Joe Medwick should have been a big star if talent was all it took. He was a songwriter of great ability, selling a large number of tunes to Don Robey and almost invariably losing the credit. As a singer his gruff, throaty roar held so much power he frequently overwhelmed a recording. I think it’s a toss up as to whether Bobby Bland gained more from Medwick’s voice as he laid down guideline vocals for the great man or his wonderful tunes. But Medwick’s preference for the bars and clubs of Houston over the lures of fame and fortune were his choice. We’re just the poorer for it.
Joe Medwick Masters (aka Joe Medwick Veasey – and others!)was born on 22 June 1933 and by the late 40 was singing gospel with the Chosen Gospel Singers. A decade later, having become a regular in Houston’s Third Ward bars, had moved over to the blues and was selling tunes to Robey to keep himself in rum. Although we’ll never know just which ones he wrote – Medwick himself was pretty hazy – it seems certain he penned “Further On Up The Road”, “I Pity The Fool”, “Cry Cry Cry”, “Call On Me” for Bland and “Driving Wheel” for Junior Parker before a row with the former led to Robey ending their relationship in the 60s. Medwick’s own 45s for Duke are not really of much interest – no doubt there was a prohibition on challenging Bland’s pre-eminence, and in any case the star had first pick of Medwick’s better material. The blues of “I Have Confidence In You” is undoubtedly the best – but Medwick was capable of better things.
Throughout the 60s he was also dealing with other Houston based record men like Steve Poncio, Charlie Booth, Roy Ames and especially Huey Meaux. They too bought his songs, and occasionally issued records on him. In amongst them there was some of the best music that ever came out of Texas. But I guess they were all the same to Joe – if they brought him money they must have been good. “Second Time Around” is fine hard uptempo R & B, but I Cried in the same vein is a classic. Medwick starts with a dead slow gospel call-and-response session with the band before screaming out his pain over a repetitive threatening R & B riff. Simply unstoppable. “You Ain’t Treating Her Right” is a superb blues ballad a la Bland, complete with guitar fills, thumping piano and gentle horns. Medwick’s vocals are by turns whispering, soft then powerfully gritty – quite superb. The pick of the material from this period can be found on the P-Vine LP “Slow Down Young Lovers”.
His time with Meaux produced some wonderful titles. You Made Me Love You is another beautifully sung deep bluesy ballad Nearer To You on Foy Lee's legendary Teardrop label is more straightahead soul of great passion; “Have Fun Baby” is a fine R & B workout with some excellent stinging lead guitar; “This Is Why The End Must Begin” is another tasteful deep soul ballad; “Friends In Show Business” is a novelty litany of stars and their songs done deep soul style. Sadly both the LPs from this period are both poor. The TV & The Tribesmen set is full of covers and the collection that Meaux released (let out?) in the 70s doesn’t contain any of these great songs, but consist in the main of unrealised demos which show Joe’s great chops but in settings that don’t do them any justice. Of the remainder of his 60s output, “Never Let Me Go” is spoilt by some vile strings, but “Have Fun Baby” is fine R & B, as is “You Gotta Be Joking”.
The release of the Kimberly 45 in 1985 was a wonderful surprise to all of us who loved Joe, and was a direct result of Black Top’s interest in Texas blues. Their recruitment of sax king Grady Gaines led to several other great artists like pianist Teddy Reynolds and vocalist Big Robert Smith going back into the studio for the first time in many years – and Joe was there too. The version of the superb introspective ballad If I Don’t Get Involved on the set doesn’t quite have the power or presence of the 45, especially as the Kimberly has the similarly styled – but not quite as good – “She Fooled Me This Time” on the flip.
By the time Black Top came back for more from the Texas crew to cut “Horn Of Plenty” Joe had died of liver cancer. So sad.
UPDATE ~ I have now found a copy of the first Ve Geo 45 and added the details to the discography. And now the second Boogaloo 45 has reached me - and that too is in the discography.
Smile and say goodbye / Never been in love before ~ DUKE 180 (1958)
I have confidence in you / You still send me ~ DUKE 189 (1959)
Searching in vain / Johnny Brown ~ DUKE 311 (1960)
Alabama blues / Second time around ~ PARADISE 1000 (1961)
I cried / You little heartbreaker you ~ PARADISE 1004 (1961)
You haven't cried / You ain't treating her right ~ ALLBOY 8504 (1962)
Stealing / Letter to a buddie ~ EAST-WEST 55101 / BOOGALLO 1002 (1963)
That is why the end must begin / Just be yourself ~ BOOGALOO 1003 (1963) (as JOE MASTERS)
You made me love you / Wedding bells ~ PACEMAKER 232 (1963)
You made me love you / Friends in showbusiness ~ PACEMAKER 237 / JETSTREAM 727 (1963) (as JOE MELVIN)
Just be yourself / Your sweet love ~ BOOGALOO 1004 (1964?)
Never let me go / Have fun baby ~ MONUMENT 875 (1965)
Barefootin’ / Fat man ~ PYE INT (UK) ~ 25375 (as TV & THE TRIBESMEN)
Nearer to you / Down with it ~ TEARDROP 3197
Damned if I do / Whatever it takes ~ WESTPARK 6973 (1969)
If I could read your mind / Please release me & I can't stop loving you (medley) ~ VE GEO 101 (1970)
You gotta be joking / You can make it if you try ~ VE GEO 102 (1970)
She fooled me this time / If I don't get involved ~ KIMBERLY 100002 (1988)
Barefootin' ~ HBR LP 8507 (1966) (as TV & THE TRIBESMEN)
Slow down young lovers ~ P-VINE PLP 390 (1988) (with BOBBY “GASHEAD” BOSEMAN)
Why do heartaches pick on me ~ CRAZY CAJUN LP 1085 (1978)
I'm an after hours man ~ EDSEL UK CD 632 (1999)
1. There were often several versions of a single song cut – the 45
being different to that reissued on LP or CD. For example Trikont issued
an extended version of “I Cried” on their essential CD “Down
2. Joe had 2 tracks on the Grady Gaines CD “Full Gain” - “If I Don’t Get Involved” and “Your Girlfriend” as well as writing a couple of other cuts.