Jumping The Blues : Joe Houston©2008JCMarion


Tenor sax master Joe Houston was born in 1926 near the city of Austin, Texas. As a young man he was fond of the trumpet until he had a chance to play the saxophone. He had a chance to see some of the touring territory bands of the day in the early forties and they had made a great impression on the teenaged Texan. By the late nineteen forties he had gravitated into the R & B scene and soon had the chance to play with some of the well known practitioners of the style such as Amos Milburn, Lloyd Glenn, and Joe Turner. It was with Big Joe "The Boss of the Blues" that the young Houston made his first series of one nighters on the road. In 1950 he had his first shot at recording for Saul Kahl's Freedom label based in Houston, Texas. The tunes "Jumpin The Blues" and "Your Little Girl Is Gone" was released on Freedom # 1535, listed as by Joe Houston & His Trio. He soon formed his own little band which he named The Rockets and played a number of gigs throughout the Southwest and eventually in Southern California. His other record for the Freedom label was "Waycross Mama" and "It's Really The Wee Wee Hours" recorded with his early band that included Emery Thompson on trumpet, A. "Dimes" DuPont on alto sax, Marian McKinley on piano, Goree Carter on guitar, Robert Gray on bass, Robert Byrd on drums, and Julius Stewart on vocals.

In Los Angeles he hooked up with a number of labels including Combo Records where he recorded a number of tunes. "Forest Fire" / "East Side" on Combo # 6, "Cross The Tracks" / "The Nipper" on #8, "Chill" / "Lucky 30" on # 16, "Lightning" / "Drunk" on # 18, and "Vino" / "MM" on # 19 were all recorded during 1951. Then with Modern Records he had his first success with "Blow Joe, Blow" on # 830 which was a local seller in L.A. In November of 1951 Mercury Records released "Worry Worry" / "Hard Time Baby Blues"on # 8248. "Worry" becomes a good seller in New Orleans and Houston, Texas. At year's end Joe records again for the Modern label with "Houston's Hot House" and "Have A Ball" on # 850. In early 1952 his new band consisted of Boogie Daniels on tenor sax, Melvin Glass on guitar, Sherman Booker on piano, Reginald Jones on bass, and Robert Lee on drums. Often the group would be augmented by Bo Rhambo on tenor sax and possibly, Barney Kessel on guitar. In April of 1952 Joe Houston signs with Imperial Records in Los Angeles. In May "Ace Of Clubs" (a nod to his early club success in Baton Rouge, La.) and "Jump The Blues" are released on Imperial # 5183. This was followed by "Hurricane" and "Bobby Sox Ramble" on # 5196. Joe appears at Gene Norman's third annual Blues Jubilee at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium in July. By August "Hurricane" is a favorite in Los Angeles on the R & B charts. With that success Modern Records gets one off the shelf by Joe Houston with the songs "Boogie Woogie Woman" and "Dig It" on Modern # 879. At the end of 1952 "Earthquake" (with "Trouble Trouble Trouble" on the flip side) is a good seller on the Los Angeles charts.

Into the year 1953 finds Combo re-releasing "Forest Fire" and "East Side" on # 45. In May of 1953 Joe Houston is now on the Recorded In Hollywood label with "Corn Bread And Cabbage" and "Jay's Boogie" on # 423. At this same time Bayou Records also announces a Joe Houston recording session for that label. They release three Joe Houston sides during the year - "Moody" / "Saber Jet" on Bayou # 004, "Pigtails" / "Chitlins" on # 012, and "Landslide" and "Scramble" on # 017. In November of the year, Modern Records is still at it, releasing the pair of tunes called "Blowin Crazy" and Goin Crazy" on # 917. The Imperial label gets into the act with "Atom Bomb" and "Windy City Hop" on # 5213. By the end of the year Joe Houston is back in the Modern Records fold, so to speak. He signs on with their new label called Crown Records. Joe and his blasting sax stylings continue to be a good draw in Southern California at such venues as the Burbank Armory and the Odd Fellows Hall in the greater L.A. area.

Joe Houston starts off the year 1954 with a series of club dates with singer Mabel Scott in the L.A. area. He follows that up with some dates with vocalist Christine Kittrell at the 5-4 Ballroom. In March Houston appears in person to help out another sax great in a benefit concert for the wife of Stan Getz at the 5-4 Ballroom. That month Joe and his combo appear on the Spike Jones television show (what a duo !). In late March at the Embassy Ballroom, a tenor sax summit is held featuring Joe Houston and Big Jay McNeely. There is another record for the Combo label out in 1954 - "Ninya" / "Drag Race" on # 54. In May Houston plays the Rainbow Ballroom in Denver to a sold out house, then leaves for an extended tour through the Southwest and Pacific Coast. The Lucky Records label also has a Joe Houston side - the intriguely named songs "Go Joe Go" and "Joe Go Go" are out on Lucky # 004. In October Joe Houston records for John Dolphin's Money label with "All Night Long" and "Way Out" on # 203. By the next month "All Night Long" is a big seller on the West Coast and Houston tours through Colorado and New Mexico in support of his latest record. By December the record is listed in Billboard as a territorial best seller, topping all instrumentals in the West.

In January of 1955 the Bihari Brothers, heads of Modern and RPM labels, once again sign Joe Houston to their label. The first result is "Celebrity Club Stomp" and "Sentimental Journey" on # 422. In late January, Irving Granz holds the "Rock And Roll Jamboree" at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. Along with Houston the bill includes Richard Berry & The Dreamers, Dominos, Medallions, Jewels, Shirley Gunter & The Queens, Marvin & Johnny, T-Bone Walker, and others. Hunter Hancock, Dick Hugg and Charles Trammell are the deejay emcees for the show. Joe records "Shtiggy Boom" and "Joe's Gone" for RPM on # 426. In May the Joe Houston Combo team up with The Jewels, Marvin & Johnny, and Jesse Belvin for an extended engagement at the 5-4 Ballroom and also at the Torrance Civic Auditorium. They follow that up with an appearance at Legion Stadium in El Monte. That month also, RPM releases "Candy Rock" and "Riverside Rock" on RPM # 427. In June Joe Houston appears in San Diego's Trianon Ballroom with Marvin & Johnny, Jesse Belvin, and The Meadowlarks. In October John Dolphin's Cash Records label issues "Flying Home" and "Walking Home" on # 1013. Combo Records releases its first LP album simply titled "Joe Houston" on LP # 100. In November Joe Houston is booked for a big R & B show at L.A.'s Paramount Theater. Also on the bill is fellow sax man Big Jay McNeely. Dinah Washington headlined the show with The Platters, Penguins, Colts, and Medallions. Money Records releases "Tough Enough" and "Guided Missiles" on # 207 (the sides are also released on Imperial # 5334.)

In May of 1956 Modern Records releases their first LP album. It is entitled "Joe Houston Blows All Night Long" on LP # 1206 (it will also be issued on Crown LP # 5006). Cash Records issues "Troubles And Worries" and "Rockin And Boppin" on # 1018. During the summer Houston and his band play some shows with The Robins in Hermosa Beach and then on to Lake Tahoe. Budget record label Tops issues an LP called "Rock & Roll With The Rockets" on # 1518. Combo Records returns with "Baby" and "Rock The Boogie" on # 115. In August Buck Ram lines up Houston, along with Dolly Cooper, The Flairs with Shirley Gunter, The Platters, and Young Jessie to play dates in Toronto Canada, and the Northeastern U.S., including Buffalo and Syracuse, New York. Some Joe Houston tunes appear on a new Modern LP album called "Hollywood Rock & Roll Record Hop". In January of 1957 Houston joins Riff Ruffin, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and Chuck Higgins, in an all star band along with The Five Keys and The Penguins at The Rendezvous in L.A. for KPOP dj Earl McDaniel's big R & B show. Combo releases "Chicano Hop" and "Bean Hop" on # 130 followed by Guitar Slim's classic "The Things I Used To Do" and "We're Gonna Rock And Roll" on # 136. In August, Joe records "Rockin At The Drive-In" and Joe's Hot House" on Combo # 139. In October Joe Houston and his band play another all star show for Art Laboe (KPOP) in Long Beach with Marvin & Johnny, The Penguins, Don & Dewey, Sam Cooke, and Big Jay McNeely. Late in the year Combo releases a LP album by Joe Houston called "Rockin At The Drive In" with a cover photo of Scrivner's Drive In, scene of live broadcasts by KPOP dj Art Laboe (who is pictured on the cover with Joe at Scrivner's).

It is 1958 and Joe Houston is still the master blaster of the tenor sax. "Get With It" and "Homeboy" are released by Combo on # 147. He plays a number of gigs in the Southwest and then signs up with Dootsie Williams for his renamed Dooto label. In the summer "Shindig" and "Cucuracha Rock" are issued on Dooto # 439. The following year Combo still has some sides to release, so the tunes "Curfew" and "Cha Cha Cha All Night Long" are out on Combo # 155. Shortly thereafter, the label releases "The Hully" and "Kokomo" on # 157. The driving R&B instrumentals that are Houston's stock oin trade, so to speak, are now out of favor in the dawn of the new decade. The nineteen sixties will see profound changes in the musical forces that dominate the pop culture. However, Joe Houston leaves with one more blast to the new decade - "Steppin Out" and "Hush Your Mouth" on Combo # 164, and a re-release of one of Joe's very early sides - "Drunk" and "Lightening" on # 185 are his sendoff. LP albums during the early nineteen sixties are released by Crown Records including "Wild Man Of The Tenor Sax" on LP # 5203, "Doing The Twist" on # 5246, "Twistin In Orbit" on # 5252, "Surf Rocking" on # 5313, and "Limbo" on # 5319 in 1963. Joe Houston went on and continued his tenor sax stylings for many years after his R & B time. He remains one of the most popular and talented practitioners of the instrument that formed the basic sound of the rock revolution in the fifties.

Joe Houston cds are available for listeners to experience this American original. The best is probably "Rockin At The Drive-In" from Ace (UK) in 2004 with the original LP cover and 24 tracks (double the original LP). Then there is "Blows Crazy" also from Ace (UK) in 2004 with 24 tracks. Both will cover most of the fifties output. "Rockin And Boppin" from Southland in 2001 with 22 tracks covers the same ground, and there is "Corn Bread And Cabbage Greens" for Specialty in 1995 with 26 tracks. There are also a number of compilation cds which feature additional artists plus Houston. Sixty years and still going strong - Joe Houston, the king of the tenor sax !

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