soon the doorman at the Chicago Theater was complaining about having to take so many messages from potential students.

Santy Runyon and Frank Anglund, the lead trumpet player with the Chicago Theater Orchestra, opened the Runyon Studio. Through those doors passed such jazz legends as Charlie "Bird" Parker, Paul Desmond, Harry Carney, Lee Konitz, and Frank "Sonny" Stitt. Runyon had students in most of the big bands of the era: Benny Goodman, Count Bassie, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington. When Lawrence Welk began his long-running television show, five of his saxophone players were Runyon alumni.

In 1941, Runyon sold his first mouthpiece, a variation of the 1918 curved device he had fabricated with chewing gum. The customer was Bruce Bronson, who played baritone sax with the Tommy Dorsey band. The mouthpiece was a hit. A metal model built for an Army band member resulted in an order for thousands of mouthpieces. A manufacturer refused the order and yet another career had begun for Santy Runyon.

He began manufacturing mouthpieces in Chicago, but Runyon and his wife, Shirley Rose, decided they needed a more suitable location in which to raise their family. He moved his operation to Beaumont, Texas, in 1960 and continued to play professionally at the Petroleum Club there. Runyon was lured to Lafayette in 1970. He began playing at Toby's and also opened a manufacturing facility on Lewisburg Road in Opelousas.

Runyon Products produces hundreds of thousands of mouthpieces a year. His metal mouthpieces are the favorite of baritone and tenor sax players because of their brighter tone. Symphony woodwind musicians like Runyon's Custom and Classic mouthpieces. Brightly colored Bionix mouthpieces are favored by rock performers. Runyon Products also makes saxophone straps, key risers, ligatures, and other woodwind accessories.

Music plays an increasingly important role in today's society. "It teaches you coordination and I think it's very good for your health," Santy said, noting that a former student of his was a victim of rheumatic fever, whose weakened heart benefited greatly from playing a woodwind instrument.

Santy Runyon passed away just days before his 96th Birthday.

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