Joe Houston’s career began in 1941. He was just fifteen. His breakthrough came when a saxophonist in a touring band never turned up. This presented the bandleader with a problem. However, he needn’t have worried.

From an early age, Joe Houston was determined to make a career out of music. So much so, that Joe bought a red suit with white trousers. This was what many of the touring bands wore. So, when the saxophonist didn’t show, Joe who looked the part, offered his services. He grabbed his saxophone, and took to the stage. That night, his career began. Joe had come a long way in a  short time.

Joe Houston was born on 11th July 1926, in Austin, Texas. It was in school, that Joe discovered music. Originally, he played the trumpet. However, before long Joe switched to the saxophone. Soon, he was an accomplished saxophonist. Good enough to play in a touring band by the time he was fifteen. That was just the start of Joe’s career.

By 1943, Joe had joined a touring band. He spent three years touring Kansas, Chicago and the mid-west. These three years were an important part of Joe’s musical education. By the end of the Second World War, Joe was ready to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in music.

Among the musicians Joe Houston worked with, were pianist Amos Milburn and vocalist Big Joe Turner. He was impressed by Joe Houston. So much so, that he asked Joe to put a new band together for him. In return, Big Joe Turner recommended Joe to Freedom Records.

When Joe signed to  Freedom Records in 1949, he was only twenty-three. However, he had been a professional musician eight years. He had  played with some big names, and learnt from each of them. This included learning what it took to be a bandleader.

So in 1951, Joe formed Joe Houston and Orchestra. His new band’s first release was Blowin’ Crazy, which was released on Macy’s Recordings. Joe hoped to build on the success of previous “blowing’” saxophone releases. Blow Joe Blow gave Joe a regional hit in the South. So the Bihari brothers bought the track, and planned to release it nationwide.

The Bihari brothers were well known within the music industry. They owned several labels, including Los Angeles’ based Modern Records. Just like Big Joe Turner, the Biharis were impressed by Joe. They made the journey to Houston to record several sides they planned to release. Before that, they released Blow Joe Blow. While it wasn’t a nationwide hit, it showed the Biharis that Joe Houston had a big future ahead of him. Their paths would cross again.

After meeting the Biharis, Joe realised that L.A. was jazz central. So he decided to relocate to tinseltown. This worked in Joe’s favour. He played on numerous sessions, and released singles on various labels, including Mercury, Combo, Modern and its subsidiary RPM. This somewhat scattergun approach paid off.

In 1952 Joe enjoyed his first hit single with Worry, Worry, Worry. It reached number ten in the US R&B charts. Later, in 1952, Hard Time Baby also  reached number ten in the US R&B charts. After eleven years, Joe Houston had made a breakthrough.

Another two years passed and Joe Houston enjoyed a hit with All Night Long. It was released on John Dolphin’s Money Records in 1954. Soon, All Night Long was regarded as a South Californian classic. Joe Houston was back, and back with a hit.

Over the next couple of years, Joe Houston kept making records and working as a sideman. Then in 1956, Joe Bihari entered Joe’s life. He bought All Night Long and made it the lead track from Joe’s album Blows All Night Long. This was the first of seven albums Joe released on the Biharis labels. The other five were released on their Crown imprint. This included four albums in 1962 Rockin’ And Rollin,’ Doin’ The Twist, Twisting In Orbit and Wild Man Of The Tenor Sax. Then in 1963, Joe jumped on another bandwagon, and released Surf Rockin.’ He followed this up with Limbo. It was Joe’s last album for another fifteen years.

Over a recording career that started in 1951, Joe had watched musical genres and trends come and go. He had been there through when the twist and then surf music was popular. By 1978, another musical genre was at the peak of its popularity, disco. So with the help of his old friends the Bihari brothers, Joe Houston decided to release an album that just happened to include a couple of disco tracks.

The Biharis were keen to release new albums. For some time, they had been running reissue labels. This was profitable, but the Biharis needed a change. So they decided to launch their new label, Big Town.

Having decided to setup a new label, Jules started to look for artists. He decided to give Joe Houston a call. It would  better way to launch their new label. Jules had been working with Joe for twenty-six years.

Joe however,hadn’t released an album since 1963. However, he had never stopped working. Granted his profile wasn’t as high as it once was, but music had changed over the past fifteen years. This didn’t stop Joe jumping at the opportunity to make a comeback.

For his long awaited comeback album, Joe and Jules Bihari penned eight tracks. Jules used the alias Jules Taub. This wasn’t fulling anyone. Especially the musicians who played on Kickin’ Back.

Joe had put together a tight, talented band for the recording of Kickin’ Back. The rhythm section featured drummer Ross Solomone bassist Ted Butler and Larry Johnson on bass and guitar. Bo Rhambo played alto and tenor saxophone, while Freddy Clark and Joe both played baritone and tenor saxophone. Joe also produced Kickin’ Back. It was scheduled for release in 1978.

There was no fanfare when Kickin’ Back was released in 1978. Jules Bihari didn’t go out of his way to promote Kickin’ Back. So when Kickin’ Back was released, it passed most people by. Not long after its release, Kickin’ Back was soon deleted. For Joe Houston his fusion of blues, funk and disco had neither proved profitable nor raised his profile. So he returned to playing live in L.A.’s clubs. 

Since then, a new generation of music lovers have been discovering albums like Kickin’ Back. There was a problem though. Finding a copy isn’t easy. So, Ace Records have reissued Kickin’ Back, thirty-seven years after its release. Joe Houston the comeback King, is the comeback King once again.

Hawaiian Disco opens Kickin’ Back. Straight away, there’s an obvious early sixties hot rodding sound. It’s as if Joe’s been inspired by his 1963 album Surf Rockin.’ That’s no bad thing. It all starts with the drums, then the guitars and blazing saxophone join in. Soon, Joe and his band are in full flight. It’s an impressive sound. For five minutes, Joe Houston and his tight, talented band create a joyous and irresistible sounding dance track.

Not many artists would’ve have thought of fusing blues and disco T Bone Disco. Joe Houston did, and the result is T Bone Disco. Surf guitars are joined by the rhythm section and then a growling, scorching saxophone. It soars above the arrangement as the drums and piano play leading roles. By then, musical genres are melting into one. Blues, disco, R&B and surf are combined by a band of hot shot musicians. Each and every one of them have earned their stripes, and unleash peerless performances.

The tempo drops on Mr. Big, which sounds as if it belongs on an early seventies Blaxploitation soundtrack. Just a loose, spacious rhythm section and chiming guitar provide the backdrop to what can only be described as a saxophone masterclass. Joe never misses as a note, as his scorching, rasping solo steals the show. Everyone else plays a supporting role as Joe takes centre-stage.

Baby What You Want Me To Do sees Joe return to the blues. The rhythm section and crystalline guitar set the scene for Joe’s needy, lived-in vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, guitarist Larry Johnson steps up. He unleashes a glistening, shimmering solo, before replying to Joe’s vocal. Joe pleads and vamps his way through the lyrics, constantly asking: “Baby What You Want Me To Do.”

Trippin’ In sees another change of style. The tempo stays the same as Joe’s band create a chugging beat. This allows Bo Rhambo’s alto saxophone to take centre-stage. He adds a jazzy hue to the fusion of blues and R&B behind him. 

Why Don’t You Rock Me bursts into life. The chugging beat makes a reappearance. Meanwhile,  stabs of piano and a chiming guitar accompany Joe’s blistering saxophone solo. He doesn’t hold back. After fifteen years, Joe’s keen to showcase his skills. Joe relishes the opportunity, and again, steals the show.

Kicking Back-Part One sees Joe and his band at their funkiest. That’s the case from the get-go. Drums are joined by hissing hi-hats, wah-wah guitar and funky bass. The the band kick loose, and produce one of their best performances. Adding the final touch is a scorching saxophone solo. It’s an inspired performance, on a track that would later find favour with deep funk DJs.

Closing Kickin’ Back, is Kicking Back-Part Two. It picks up where Part One left off, and is a variation of a theme. That’s no bad thing. Joe Houston and his band are at their best, with a track that was right on trend, and even today, finds its way into many a DJs record box.

Fifteen years after releasing his last album, Joe Houston made a welcome return. Jules Bihari gave Joe the opportunity to rejuvenate his career. Joe didn’t let Jules down. 

Seamlessly, Joe Houston and his all-star band switch between musical genres on Kickin’ Back. They switch between blues, disco, funk, jazz, R&B and surf. Sometimes, they fuse several genres on the same track. It all seems effortless. That’s what Joe Houston and his all-star band were capable of. They were also capable of making music that in 1978, was bang on trend.

So, Kickin’ Back could’ve and should’ve been a successful album, and maybe even featured a hit single? That wasn’t to be. Jules Bihari decided not to promote Kickin’ Back. That was the same with his new label’s Big Town’s other releases. They sunk without trace, and were soon deleted. For Joe, it must have been disappointing. He must have felt he had been let down badly. After all, why release an album and not promote it? That didn’t put Joe Houston off releasing another album.

He made a comeback in 1981, when he released Earthquake on Imperial. After that, Joe Houston continued to record and play live right until 2005. 

Sadly, Joe Houston suffered a stroke in 2005, and since then, hasn’t played live. Joe, who still lives in L.A., is now approaching his eighty-ninth birthday. Kickin’ Back, which was recently reissued by Ace Records, is part of Joe Houston’s musical legacy and showcases his talent and versatility.










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