Thursday, February 16, 2012
“You wanna know my secret for getting a cross-over hit? I used the same formula every time – half soul musicians, half country.” - Joe Tex
Once Joe Tex and Buddy Killen started collaborating, country music became an essential part of JT's sound. Killen was an ex-bass player at the Grand Ole Opry, and was also a Nashville song publisher with vested interest in Tree Publishing. Under Killen's influence, some of the country elements present in Tex's early music were brought front and center. Most of his LPs included a straight(ish) country number or two, and countrified arranging techniques added surprising elements to hits like "I've Got to Do a Little Bit Better Than I've Been Doing".
The 1968 Country Soul LP is all country songs, and with the exception of "If I Ever Do You Wrong" they're all covers. I suspect that part of the reason for the song selection on this LP, and part of the reason for some of the cover choices on other LPs ("Heartbreak Hotel", for instance) is because Tree Publishing owned the rights to the songs, so Killen got some bread coming and going.
But the results are a pretty good LP - maybe some of the cover choices could have been better suited to Joe's natural abilities, but it was still one of the first full-length country LPs by a soul artist. And while folks like Ray Charles, Arthur Alexander and Solomon Burke were working similar veins, Joe's approach as always made the best of the songs uniquely Tex. Many of the notable numbers got posted in the "Joe Tex Show" post of February 15, so you should just go watch them there.
But there are a couple of other real winners on the record that deserve extra attention. His version of "Time Slips Away" is pretty hilarious - underneath the ordinary lyric of the Nelson standard, a second JT mumbles unspoken words of resentment. It's like Joe's dueting with his own subconscious.
But the track I love most is his chitlin' circuit version of "Ode to Billy Joe". I don't know whose idea recording the Bobbie Gentry megahit was, but the results are inspired. The funky soul arrangement drives the song from a lazy lope to a solid mid-tempo dance number, and Joe makes a number of lyrical modifications to personalize it. These make the song even weirder than it already was.