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MACY’S 5017; JANUARY 1951





Though Joe Houston wasn’t FROM Houston Texas, he sure spent a lot of time around there when starting his professional career in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

But here’s where that association ended as this record marks his last with a local Houston label as well as his first with a California label where he’d soon make his professional home after this recording was picked up months later for wider distribution.

It’s a transitional moment in Houston’s career, but also a transitional record in his stylistic evolution, a rare bit of symmetry that happens every now and then.


You Wouldn’t Have Gone And Left Me
When he arrived at Macy’s Recordings in mid to late 1950 Joe Houston was well known locally, having played in Louisiana and Texas for awhile as well as cutting records for the Freedom label a year earlier, both under his own name and with Big Joe Turner who was his first benefactor.

Unfortunately Freedom Records soon shut down and so Houston went to another local label in town, Macy’s, where he cut a mixture of instrumentals and vocals during a standard four song session, the first release, Cornbread And Cabbage Greens, coming back in November while this one followed in January.

Just his luck, this was also the last record the label issued as they soon shut down, the costs of national distribution proving too much for them to stay in business after increasingly becoming unable to even attract the best local talent now that Peacock Records had arrived on the Houston scene.

It would’ve been natural for Joe Houston to wind up there next, but instead Macy’s, knowing they had a good record here, sold the recording to Modern Records of Los Angeles sometime in the summer as they were liquidating their assets which in turn transplanted Joe Houston from the Gulf Coast to sunny California.

What effect this would have on his recording career wasn’t entirely clear. Certainly Texas always had a bluesier bent to their rock offerings than Los Angeles did, but Come Back Baby shows that even before he left this region he was clearly on that path already.

When It Starts Raining I Realize What You Mean To Me
As with the other vocal track they cut at this date, Pretty Dad-Dee, sung by Lois Butler, the female vocalist in his show, this one also features less of Houston and more of the band as a whole.

That definitely makes it different, less exciting perhaps, but maybe a little more well rounded as it’s actually Houston’s wife Marian McKinley who gets more of a lead role than her husband here by playing the slow rolling piano boogie that anchors the song.

Joe’s not quiet though, it’s him and others in the band singing Come Back Baby in crude harmony that manages to sound pretty good because it’s so simple that they make it sound eminently familiar the first time through, in the process allowing you settle right into the groove they’re laying down.

It’s also McKinley, not Houston, who gets the two solos found on the record, the first of which is the same slow and intoxicating pattern on the piano while the second one stretches out ever so much without really revving things up.

As for Joe’s saxophone… it’s not here. He doesn’t play a single note and there’s no other horns to be found either. The record doesn’t suffer from that absence though and while you can say that its addition definitely may have added something the song isn’t really constructed to feature anything other than maybe a lazy counterpoint. Even that however might’ve been too distracting, simply because they’re working so hard to get you in a trance with that repetitive piano foundation that breaking its spell might not be in their best interest, even if it did bring one of the best in the game on his instrument to the forefront.

But what this winds up doing instead is showing that Joe Houston wasn’t simply reliant on blowing up a storm to keep your interest. He was never going to be mistaken for a great singer, but he’s handling this role better than most sax players who put down their horn to warble a tune. That variety – the ability to alternate instrumentals with vocals featuring the whole band here – means his live shows are going to be a lot more interesting if nothing else.


You Sure Must’ve Read My Mind
One of the recurring themes around here is the need for diversity in your material as a recording artist.

We just finished skewering The Ray-O-Vacs for their stylistic repetitiveness which began to hamper their appeal as each record took on the same mood, right down to the framework the songs were housed in and no artist wants to become too predictable.

So Joe Houston, more limited in what he himself could do as a saxophonist, was finding he had ways around that with songs like Come Back Baby, not hit material on their own, but which surely made him more appealing to record companies like Modern who signed him up after doing well with this record… or should we say the other side of this record which was an all-out honker.

Yeah I know, for all the help in giving his catalog more depth and variety with sides like this, the thing that was still going make or break Joe Houston’s career was his ability to honk and squeal up a storm. Some things never change.

But when you weren’t exhausting yourself and damaging your ears listening to those, there were at least a wider variety of songs he could do well enough to give your heart and your feet a break in between the mayhem he created on his instrumentals.

Just as there are different seasons in a year to pursue many interests and there’s daylight and darkness in the course of a day that are each suited for different activities, there were artists like Joe Houston who may have made his name creating musical pandemonium but who could hold his own with a few songs that eased off the accelerator too.


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