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  Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

The Rap on Joe Tex

by Clay Coppedge
ROGERS - Dancer Alvin Ailey has always been considered the most famous person to come from Rogers, but fans of that sweet soul music of the '60s and '70s might beg to differ once they find out that singer Joe Tex drew his first breath and sang his first words in Rogers.

That's not to say Tex - born in Rogers and named Joseph Arrington on Aug. 8, 1935 - is associated in most people's mind with Rogers. While Ailey, who lived in Rogers until he was 11, referred often to Rogers in his work and in his autobiography, Joe Tex belongs, in the mind of most Texans, to either Baytown, where his music career began, or Navasota, where it ended. (Navasota, incidentally, is home to another music legend - the late blues guitarist Mance Limpscomb.)

Still, it's understandable if Rogers wants to lay at least partial claim to a singer that critic John Morthland of Texas Monthly called "by far Texas' greatest contributor to soul music."

Other writers attempting to trace the roots of rap wind up with Arrington, who liked to slow the tempo in the middle of a song and begin speaking or "rapping" a verse that told the story before repeating the refrain and ending the song.

Rick Koster, in his book Texas Music described the style as "an exhorting, work-the-chataugua cross between Little Richard and Elmer Gantry."

Joe Tex's best-known hits include "Hold On To What You've Got" and "Skinny Legs and All." He recorded an album of country and western songs, "South Country" that sold well and drew strong reviews. His biggest hit was "I Gotcha" in 1971.


At this point, at the crest of his popular success, Joe Tex pulled a Cat Stevens-type stunt; he gave up his music career and became a minister for the Nation of Islam. He changed his name again, this time to Yusef Hazziez.

During this period of his life, Arrington, a.k.a. Joe Tex, a.k.a. Yusef Hazziez, a.k.a. Minister Joseph X. Harrington, spent most of his time on his farm near Navasota, where he was a devoted Houston Oilers fan. He wrote a decidedly non-Islamic song, "Do The Earl Campbell" in tribute to the star running back.

Like Cat Stevens, Arrington vowed he was through with music forever, that his life now belonged to Allah and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. But after Mohamed died in 1975, he received the blessing and approval of the Nation of Islam to begin recording and performing again.

Arrington said he re-entered show business so that he might deliver the Nation of Islam's message to his fans. He enjoyed only moderate success until he recorded the lamentable "I Ain't Going to Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman.) How this spread the message of Allah has never been determined to history's satisfaction.

Joe Tex died on August 12, 1982in Navasota of heart failure.

Morthland said Joe Tex's contributions to modern music are impressive on the surface, but even more so in retrospect. "Few pop singers articulated more fearlessly, or more accurately, the mutual vulnerabilities between men and women," Morthland wrote. He added that Joe Tex possessed a "black preacher's ability to bring a laugh with his moralism, but plain old country horse sense was his truest guide."

So excuse Bell County music fans if they want to claim that some of that plain old country horse sense was instilled in him during his formative years in Rogers.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
- August 4, 2005 column

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