Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Big Joe Has Come and Gone

Did you ever have one of those moments when you're looking for something but you don't really know what it is, and then you hear it? Guitarists do this all the time, and they call it looking for the sound inside your head.

Me and Big Joe-we're like that.

Joe Turner was born in Kansas City in 1911, which would figure large in his musical evolution. Kansas City was a juke joint, barbecue, boogie woogie piano town like no other that has ever been.

Folks from Chicago may cavil and protest, but before Chicago was, Kansas City is. Los Angeles and New York City never were, and the only city that compares is New Orleans.

The music reflects the city-and while New Orleans is all weddings, parades, and funerals, Kansas City was all business when it came to music.

Joe was never a singer of country blues as many other bluesmen were, because his roots were urban and fixed in the time of pre war big bands and boogie woogie.

His blues wasn't hip and urbane like T-Bone Walker's was, or tongue in cheek like Louis Jordan, but its grit and power is unmistakable, like the roar of the daily nonstop 747 from Los Angeles to Paris that struggles off the runway, rattling windows for miles around.

A big man at 6'2" and north of 300 pounds, his music projects like some primal, unstoppable force that drags you kicking and screaming to your feet.

By the time rock and roll came around in the fifties, Joe wasn't a teenager any more and although he had some songs that made it onto jukeboxes, other folks like Bill Haley mostly made the money.

Bill was no spring chicken either, but a galvanized cowboy singer and deejay who knew a good thing when he heard it, and ran with it.

Joe was, in the end a product of the prewar era and his time had come and gone-at least for a time, until an new generation of people like me rediscovered him in the back shelves of dusty used record shops in out of the way places.

I have this mental picture of Big Joe leaning against his brand new Hudson Terraplane looking sharp in his suit and snap brim fedora, thirties all the way.

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