The World of Joe Tex

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

Build up to the breakthrough

1961 was notable for several key elements in the developing Joe Tex story.  As well as James Brown’s hit with Baby you’re right, Joe cut a one off single in Philadelphia with members of the James Brown band. The single came out on the New York Jalynne label. Once again no hits were produced but the country influenced, yarn spinning Wicked Woman provides the closest example yet of the distinctive Tex style that was to make him famous.  Guitarist Lee Royal (Leroy) Hadley and drummer/bandleader Clyde Williams joined Joe’s band in 1961 and would stay throughout Joe’s hit making heyday.


Joe's stage reputation led to bookings further afield but not without difficulties. In February 1961 Jet magazine reported that Joe was one of a group of performers left stranded without funds in Nassau in the Bahamas when the nightclub promoter disappeared. Such experiences  may explain Joe's wary attitude to promoters and foreign travel - in his heyday he cancelled several overseas tours at short notice.


Now without a label, Joe said that while playing a club in Nashville, Robert Riley songwriter for the Prisonaires recommended he went to see Buddy Killen at Tree Publishing.  Robert worked for Tree and tipped off Buddy Killen’s assistant Jerry Crutchfield that there was a great new talent in town that Buddy should see.  The story goes that Buddy was summoned back to Nashville from his honeymoon in Daytona Florida;  he found the singer dressed in a striking cowboy outfit and said he’d “never seen a greater entertainer – bar none”.



Buddy’s background was country music, he played bass at the Grand Ole Opry in the early 1950’s.  He started working for Tree Publishing (recording demos and promoting songs) and by 1957 was Vice President of the company. The company owned rights to song such as Heartbreak Hotel and grew into the major league music publisher Tree International. Later Buddy bought the company outright which he eventually sold for around $30 million.










Buddy initially wanted to sign Joe as a songwriter and arrange a major label recording deal. No big labels were interested. However, convinced of Joe’s star quality and keen to expand his horizons into rhythm and blues, Buddy founded his own label, Dial Records, specifically to record Joe. As producer, label manager and occasional co-writer Buddy would become Joe’s single most important collaborator.


An unlikely pairing, Joe and Buddy ‘got along like brothers’ although they had their share of sibling like fights along the way.  However the partnership continued right to the end of Joe’s life when it was Buddy who paid for Joe’s funeral.




Joe had landed in the right place but the real buzz was still a few years in coming.  Joe’s early Dial singles were no less diverse than his previous recordings. The accomplished mimic used his full range of skills to sample the styles of the moment. There were gospel based ballads like Meet me in Church (later recorded by Solomon Burke) and The only girl (I ever loved).  Also dance cuts like The Peck (a la Chubby Checker) and a Rufus Thomas inspired Looking for my pig. Joe’s humour came through in novelties like Popeye Johnny and the wonderfully titled Hand shakin’ love makin’ girl talkin’ son of a gun from next door.   


Some singles were minor hits on regional charts but the big breakthrough remained out of sight.  While early Dial singles used Nashville session players Joe pushed for his road musicians to be used on recording dates. As well as Leroy and Clyde these included long-term band members like J.Alfred Cook (bass) and saxophonist/arranger Eddie Williams. Some tracks featured the big band brass sound of Bobby Bland, such as 1962’s I wanna be free, later recorded by a number of rock acts.


 Establishing a consistent, if not financially rewarding, relationship with Dial did not prevent Joe moonlighting with other labels.  Down in Louisiana Joe recorded an ultra rare single for Sam Montel’s Michelle label; the  Impressions style (with a little If  I had a hammer folk revival thrown in)  I’ve got a song. Always the chameleon, the B side Next time she's mine was Joe's take on a dramatic, uptown I who have nothing style ballad.









 In New Orleans sessions with his own band in 1963/64  Joe recorded two singles for Chess subsidiary Checker. These included the ferocious, tough guy tale, Don’t play (as a baby Joe told his daddy not to buy him toys!) and the remarkable You keep her addressed to Mr Please Please himself, James Brown.







By 1963 Joe and James already had a history. James was widely suspected of stealing Joe’s stage moves and had hit with Joe’s Baby you’re right.  The word was James had stolen Joe’s first wife Bea Ford (who sang on JB’s 1960 hit You’ve got the power) and was offering her back. On You keep her Joe claims he’s happy without Bea (he had married Johnny Mae Williams by this point) but reminds them both he taught her all she knew!


The feud hit fever pitch at a homecoming show for James in Macon, Georgia when Joe was a supporting act.  Joe parodied James’ cape routine (wearing a raggedy blanket and screaming ‘Please please please… get me out of this cape!’) to a great response from the audience. This did not sit well with Mr Dynamite and he reportedly shot at Joe in a night club after the show. Joe made a speedy exit but several bystanders were injured. For further details of this now legendary story click here.




Although not yet a recording star, in 1964 Joe was making enough money from stage shows to own a new cadillac with a television! Unfortunately he was not rich enough to afford a chauffeur and became the second man in America known to have been charged with watching TV while driving.



















Joe’s lack of success with Dial seemed to be leading to another parting of the ways. Early in 1964 recorded another two part single with extended sung/spoken rap, I had a good home but I left; still not a hit but stylistically one more step to the Joe Tex Sound.


In late 1964 Buddy Killen, dissatisfied with running his own distribution, signed a deal for Dial Records to be distributed by soul giant Atlantic. Joe was looking to leave but Buddy persuaded him to undertake one more session, this time in Buddy’s home town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. On 6th November 1964, using Rick Hall’s Fame studios they recorded a Bobby Bland Turn on your Lovelight style stomper, Fresh out of tears.  The song reportedly took seven hours to lay down but there was time at the end of the session to try a new song Joe had half completed


Hold what you’ve got was inspired by Joe’s thoughts of quitting the music business and leaving Baton Rouge to find childhood sweetheart, Jean in Texas. However Joe resolved to stick with Johnny Mae who was pregnant at the time.  With the festive season approaching and wanting a seasonal flavour the opening notes of the new song were inspired by ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty’.


Buddy overdubbed country style arpeggio on guitar and piano and double tracked Joe’s voice in a rough harmony.  Joe claims the talking part came from his voice being hoarse from singing although by this point he was no stranger to rapping on record. Joe completed the song in the studio improvising new raps on each take. Apparently Joe hated the song and made Buddy promise not to release it. However, Buddy spliced different takes together and Hold what you've got became the A side of the first Dial Record to be distributed by Atlantic (Dial 4001).


Joe was shocked when he first heard on the song on the radio but was pacified when Buddy told him it had already sold 200,000 copies. Joe’s first son, Joseph Arrington 3rd, was born in December 1964 the same month the song took off across the country, eventually reaching No.1 (R&B) and No.5 (Pop). After ten years of trying and thirty singles into his career Joe was on his way. There was no monkey going to stop this show.

 Back to The Early Years                                                     On to 1965