No tags :(

Share it




One of the curious things in life is how you never really know when or where you’re going to run into an old friend who you’ve lost touch with.

There’s a great book to be written about these random chance encounters people have, whether pals from childhood bumping into one another shipping out for battle in World War Two, or old flames getting into the same elevator in a New York City skyscraper after years with no contact, or maybe former neighbors finding themselves vacationing on the same beach in some faraway land in retirement.

The world may be large and unfriendly at times when it’s filled with so many anonymous faces, but it never seems quite so big and cold when a familiar face like Cousin Joe shows up out of the blue.


If You Know My Situation
The story of Pleasant Joseph a/k/a Cousin Joe – or as he was now being called around town Smilin’ Joe – reads like a travelogue. New York, Chicago, Europe… you name it, he played there.

As for what he played, the answer is “a little bit of everything”. Jazz, blues, pop, gospel, and rock ‘n’ roll, each style bleeding into one another until the lines of demarcation were almost impossible to sort out. His late 1940’s sides on Decca helped give the nascent rock movement solid footing with intelligent well-crafted stories wrapped in a musical quirkiness the genre would become known for.

What made it all so appealing was Joe’s infectious voice which had the same effect on listeners of each genre all over the world. He was one of the most engaging vocalists of all time, sounding instantly like a friend you’ve known your whole life, regaling you with humor, juicy gossip and life lessons in every song.

In the early 1950’s, cut free from Decca Records and finding no takers for a man in his mid-40’s without a hit to his name, Joe settled back into New Orleans headlining at The Famous Door. You wouldn’t have to ask if he was playing that night, just look at the people with a smile on their face after catching his set.

So it was only natural that Imperial Records, a Los Angeles company that became nationally prominent once they started stockpiling acts from The Crescent City, would sign him up in an attempt to further solidify their standing around town.

As always Joe was up for the task at hand and while Second Hand Love was framed in a New Orleans jazz musical motif, the freight train vocals are more at home in rock ‘n’ roll.

Besides, as we’ve long since come to know, that genre bending is just par for the course for Joe… no matter the year, no matter the label, no matter the audience he was aiming for.


I Want The Real Thing
The only definite musicians on this track we know of is Alonzo Stewart on drums, who joined him from his club work. Joe himself might be playing guitar or piano but the horns, which take on the featured role here, are a mystery.

It’s those horns that make Second Hand Love distinctly New Orleans however, the trumpet squawking loudly in the intro while Stewart’s drums propel the song like a rocket. The piano starts rattling the keys in the same hell-bent-for-leather fashion as Joe’s voice comes tearing around the corner like he’s being chased by loan sharks, yet he’s not the one being pursued, but rather he’s the one on the hunt for the right woman.

Surprisingly for a self-penned song there’s not much – if any – details given aside from the motives for the search itself. Because he’s dispensing with his usual lyrically inventive approach it’s likely this was either his show opener designed to get the crowd invested in the performance from the start, or maybe his encore to send the audience out into the steamy New Orleans night feeling just as buzzed from the music as from their drinks.

It’s a performance in other words more than it is a record… not that it doesn’t work well AS a record. It’s structured nicely, there’s a good melody, solid rhythm and nice soloing spots for piano, a saxophone and the trumpet – yeah, the trumpet, but it works well here.

The energy on the song never lets up and it’s Joe’s enthusiasm and the believability of his single-minded desire for a woman to make him truly happy, that sells this. The eagerness he shows outweighs his evident frustration in not being able to find someone suitable yet, and it’s impossible not to find yourself getting caught up in his quest.

We may never know what qualities he admires in a woman or what his specific type is, but we don’t have to know because HE knows, he sees this girl in his mind’s eye and follows that image like the North Star. As for us, mere listeners who are tagging along, we’re more than happy to aide in his cause if for no other reason than he’s good company when going around town.

He may get lucky or he may not, maybe we’ll be the ones to get lucky with his castoffs, but by the time we collapse from exhaustion there’s bound to be no regrets as a night on the town with someone so full of life is never a waste of time, no matter what you call the music.


Run Around… Settle Down
One thing is for certain with Pleasant Joseph, under any name he cares to use, you’ll always walk away from his performances with admiration for his skills and his evident delight at being able to use those skills to entertain you.

The songs may vary in quality, as anyone’s does, but the effort shown never dips and even if the records weren’t quite genre-specific enough to make a commercial dent, no company hiring Joseph could complain about what they got from him.

If you wanted to call Second Hand Love closer to jazz thanks to the arrangement, that’s fine. If you wanted to say it was a musical mongrel without a firm address, that’s probably far more accurate than saying it was strictly rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s got more than enough rock ‘n’ roll in its for us DNA to ignore and any song that brings a smile to your face as easily as this should be appreciated by someone.

He’d come closer to the attributes that defined the genre down the road for Imperial, but as a starting point this is headed in the right direction and so consider us more than happy that we ran into this old friend once more.


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