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DECCA 48091; DECEMBER 1948



Few of rock’s original artists were as unclassifiable as Pleasant Joseph. The man known professionally as Cousin Joe seemed bound and determined to resist being put in an easily labeled box and kept there on the shelf, pulled out only when somebody wanted a by the numbers example of that particular style of music.

Cousin Joe therefore dabbled in everything to prevent such a fate befalling him, cutting jazz sides along blues sides, gospel sides to bookend folk sides and yes, rock sides to keep his hand in that realm, all while highlighting his intelligent lyrical perspectives and his engaging character-rich voice in whatever form his music took in that moment.

Maybe the best way to classify Cousin Joe would be simply to call his musical output Americana but as we know that term would eventually be confined to something narrow and unbending as well. So if you’re hell-bent on calling this side something definitive, and since this term would come to be so widely adapted down the road, let’s just call it blues-rock and leave it at that.


I Can See It In Her Eyes
Though the very first sound you hear emanating from the speakers is Sammy Price’s piano it’s soon overwhelmed by Billy Butler’s guitar, played with laconic authority, full rich single-string tones that cut deep while holding back on the flashier attributes that true blues legends like Walker employed.

It’s a meandering pace they lay down, just spry enough to keep moving forward but lazy enough to allow for Joe’s story to take center stage and be fully appreciated.

Now anybody familiar with Cousin Joe’s work knows more or less what to expect: You’re going to get a life-lesson wrapped in a witty series of observant lines that gently poke fun at humanity’s more questionable tendencies.

In the case of Beggin’ Woman the target is pretty ripe for the picking as he focuses on the gold digging female who is more interested in what material goods her man will give her than in the mutual happiness they should get from shared pursuits. Knowing Cousin Joe he’s going to make his points with irony and wit rather than anger and vitriol and sure enough that’s the approach he takes, sort of a bemused head shaking reaction to her shallow and transparent ploys.

Though he goes to great length to provide anecdotal evidence of this trait, from begging the plant from a plantation and the sweetness out of a ginger cake, the hook line is the most biting as he declares:

She’s got a handful of ‘gimme’
And a mouth full of ‘much obliged’

But that line is the only real memorable one offered up, something enjoyable each time it’s recited but the entire song leans so heavily on it that you spend more time anticipating its reappearance and less studying the somewhat rote examples he uses to pad it out. Although that one line comes across great, especially as Joe eases the words out of his larynx in exquisite fashion, the bulk of the song’s lyrics are not up to his usual standard, leaving the music with a big hole to climb out of if this is to be more than just a pleasant way to pass time.

Sleeps In The Afternoon
If any musicians were up to such a task it’d surely be Price and Butler, two of the most proficient sidemen rock has seen. But here’s where we find fault with the bluesier aspects of the record, especially as it pertains to our rock-centered mindsets.

Butler has the chore of keeping your focus in between Cousin Joe’s lines and he does so admirably. His lines fit within the general framework of the song’s tempo and mood and as always they’re played with excellent judgment, but the slow pace offers the listener no relief. In a song with more laughs from the lyrics this wouldn’t be a problem, in fact you’d welcome the more sparse approach he shows here. But Beggin’ Woman needs something to draw our interest away from some of the more mundane aspects of the story and in that sense it fails to deliver.

There’s no back beat for starters which is made more glaring by the fact that Price’s left hand barely registers in an effort to create any rhythm. Butler therefore is stuck in neutral the whole time. He can’t speed things up during the verses without throwing the entire song into upheaval, and then when he does get a chance to cut loose in two all too brief transitional solo spots he sticks to the blues shadings which keeps you in your seat.

Had they simply combined the two spots into one prolonged showcase and then let Butler rev things up, bending strings and playing an impatient boogie while Price hammered away on the treble keys they’d have kept the song’s basic structure intact while offering a welcome respite from the dragging pace and it might really have taken off. Instead they choose to stick to the ruminative approach that doesn’t do the song any favors.

What stands out in their decisions is the mindset the blues seem to have on them. The musicians are playing in a mournful way, or at least a subdued manner which doesn’t serve to highlight the comic aspects of the situation. Since Cousin Joe dials back on that humor from what we’ve come to expect from him he’s less engaging as a storyteller, coming across more as if he’s brooding over his woman’s behavior rather than making light of it to amuse himself and his friends while at the same time acting to shame her in a non-demeaning way in an effort to get her to change.


A Possum Out Of A Tree
We’ve had little good fortune when it comes to hybrid type songs in rock ‘n’ roll. The more frequent attempts to marry a jazz backing to a rock mindset are often pulled too far into irrelevancy to connect with rock fans and those which try to smooth down the rough edges of rock ‘n’ roll vocals to appeal to pop listeners wind up pleasing neither constituency.

Here I’m not so sure Cousin Joe and company set out deliberately to cross two strains of music as much as they merely wandered into the valley between the two regions and never climbed out. Beggin’ Woman is more a case of lacking in any one identifiable element than containing one too many.

Still, as relative misfires go there’s still some mild enjoyment from hearing Cousin Joe’s distinctive tones measuring his putdowns carefully in the chorus and enough people did give this one a whirl as it became his only regional chart topper, in the barren prairies of Oklahoma of all places.

But even if you were among those who found it to their liking I’m sure there’d be a lot of them who’d agree that songs which stuck closer to the rock aesthetic have this beat when it comes to generating any real excitement, as well as admitting there were plenty of pure blues tracks that were better to seek out than this if that’s where your interests lay.

The lesson being that if you have to beg for more of what you want to hear and less of what you don’t in a song it’s probably not going to fully satisfy anyone’s strongest taste.


(Visit the Artist page of Cousin Joe for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)