Sunset For Joe Jones
"California Sun" (Henry Glover)
Joe Jones, Roulette, 1961
Hope he's out there havin' fun. . . .
In OffBeat’s latest Weekly Beat newsletter (so glad they're back), I read of the recent passing of Joe Jones, New Orleans pianist, bandleader, singer, promoter and talent scout whose peak years were from the late 1950’s through the mid-1960’s. So, I thought I’d share a side of his I like that was eclipsed by a garage rock cover a few years later.
Joe Jones had two hit records in his career, “California Sun” being the less successful, reaching #89 in 1961. A year earlier, he had scored much bigger (#3) with the song he is best remembered for, “You Talk Too Much”, written by fellow hometowner Reggie Hall. That record first appeared on Ric; but, when it climbed the charts, Roulette took over sales and distribution, as Jones had recorded an unreleased version for them previously, allowing them to claim rights to the song. As things go in Record Land, Roulette’s sudden renewed interest in Jones when he had a sure hit allowed him to record a decent LP and several more singles for the label, the only one of which to have any impact being “California Sun”. In 1964, the song was recorded by a band of Indiana teenagers, The Rivieras. Their stripped down, guitar-organ combo, surf/rock approach kicked it up a notch and took it to #1, before losing that spot to some new group from England called the Beatles, as the Invasion got underway.
While documentation is sketchy, it appears that most of Jones’ Roulette sides were done in New Orleans, including “California Sun”; but I don’t know who is playing on it. The diversely talented Henry Glover, who was working for Roulette during this period, wrote the simple but effective paean to the Left Cost lifestyle. When I was young, I heard the Riviera’s version on the radio, unaware of Jones’ take. So, I was gratified and satisfied when I finally discovered the tune’s HOTG roots and heard those tasty, honkin’ horns and driving beat with just a touch of syncopation. Though not much of a singer, Jones gives it a good natured go; but a more dynamic vocalist could have made this R&B version the one everybody remembers. Not having the single, I pulled the song from a now out of print UK CD compilation of his Roulette recordings, You Talk Too Much – The Best of Joe Jones.
After losing his Roulette deal, Jones brought Earl King, Chris Kenner and Johnny Adams, along with his band, which included drummer Smokey Johnson, to Detroit in 1963 to audition for Berry Gordy’s new label. They cut many sides; but, in the end, Gordy passed on all of them, although he kept Johnson up there for a while to school the Motown drummers on the New Orleans style (a small investment that paid big dividends!). Then Jones took the Dixie Cups and Alvin Robinson to New York and got them a recording deal with Red Bird. A number of New Orleans musicians went up for those sessions, too, including a young arranger named Wardell Quezergue. This turned out well, as the Dixie Cups had a string of hits in 1964, including the #1 “Chapel Of Love” and Robinson had a minor one with “Something You Got”. Jones also did promotional work for the label, and managed and booked the acts. It was his last and biggest success in the music business. He was 79 when he died in Los Angeles.