Warning: It’s that time again.

Not wine and dine time, but whining time, as in “woe is me for taking on this thankless task filled with confusion, obstacles and no significant financial windfall for my troubles”.

The reason for this bitching is because one of the more promising rock saxophonists on the scene, Joe Houston, has landed at a solvent and reputable label after a series of misadventures on such far-flung outposts as good but flailing commercial companies as Freedom and Macy’s, ill-suited major labels like Mercury and criminal organizations masquerading as quality labels like Modern Records.

So you’d think that his appearance on Imperial Records would make analyzing his career significantly easier, and yet if anything this is the most difficult release to pin down of anything we’ve yet encountered.


Dealing From The Bottom Of The Deck
The confusion here is… not my fault at all.

It’s the fault of decades of neglect when it comes to compiling a prolific artist’s output strewn over countless record labels, most of it instrumental to boot which makes important things such as titles – which tend to be corroborated by lyrics in vocal songs – a sometimes meaningless facet in determining just what is what in his catalog.

Take the flip side of this Imperial release, Jump The Blues, which has a title eerily close to his 1949 release on Freedom Records called Jumpin’ The Blues.

Okay, so maybe he, or both record companies, felt it was a good generic title to slap on a song. Except it is the SAME song… actually, not only the same SONG, but the SAME RECORDING!

I realize that’s a lot of capital letters, but trust me when I say they’re needed to convey the frustration in this.

It seems Imperial Record acquired the defunct Freedom masters of Houston in 1952 and used the same song for their first release on the artist they had just signed, shortening the title when putting it on the back of Ace Of Clubs, leading us to naturally wonder if this song was simply a retitled cut from Freedom as well.

Well, it WAS originally recorded for them, as if you couldn’t tell based on how it sounds, but it definitely wasn’t among the two releases Houston had on Freedom, making this an unissued outtake from that period.

But when this kind of thing was already outdated by late 1949 and early 1950, what hope did they have that it’d appeal to a rock audience two years later?

Go Fish
The answer to that question is either Little or None, depending on how generous you are.

Joe Houston was – at his best – a fire breathing saxophonist who came of age in the rock era. He wasn’t a frustrated older jazz musician forced into cutting rock ‘n’ roll against his will, or at least that’s what he led us to believe.

Yet thus far in his career he’s recorded far more compromised tracks than all-out rockers, even though he cut his first sides in the midst of the all-out rocker phenomenon that dominated the last two years of the 1940’s.

This track was cut in November 1949 when that kind of thing was still going strong commercially, yet it’s not very raucous, doesn’t feature his saxophone out in front most of the time even, making Ace of Clubs sound more like one of those half-hearted attempts by a veteran jazz musician who, after two years of honking, squealing and sweating, has thrown in the towel on that sort of thing and is looking for a return to normalcy.

The main instrument here is the trumpet and as anyone who has followed rock music from the start well knows that was the horn most responsible for everything wrong in the world at the time… from a lack of progress in Civil Rights, to the rise of McCarthyism and the imminent threat of atomic war…

Oh yeah, it also sought to prevent rock ‘n’ roll from completely distancing itself from jazz and mannered pop music.

Here Houston’s sax kicks things off with some fairly tame riffing over a piano boogie that, had the former been played with more sinewy muscle might’ve worked alright as something to build from. Instead when the arrangement shifts to trying to establish a melody it goes nowhere, giving us an alto with a head cold. Houston’s tenor is languishing behind him blowing a counterpoint riff that is pretty aimless.

When the trumpet comes in to take the lead in the middle section things actually improve, not because of skill or tone, but rather it’s just a more concise and catchy riff, though that’s hardly saying much. He then hands off to Houston on tenor which has you hopeful for some fireworks, but he merely huffs and puffs rather than blows the house down.

They close things out with the same introductory pattern which sounds better by comparison, but still pretty lackluster, not just for 1952, but 1949 as well, though I guess there’s always some dissenters when it comes to common sense…


Winners Smile, Losers Say “Deal”
What you’d really like to know here is the circumstances regarding the release of this single. With both sides coming by way of a liquidation sale of Freedom’s assets, I suppose you can say that Lew Chudd was just trying to earn that money back, but why he’d purchase them in the first place – rather than the Goree Carter should’ve been hits – is a mystery.

I guess it’s because he had in fact signed Joe Houston and this very month brought him into the studio to cut new tracks that would soon get release, so maybe Ace Of Clubs was designed to grease the skids for those later singles.

However, considering how uninspired this is, how out of touch with the current rock marketplace, and – luckily for us – how far removed from where Joe Houston was heading, it makes absolutely no sense to buy up or put out such things and quite possibly no sense for us to review.

But completists and masochists that we are, it was inevitable that we ponder these pointless questions at length.

I hope that whining is worth at least a little sympathy.


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