Tuesday, April 10, 2012


When the folks who consider themselves the "guardians" of the classic soul genre (VH1, BET, etc.) talk about the great soul men of the '60s, it's always the same artists - Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross (?!?!?!?!?!?) and James Brown. Not that they weren't great (even Diana Ross has a great voice, though I don't consider her a soul singer AT ALL), but truly great soul men who had a lot of hits get short-changed by these corporate monoliths disguised as "music programming". Solomon Burke is one of them. James Carr is another. Joe Tex is yet another, and the guy whose record I'll feature here (and it wasn't even a hit!!!).

I'm about to sound racist here, but I don't care. I think that the reason why Burke, Carr and Tex don't get the ink that Gaye, Redding, Franklin, etc. get is that the first three didn't chart that high on the pop (white) charts - most of their success was on the R&B, or "soul" side (I also DO NOT think it is a coincidence that Burke, Carr and Tex were WAY more church-based than Marvin or Otis or JB - Aretha's quite another story, though you could make the argument that the closer she got to church-based music, the less popular the records were). So basically, because white folks like 'em, Aretha, Marvin and Michael get all the press. Don't believe me? I lived through the '70s. You WERE NOT hearing Otis Redding's or James Brown's records on the radio.....but after James Brown appeared in "Rocky III" (or was it "IV"?) in 1986, EVERYBODY became "hip" to James Brown. People who couldn't name ONE of his records (besides "Living In America", of course) were suddenly dropping his name in conversation. Late-night talk shows were fighting to book JB. Otis Redding's records got a big boost from "The Blues Brothers" and, later, "Dirty Dancing". Now, it's taken for granted that Otis and JB were two of the greats of "classic soul" music - and they ARE - but it shouldn't be because the mainstream (white) media says so! (and by the way, this isn't just a white/black thing; the same phenomenon happened with Patsy Cline, who by the late 70s was all but forgotten - until Jessica Lange played her in the film "Sweet Dreams"; now she's considered one of the "cornerstones" of C&W music).

That's one of the reasons I like Joe Tex so much - he's like a dirty little hip secret to those of us who REALLY love soul music. Plus if I had to name the most TALENTED soul singer of all time, Joe Tex would certainly be the one I'd point to. Tex (b. Joseph Arrington, Jr. on August 8, 1933 in Baytown, Texas) could do it all - sing the deepest soul, make great dance records, blow ANYBODY off the stage (James Brown basically stole, among other things, Joe's microphone trick of pushing the mike stand away from him and, as it fell, catching it with his foot and bringing it back to him), and even do comedy bits! He could also sound like anyone he wanted to - check out some of his early sides like "Charlie Brown Got Expelled" or "You Little Baby Face Thing" (both on Ace, in which he sounds EXACTLY like The Coasters and Little Richard, respectively). After ten years in the business, Joe finally had his first hit in 1964 with "Hold What You've Got". After that, to paraphrase Bill Drake, the hits just kept on comin', with great tunes like "Show Me", "I Want To (Do Everything For You)", "Skinny Legs And All", "Buying A Book" and his biggest seller, "I Gotcha".

This record, recorded in 1962, was one side of one of the BADDEST records Joe ever released. The A-side of this 45, "You Keep Her", was written by Joe about his feud with James Brown - basically, James had a fling with Joe Tex's wife, Bea Ford, when they were touring together. After James had gotten what he wanted from Bea, he told Joe HE COULD HAVE HIS WIFE BACK! Joe wrote "You Keep Her" in response - not only did Joe steal the "Lost Someone" horn riff, he even calls James out (first name only) on the record! The hostility didn't end there, though - sometime in 1964 Tex and Brown were on the bill together at a show (some sources say New York City, others say JB's hometown of Macon, Georgia). Tex opened the show (he hadn't had his first big hit yet) and came out wearing a ratty blanket screaming, "please, please, please - somebody get this cape off me!!!" The audience went into convulsions, and James was so incensed by Joe's imitation that he went looking for him after the show - with a gun. James found him in another nightclub, and squeezed off six shots - reportedly, Tex was so cool he just sat there and COUNTED the shots out loud in James' face - not only that, after James emptied his gun, Joe said, "Jimmy, those high heels you wear make you shoot too high!!"

The story behind "You Keep Her" is pretty wild, but the song itself isn't all that hot. However, this B-side, "Don't Play", is one of the best tracks Joe ever did. Over a KILLER backbeat, Joe sings about all the ways he "don't play" - culminating with the line "When I was a baby, I wanna tell you/that I wasn't like the other boys/I hated playin' so doggone much/I told my daddy not to buy me no toys!" Of course, Joe ends the song by doing a letter-perfect James Brown scream and the band does a JB-style cold-end flourish.

Joe Tex, after an amazing career, retired in 1972 - though he did make several "comebacks", most notably with his 1977 hit "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)" - and passed away at the relatively young age of 49 on August 13, 1982, at his home in Navasota, Texas.

If you've never heard Joe Tex, go find a used record store (they're drying up quickly, so go NOW) and pick up some of Joe's singles on Dial. You can still get 'em cheap, but the music contained within is anything but - after listening to a few of them, you'll really know the true meaning of soul. No, not Beyonce or Christina Aguilera doing Aretha-styled melismatic runs in the upper stratosphere, not today's male R&B smoothies who sound like they REALLY need to take an Ex-Lax and be done with it. Nope. It's about a singer, telling you about where he's been and what he's seen. Giving you the message as straightforward as possible. No smoke, no mirrors, just truth. None were more truthful than Joe Tex.

Joe Tex - Don't Play (Checker 1055) - 1963

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