Saturday, December 4, 2010
Hold What You've Got, Joe Tex (1965)
However, since the oddsmakers aren't betting on Tex to be one of the nominees getting the right number of votes again this year, allow me to discuss the Joe Tex legacy. In addition to being a talented singer-songwriter, he was one of the music scene's great characters. In every performance, he testified, he gave relationship advice, he commiserated with the lovelorn, he really had a point of view and a pervasive sense of humor.
One of the earliest practitioners of speaking over the music, Tex termed his style "rap." He had an album called From the Roots Came the Rapper. Not surprisingly, his music today is sampled by rap artists galore; examples abound at the fascinating site Who Sampled: Discussing and exploring the DNA of music. (For example, see how ODB and Killah Priest, in Snakes, sampled one of my favorite Tex songs, I'll Never Do You Wrong.)
I was going to highlight that song for this post, actually, but Tex's first hit, Hold What You've Got, distills the essence what was distinctive about the southern soul man. How that raspy voice coexisted in the same song with the one that could shatter glass is anyone's guess. And what stage presence. Still gives me goosebumps, and we're lucky to be able to see that Shindig! performance so many years later.
Tex's lyrics were perfect for the genre and his phrasing. How can you not smile at lyrics such as in, I'll Never Do You Wrong, "I hope I slip and break my hip/I hope a fever blister come on my lip/You know I love my hip and I love my lip baby/So you know I'll never do you wrong." (Tex's sense of humor saved him even after James Brown took up with his wife - then tried to give her back! Witness 1963's You Keep Her, which was a direct message to Brown. You've gotta give him credit for that one ... it's awesome.)
What a career he had. In high school he entered a talent contest in a Houston club and won a prize. Not just any prize, either - it was a trip to Harlem for a week in 1954 and the opportunity to compete in an amateur contest at the Apollo. The recognition he got there led to his first recording contract.
Although he cut dozens of records for various labels for years after that and wrote songs for others (example: James Brown's Baby You're Right - before he ran off with Tex's wife), it wasn't until he ended up in Nashville that he found a true champion. There, producer Buddy Killen started up his own Dial record label just for Tex. More years went by, still no success, but a fortuitous decision to head to Alabama and do some recording at Muscle Shoals was the turning point.
That's where the harmonic convergence of FAME Studios and Jerry Wexler's Atlantic Records broke the cycle of futility. By that point Wexler was distributing Dial, and he believed there was a hit in there somewhere. He was right - Hold What You've Got hit the big time on both the pop and R&B charts.
With the exception of a five-year hiatus where he dropped out of the music industry to become a minister in the Islam faith, Tex continued to record and perform until the end of his life, which was too short - his heart failed at 49 just before he was to do a run in Las Vegas. I admit, in my heart, I will be rooting for his induction into the Hall. What a charmer he was.