HOUSTON PERSON-HOUSTON PERSON 75 AND GET OUT’A MY WAY.

HOUSTON PERSON-HOUSTON PERSON 75 AND GET OUT’A MY WAY.

Growing up, Houston Person played the piano. Later, Houston switched to tenor saxophone. However, Houston Person never dreamt of being a musician. That wasn’t how he saw his future. Instead, Houston joined the US Army.

During his tour of duty, Houston was stationed in West Germany. That was when Houston joined the US Army service band. That’s where the soulful sound of Houston’s tenor saxophone made its debut. However, this was no ordinary service band. 

The US Army service band that Houston Person joined, featured some future jazz greats. Its lineup featured Don Ellis, Cedar Walton and Eddie Harris, who Houston would later work with. For Don, Cedar, Eddie and Houston, this was part of their musical education. They would return home better musicians. Their time in the service band helped hone their sound, and prepared them for life as a professional musicians. In Houston’s case, his professional debut was on hold.

Before turning professional, Houston, who was born in Florence, South Carolina, on 10th November 1934, decided to complete his eduction. He returned to the Hartt School, at the University of Hartford, Connecticut. Only once Person had completed his studies, did he turn professional. 

Over twenty years later, Houston Person released his thirteenth album Houston Person ’75 on Westbound Records. It was followed by Get Out’a My Life. Both Houston Person ’75 and Get Out’a My Way feature on Ace Records recently released two-on-one release. They’re the perfect introduction the perfect introduction to the soulful sound of Houston Person’s tenor saxophone. His career began in Boston, which Houston called home.

Boston was where Houston made his home. That’s where he worked with a series of R&B groups. He started playing small gigs and eventually, was spotted by Hammond organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith in 1963. For an up-and-coming musician, this was the breakthrough he had been looking for. Houston was with Johnny “Hammond” Smith for four years. During that period, Houston Person had signed to Prestige Records.

In the sixties, Prestige Records was one of jazz music’s most prestigious labels. It rubbed shoulders with Atlantic Records, Blue Note Records and Impulse. So, signing for a label of the stature of Prestige Records was a sign that Houston was a musician going places. His soulful tenor saxophone was winning friends and influencing people. 

By 1966, Houston Person was ready to release his Prestige Records debut, Underground Soul! This was the first of twelve albums Houston released on Prestige Records between 1966 and 1973.

Underground Soul!

When Houston released his first album,1966s Underground Soul!, it received mixed reviews. Critics couldn’t seem to make their mind up about the album. Underground Soul! struggled to find an audience. Prestige Records put this down to being Houston’s debut album. Surely this was just teething problems for Houston Person?

Chocomotive.

Just a year later, in 1967, Houston released his sophomore album Chocomotive. This time, there was no doubt about the quality of music on Chocomotive. It was to released to overwhelming critical acclaim. However, sales were disappointing. This proved to be the case with Trust In Me.

Trust In Me.

Houston’s sophomore album Trust In Me was released later in 1967. A memorable album of soul-jazz, with diversions into blues and funk, Trust In Me critics, and everyone at Prestige Records, felt deserved to fare better. History would repeat itself a year later.

Blue Odyssey.

In 1968, Houston released his fourth album Blue Odyssey. It was hailed the finest album of Houston Person’s career.  Despite this, Blue Odyssey Trust In Me struggled to find an audience. For Houston and Prestige Records, this was a worrying time.

The appointment of Bob Porter as the new A&R man at Prestige Records solved the problem. He realised that for Houston’s first four albums, Prestige Records had struggled to find a sound for Houston. Bob who had an intimate knowledge of the club scene, realised Houston needed to take his live sound into the studio. Surrounding Houston with some of the best session musicians, his career took off.

Soul Dance!

Houston’s first album of the Bob Porter era was Soul Dance! Released in 1969, Soul Dance! was hailed as Houston Person at his finest as he combines ballads, blues and soul jazz. Good as Soul Dance! was, Houston trumped it with Goodness! 

Goodness!

Goodness! was released in 1970, and had a much more commercial sound. This didn’t please jazz purists though. However, Goodness! was a commercial success. That’s what Houston and Prestige Records wanted.

Truth!

Commercial success and critical acclaim continued with Truth! Released in 1970, it featured guitarist Billy Butler and Sonny Phillips on Hammond organ. The result was a fusion of jazz and R&B. This went down well with critics and record buyers. Bob Porter had transformed Houston Person’s sound and career.

Person to Person!

Person to Person! was Houston’s eighth album. It saw Houston’s sound continue to evolve. There was a move away from the soul-jazz sound. Replacing it, was a much more soulful sound. It came courtesy of an all-star band.

Bob Porter never shied away from bringing in the best musicians to accompany Houston. For Person to Person!, he brought in drummer Idris Muhammad, bassist Jimmy Lewis,guitarist Grant Green and Hammond organist Sonny Phillips. They played their part in the further reinvention of Houston Person.

On the release of Person to Person! in 1970, the album divided the opinion of critics. Some were surprised at the change in sound. However, Houston realised the importance of never standing still. This became even more apparent on his 1971 album Houston Express.

Houston Express.

By 1971, funk was flavour of the month. Jazz was no longer as popular as it once had been. So, on Houston Express, Houston Person and a band that included drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and guitarist Billy Butler, fused musical genres.

Houston Express was essentially an album of funk, jazz and R&B. It was quite different to Houston’s previous albums. However, Houston and Bob Porter realised the importance of moving forward musically. They realised that if a musician stands still, they risked becoming irrelevant. There was no chance of this happening to Houston.

When critics heard Houston Express, they hailed it one of Houston’s finest albums. The constant reinvention of Houston Person was working. He was still commercially successful in an era when jazz’s popularity was plummeting. That took some doing. However, Houston managed to do this. Would his success last though?

Broken Windows, Empty Hallways.

Although Houston has just signed to Prestige Records in 1966, by 1972 he was already releasing his tenth album, Broken Windows, Empty Hallways. It was Houston’s usual mixture of cover versions and tracks penned by Houston. However, there was one important change in the winning formula. Producer Bob Porter had been replaced by Ozzie Cadena.

With Ozzie Cadena acting as producer, Houston began recording Broken Windows, Empty Hallways. He was joined by some of the leading jazz musicians, and…a tap dancer. This included flautist Hubert Laws, pianist Cedar Walton and guitarist Joe Beck. Probably the most surreal appearance was tap dancer Bunny Briggs. She made a guest appearance on a cover Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr. Bojangles. Other cover versions included John Lennon’s Imagine and Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today. They became Broken Windows, Empty Hallways.

Critics remarked that although Broken Windows, Empty Hallways was still jazz, it was much lighter than his earlier albums. It was as if Houston moving towards easy listening. Maybe, this was down to the change of producer. After all, Bob Porter had been replaced by Ozzie Cadena. This move towards a much more easy listening sound was maybe part of Ozzie’s vision.

This didn’t make automatically make Broken Windows, Empty Hallways a bad album. No. It was just another example of Houston Person’s music evolving. Maybe, however, Broken Windows, Empty Hallways was ahead of its time?

Nowadays, however, Broken Windows, Empty Hallways would be seen as a forerunner to smooth jazz. For some critics and record buyers, this was disappointing. Especially after the funky Houston Express. Would this be a turning point in Houston’s time at Prestige Records? 

Sweet Buns and Barbeque.

After Broken Windows, Empty Hallways Houston returned with Sweet Buns and Barbeque. Unlike previous albums, Sweet Buns and Barbeque comprised only cover versions. There were no Houston Person originals on Sweet Buns & Barbeque. However, still, Prestige Records brought in some of the best musicians.

Pianist Richard Tee joined drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, bassist Ron Carter and guitarist Joe Beck. Along with what seemed like a cast of thousands, they recorded the six songs that became Sweet Buns and Barbeque. It was released in 1973.

On Sweet Buns and Barbeque’s release in 1973, reviews ranged from mixed to favourable. However, Sweet Buns and Barbecue wasn’t as well received as the albums produced by Bob Porter.

It seemed the breakup of the Bob Porter and Houston Person partnership had affected Houston’s music. No longer was the music as groundbreaking. That, however, may not have been Houston’s fault. Maybe, Prestige Records were looking for music that was commercial? Sadly, we’ll never know. What we do know, is that Houston Person’s time at Prestige Records was almost at an end.

The Real Thing.

The Real Thing proved to be Houston Person’s Prestige Records’ swan-song. It was  a double album of cover versions. Songs by Stevie Wonder, The Spinners and The Ohio Players that feature on The Real Thing, which features the great and good of jazz.

Just like previous albums, Houston brought onboard guitarist Grant Green, drummers Hank Brown and Idris Muhammad and Hammond organists Sonny Phillips and Brother Jack McDuff. They were joined by vocalist Etta James, who added the vocal on Don’t Go To Strangers. This was one of twelve tracks on The Real Thing, which proved to be Houston Person’s Prestige Records’ finale.

On its release in 1973, The Real Thing, Houston Person’s twelfth album wasn’t a commercial success. It was however, well received by critics. Blues, jazz and R&B sat side-by-side. However, sales were what mattered, and The Real Thing proved to be the end of Houston Person’s time at Prestige Records. It would be two more years before Houston released another album.

Houston Person ’75.

Two years after releasing The Real Thing, Houston Person was signed to Detroit based Westbound Records. Music had changed since Houston had last released an album. Now disco was flavour of the month. So was a much slicker, polished sound. Fusion was still popular, but disco was where it was at. With this in mind, Houston and Bernard Mendelson set about producing Houston Person ’75.

For Houston Person ’75, ten songs were chosen. What It Is, Mayola, Gold In My Ear, Funky Sunday Afternoon came from the pen of Belda Baine and Louis Crane. They also cowrote 500 Gin Rummy with Jimmy Scott and A Touch Of Bad Stuff with Jimmy Roach. Other covers included David Crawford and Charles Mann’s I Like To Live The Love and Stevie Wonder’s All In Love Is Fair. They became Houston Person ’75.

The ten tracks on Houston Person ’75, were recorded by some of Detroit’s best session players. These session players had featured on many of Westbound Records’ releases. This included The Fantastic Four and The Detroit Emeralds. They could now say they had accompanied Houston Person.

On Houston Person ’75’s release in 1975, the album was well received by critics. Sadly, however, Houston Person ’75 didn’t sell well. Music lovers missed a hidden gem of an album.

Houston Person ’75 is best described as journey through musical genres. During the ten tracks, Houston Person and his band take diversions via jazz, funk and R&B. The ten tracks are the perfect showcase for Houston Person’s tenor saxophone. That’s the case from the opening bars of I Like To Live The Love, which opens Houston Person ’75. From there, Houston veers between playing tenderly or powerful. It’s like a master craftsman at work. Standout performances come on the cover of Junior Walker and The Allstars’ Shotgun. Then Gold In My Hear takes on a slow, sultry sound. Smooth, soulful and funky describes 500 Gin Rummy. Funky Sunday Afternoon takes on a moody, bluesy sound. There’s a nod to B.B. King. Closing Houston Person ’75 is He’ll Fight My Battles. It features a guest appearance from Etta James. This proves a potent partnership, and the perfect way to end Houston Person ’75.

Very few people heard Houston Person ’75. When it was released in 1975, it passed most people by. The sales were nothing like Houston’s Bob Porter produced albums. That’s despite being an album of slick, polished music. Blues, funk, jazz, R&B and soul can all be heart on Houston Person ’75. It’s the perfect showcase for Houston Person. It shows how versatile the Boston based tenor saxophonist is capable of. Houston Person ’75 also shows how Houston never stood still. Constantly, he tried to reinvent his music. That was the case on his fourteenth album, Get Out’a My Way.

Get Out’a My Way.

After the commercial failure of Houston Person ’75, it was a case of back to the drawing board. The result was Get Out’a My Way, another album of cover versions. A total of eight tracks were chosen for Get Out’a My Way.

For Get Out’a My Way, Westbound staff writer Jimmy Roach supplied Disco Sax and Ain’t Nothin’ But A Funky Song. Ann Roach penned Soul Samba and Forever In Love. Belda Baine and Louis Crane contributed How Vicious and cowrote Spread It with Jimmy Roach. Other covers included My Way and The Isley Brothers’ For The Love Of You. These songs became Get Outta My Way.

When recording of Get Out’a My Way began, the production partnership of Houston and Bernard Mendelson picked up where they left off on Houston Person ’75. The backing band was The Westbound Gang, with Honey adding backing vocals. The result was another album of slick, polished music Get Out’a My Way.

Just like Houston Person ’75, Get Out’a My Way, which was released in 1976, was a slick, polished album. It was obvious that a great deal of attention had been paid to the production. It’s best described as a big, bold production. This was very much of its time. After all, 1976 was smack bang in the middle of the disco era. However, would Get Out’a My Way’s slick production prove successful?

Upon the release of Get Out’a My Way, the album sold reasonably well. Still, sales were nothing like Houston’s Bob Porter produced albums. Despite this, Get Out’a My Way was well received by critics. They enjoyed the slick, polished, contemporary sound. It was combined with elements of Houston’s musical past. That was down to the mix of music.

Again, Get Out’a My Way was a combination of musical genres. Disco, funk, Latin, R&B and soul can be heard on Get Out’a My Way. Disco Sax, which opens Get Out’a My Way, was the perfect showcase for a Houston Person masterclass. It’s best described as uber sultry. Soul Samba is a fusion of musical genres. Jazz, Latin and smooth soul rub shoulders on his dance-floor friendly track. Funky and soulful describes Ain’t Nothin’ But A Funky Song. At the start, it sounds like it’s from a long lost Blaxploitation track. After that, it’s all change as jazz meets smooth soul. That isn’t the end of this smooth, soulful sound.

It continues on a cover of May Way. It’s given a smooth, soulful and sensual makeover. The same can be said of The Isley Brothers For The Love Of You. Quite simply, it’s a beautiful, remake of this song. Ann Roach’s Forever In Love continues in a similar vein. After this, things change.

Houston remembering that the maxim, too much of a good thing, changes tack. Spread It has a funkier sound, with Houston and his band kicking loose. This funky sound continues on How Viscous. It sees Houston unleash one of his finest solos. His playing inspires the band. Just like Houston, they’re determined to close Get Out’a My Way on a funky high.

Get Out’a My Way is very much a return to form from Houston Person. He combines everything from disco, funk, jazz, Latin, R&B and the smoothest soul. Starting off with the Disco Sax and Soul Samba, Houston drops the tempo and delivers a quartet of smooth soulful, jazz. My Way and The Isley Brothers’ For The Love Of You are given a makeover. They take on new life and meaning. Then Houston showcases his versatility on Spread It and How Viscous. This closes Get Out’a My Way on a funky high. Just like Houston Person ’75, Get Out’a My Way is the perfect introduction to the soulful sound of Houston Person.

He may not have been one of the most high profile jazz musicians. However, he was hugely talented and versatile. Seamlessly, Houston flits between musical genres, showcasing his versatility. This is no surprise.

Throughout his career, Houston was constantly reinvention his sound. He realised that if he stood still, he risked becoming irrelevant. There was no way he was going to let that happen, so with each album, Houston’s sound continue to evolve. By 1975, when he released Houston Person ’75, he’d released twelve albums. Each album was different. This was testament to Houston’s determination to innovate. Houston continued to innovate on both Houston Person ’75 and Get Out’a My Way, which were recently reissued by Ace Records, on one CD. 

For the newcomer to Houston Person, then Houston Person ’75 and Get Out’a My Way are the perfect introduction to a musical veteran. Now aged eighty, Houston Person continues to tour and showcase his eclectic and innovative back-catalogue. This includes Houston Person ’75 and Get Out’a My Way, the two albums Houston Person released for Detroit’s Westbound Records.

HOUSTON PERSON-HOUSTON PERSON 75 AND GET OUT’A MY WAY.

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1 Comment

  1. krizwilliam

    Thanks Derek big fan of Houston, can’t say I don’t like any of his LP’s. He just keeps evolving with beautiful soul music. Great write up of his early history.

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