Joe Tex Sings “Skinny Legs and All”

joe-tex-live-and-livelyListen to this track from soul-singing huckster Joe Tex. It’s “Skinny Legs and All”, with this particular version of the song on the album Live and Lively from 1967.

Some soul singers were smooth talking love men like Sam Cooke, while others were wilder like Wilson Pickett.  All of them, however, owed the church a tremendous debt in terms of showmanship, providing them with a template as to how to relate to an audience in terms of presentation.  None is more indebted then Joe Tex, who is the testifyin’ preacher on this track.  Notice how this song directly engages the audience, how there is a call-an-response musically, but also between the performers and the crowd.

And what is this other than a sermon about how treasuring someone despite their shortcomings? And perhaps too it unveils something of how cultural expectations are not nearly as big as the shot of love when it strikes.  Of course with that you get that joyous and rough-shod Southern soul sound, with the stabbing horns, the feral rhythm guitar, and of course Tex’s own sandpaper-tenor voice lifting the whole thing to the stars.

Joe Tex would run with the giants of soul, yet never reach the same career highs, possibly because his style was so deeply entrenched in the gospel traditions and all of the idiosyncrasies that go along with them.  Tex would ‘preach’ and clown around in equal measure on many of his 60s cuts.  And by the 70s he would branch out into funk, and eventually to disco with a novelty hit ‘Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)’ which may have undercut his mark as a serious artist.

Unfortunately, he died young at the age of 49 in 1982.  But what he was able to do during a relatively short career was to take the heart of soul music and have some fun with his audience at the same time.  While perhaps not an innovator, he was certainly a consummate entertainer, the clown prince of soul music.


Rufus Thomas Sings “Walkin’ the Dog”

walkingthedogcoverListen to this song by gravelly-voiced soul patriarch Rufus Thomas.  It’s ‘Walkin’ the Dog’, his signature hit from 1964 that became an R&B smash, as well as a popular number among mods and R&B revivalists from the 60s until today.

Rufus Thomas was a giant on the Memphis R&B scene, a stalwart figure along the Beale Street strip from the 1940s.  Although he was no musical pioneer, what he did do was to embody the regional scene, and providing a reference point for the type of sound that evolved out of Memphis.   And by the mid-60s, he was middle-aged, yet with his biggest hit in front of him.

I just love this little tune; unassuming, kind of silly as in a nonsense rhyme we heard as children, yet imminently funky.  Listen to that loping guitar!  Listen to that growling baritone sax!  And Thomas’ fun-loving vocal just exudes charm.  This song is the perfect example of why Stax soul music was so popular, and in many ways it was one of the tracks that established its popularity.  This is soul music with the grit of electric blues and the sweltering Sunday morning gospel tradition left in.

Rufus would later explore a purer funk sound by the next decade, heavily sampled by hip-hop artists.  And of course, there’s his daughter Carla Thomas, who had a pretty stunning career of her own.

For more information about Rufus Thomas, check out Rufus Thomas on All Music.


William Bell Sings “I Forgot to Be Your Lover”

Here’s a clip of under-exposed soul man William Bell with his 1968 single “I Forgot To Be Your Lover”,which can be found on the recent Stax compilation album The Very Best of William Bell.

William Bell was born William Yarborough in 1939, initially serving time as a backing vocalist for other artists including Rufus Thomas.  He joined Stax as a staff writer, before recording his signature hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in 1961.
William Bell was born William Yarborough in 1939, initially serving time as a backing vocalist for other artists including Rufus Thomas. He joined Stax as a staff writer, before recording his signature hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in 1961, a version of which appears on his 1967 debut album, Soul of a Bell.

This tune packs a punch; a song of regret as expressed by a man who finds himself the victim of his own mistaken priorities.  His work has taken him away from focusing on the one he loves.  Will she forgive him, or is it too late?  In this song, we don’t get to find out.  We only hear the anguish of a man who knows he’s messed up, and that he has come to this realization, perhaps, too late.

This is a love song with a big helping of desperation, which really hits me whenever I hear it.  I’ve had my own troubles with losing sight of love, and what is important.  In this, I kind of find this tune reassuring; that I’m not the only one.

William Bell never gained the stature of an Otis Redding, or a Wilson Pickett. Yet the foundations of a great soul singer are evident in his passionate vocals that bring out the best in his material, putting the song first before any self-indulgent acrobatics by which so many soul singers are often known.

His work while with the Stax label helped to define the sound of southern soul music, and the sounds associated with Stax in particular.  His first album Soul of a Bell remains to be an undiscovered gem by many soul fans.

Bell was a songwriter previous to his role as a performer. His first hit was 1961’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, the self-penned song which remains to be the one for which he is best known.  He is also responsible for co-penning Albert King’s hit for Stax, “Born Under a Bad Sign” with Booker T. Jones, a song  which Bell himself recorded. The song is now considered to be a blues standard.

The tune was also covered by Cream in 1968 on the Wheels of Fire LP, proving that his material was open to interpretation as well as cross-over appeal.  Indeed, “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” was sampled by the hip-hop artist The Alchemist, featured in the track “Worst Comes to Worst” by Dialated Peoples.

William Bell continues to be a steady performer today, gaining a W.C Handy Heritage award in 2003, and having put out his most recent album in 2006, A New Lease on Life.