The World of Joe Tex

Singer, dancer, writer, preacher, rapper, comic and all around original...

1978-82   How do you spell relief?


Joe toured extensively on the back of the success of Ain't gonna bump including his second visit to England in June 1978. English critics once gain noticed his resplendent dancers (supplied by the Mama Lou Parks dancing school in New York). The act climaxed with his ever popular impressions including Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis.

Sadly Ain't gonna bump proved to be a one shot boost  not a career resurrection, despite Buddy and Joe’s best efforts to keep up with the times. The follow up single, Hungry for your love only made No.84 R&B and many further releases failed to chart at all.


Joe’s next album Rub down continued in the vein of Bumps and Bruises. While it was immersed in the disco style of the time it was all Tex in its wit, imagination and vivacity. You might be digging the garden (but somebody’s picking your plums) was ploughing the same ground lyrically as Buying a book. The ever present Leroy (Leroy Hadley was back in the band now) got a whole song to himself; Get back Leroy. Joe, realising that some of his old women’s role sermons were sounding a bit dated gets wholeheartedly behind women’s lib on Congratulations (Where you been girls). The album included a striking slow jam version of I gotcha. There was even a fine old-style ballad with a moral, Be kind to old people.


Rub down’s wealth of strong tracks but no hits left Joe struggling again.  Clear that the album was sinking without trace, Joe expressed his dissatisfaction to Blues and Soul magazine.   "Look, two singles have bombed and there is no album without a single to sell it. People don't take the time to get into an album if there isn't a track on there that they are familiar with. No, this album is lost and some good material has been lost, too.”


Joe was unhappy with the sleeve design and felt the company had chosen the wrong tracks as singles. He knew which songs went down best in live shows and felt Epic had not taken account of this in their choices. 



The deal with Epic only lasted two albums. Joe’s final LP He who is without funk cast the first stone was issued on Dial, now on a distribution deal with TK records. Every Tex album has its share of entertaining moments and this was no exception. Taking note of the quirkiness and humour of George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic troupe some tracks edged from disco into Clinton style funk.  It was good to hear Joe in full comic flow (and Old Testament Prophet voice) preaching non-violence in the title track. A recut of Hold what you’ve got was less successful artistically. 



The album produced Joe’s final chart entry, Loose caboose (No.48, R&B) which contained a typical Joe shout out to his peers (Hank Ballard, Chubby Checker, Rufus Thomas and Joey Dee get honorary mentions). However for all Joe’s imagination and exuberance he simply was not being accepted by contemporary audiences as more than a one hit wonder.


Buddy Killen finally closed the Dial label in 1979. A handful of 12” singles followed on other labels  from 1979 to 1981 and despite massively engaging tracks like Discomonia (disco had given Joe fallen arches, backache, ruined the hearing in his left ear and his right one was going fast!) there were no hits.


Without hit singles to promote, Joe was spending more time on his Navasota Texas ranch with Bilaliah and their child, Ramadan. Joe was an avid supporter of the Houston  Oilers football team. In 1981 he released  Here Come Number 34 (Do the Earl Campbell)  in honour of his friend the Oilers star running back.


In a March 1981 interview he appeared critical of his own career choices. "I should have taken chances back then. Been like Stevie Wonder, who wasn't afraid to try anything musically. He's always growing. Always progressing... My problem was I was always staying the same."  He put much of the blame on Buddy Killen. "He believed in imitating success. That is, if you had a hit record you should follow it with one exactly like it. The sad thing...I listened to him."



Joe’s last high profile public appearance was at the Soul Clan reunion show in new York in July 1981. With Wilson Pickett back in the fold (replacing Arthur Conley who was now based in Europe) the event attracted much media attention. However the under-rehearsed show bordered on the disastrous as the fiercely competitive stars attempted to outdo one another on and offstage. Interviewed at the time Joe expressed reservations about the whole project. He told writer Gerri Hirshey “We are five very different men…we have been having to make it on our own so long it’s hard to get in step….a soul man is that, singular”.  By then rap had replaced disco as the hot new trend and Joe saw an affinity with the  young rappers. However he reflected that the new style was very much city orientated compared to his own country inflected sermons.



Talking to Gerri he described himself as “a satisfied soul man” and, although excited at the prospect of a new LP, explained how he insured that he was around for Houston Oilers games and had plenty of time on his ranch with his family. “No reason to run, run, run” he said.


In contrast, Buddy Killen described this period of Joe’s life as one of excess. After a life relatively clear of drink and drugs, in his last four years he staged “a marathon of self-abuse. It was as if he was trying to make up for lost time.” Buddy described how Joe appeared at sessions in his last years looking gaunt and unwell and appeared to have lost the will to live. Bilaliah stated that Joe was seriously ill and much of his changed behaviour was due to the pain from his health problems.  


In August 1982 Joe was found at the bottom of his swimming pool, though it was not known whether this was a drug inspired accident or suicide attempt. His lungs were pumped at the hospital and he was sent home. A few days later he suffered a heart attack from which he never recovered and died on Thursday 12th August in Grimes Memorial Hospital. He had just turned 47. Due to confusion over his birth date many newspapers reported his age as 49.


Buddy Killen says Joe’s self-indulgence in his final years and general loose attitude to money left him “owing the federal government, numerous women, relatives, me and various hangers-on a total of hundreds of thousands of dollars.” He said “Joe just wasn’t a businessman”. Buddy’s view was that it all became too much; “Joe had been experiencing depression due to all of his financial woes, failing health and declining career.” In Buddy Killen's autobiography he claimed on the day of Joe's funeral the mortician refused to bury Tex until someone produced $5000. In fact Buddy had paid the expenses two days before the funeral.


The pall-bearers at his funeral included Don Covay, Wilson Pickett, and Ben E. King from the Soul Clan as well as Percy Mayfield and Buddy Killen. Later in the year Solomon Burke conducted an ecumenical service in Navasota for Joe’s family.




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