In 1964 things were looking pretty grim for JT's recording career. Dial didn't have very good distribution in the early 60s, and Joe's records just were not clicking. Accounts vary as to who was ready to ditch who - Joe either wanted out of his contract or Dial was ready to the guy who the label was started for in the first place. But Dial managed to get a distribution deal with R&B/soul powerhouse Atlantic - so decent distribution was no longer an excuse and it was all down to Joe.
In one of those stories that belongs in every rock 'n' soul legend's eventual biopic, it all came down to one last recording session, and the big song JT was cutting was "Fresh Out of Tears", another uptempo R&B number.
But things weren't clicking and after hours of recording, Buddy Killen suggested they try something different - a ballad Joe had brought in that could be arranged with a country beat, an overdubbed harmony vocal, and maybe just a hint of "Holy Holy Holy" in the melody to fool buyers in the Christmas spirit. Joe was too hoarse from hollering and hitting high notes on "Fresh Out of Tears" for seven hours, so he had to talk his way through the middle part. The resultant single, possibly cobbled together from several takes, was a #1 R&B/#5 pop smash. True to the script, Joe had pulled it out in the 11th hour.
Here's a rare live version of "Hold What You've Got" (and what the heck, a version of its follow-up, "You Got What It Takes") from the Murray the K Presents LP on the Brook-Lyn label. (Note: not, as noted in the Roctober Joe Tex guide, the Live from the Brooklyn Fox LP.) Right up there with his old rival's Live at the Apollo for audience interaction!
Special thanks to Joe at BlackGoldVinyl for the rips - I stupidly purged this LP years ago
After almost 10 years of slogging through the R&B record industry looking for a hit, once JT managed to find his big one, it was off to the races. Now that Killen and Tex knew how to best use his talent, they mined gem after gem, with Joe's songwriting growing by leaps and bounds. Hold What You've Got has four solid hits (including the mind boggling "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show") and they didn't stop coming. No wonder Joe looks like he's turning into the Hulk on the cover of HWYG!
For the rest of the 60s Tex and Killen would release single after single and album after album of memorable, funny, down home, soulful material that was set apart by JT's sincerity, enthusiasm, his goofy willingness to try anything, and the shameless good humor to get away with it.