The love you save

When I wrote about Solomon Burke yesterday, little did I know that today was the birthday of his great peer Joe Tex (Joseph Arrington, Jr.). As Peter Guralnick writes in reference to the golden era of soul in which Burke and Tex both thrived, “Probably closest in temperament and personality to Solomon at this time was Joe Tex.” Guralnick has in mind the sheer joy that jumps out of the grooves that memorialized their performances. Guralnick then distinguishes the two:

Tex seemed to see show business more as an opportunity for self- betterment than as his natural element. It was a departure not so much from the confines of his hometown of Navasota, Texas — where he continued to live until his death in 1982 — as from a world in which a black man’s social horizons were strictly limited, sharecropping was a way of life, and his own cleverness would most likely have gotten him no more than a good-paying job as an automobile mechanic. To Joe Tex show business was a way “not to become famous but to build my mother and my grandmother a house.”

Tex scuffled around the country for years performing at venues including the Regal in Chicago and the Apollo in Harlem without ever quite making it until his childhood sweetheart married another man. Tex incorporated a talking riff about losing his love into a song that became his first hit and the template for a raft to follow, including “Hold What You’ve Got,” “Skinny Legs and All,” “Show Me,” “I’ve Got to Do a Little Bit Better,” and “The Love You Save (May Be Your Own).”
Turn to Guralnick for a wonderful account of the improbable path that led Tex to his partnership with Buddy Killlen and his ultimate success with “Hold What You’ve Got.” For my purposes however, let me emphasize the infectious joy of the singing, and the timeless message of those songs with the gospel chord changes and the talking breaks. Here’s a bit of “The Love You Save (May Be Your Own)”:

People, I’ve been misled
and I’ve been afraid
I’ve been hit in the head
and left for dead
I’ve abused
and I’ve been accused
been refused a piece of bread
But I ain’t never
in my life before
seen so many love affairs
go wrong as I do today
I want you to STOP
and find out what’s wrong
get it right
or just leave love alone
Because the love you save today
maybe will-l-l-l be your own.

As I say, timeless, with a message that cries out to be heard now more than ever.
In 1968 Tex secretly became a Black Muslim, taking the name Joseph Hazziez, and soon quit performing, albeit with a brief comeback in 1975. Guralnick caught up with him toward the end of his life:

“I got over my little — what would you call it? — bright light thing very early. Because I didn’t come in the business, as I told you, to become famous. I just wanted to generate some money for my people…Material things have never been what I was looking for. It was family, and learning more about God and creation.”

And that’s exactly what you can hear in the grooves. (Thanks to KFAI Radio’s Pete Lee and Bop Street for the reminder today.)


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