Friday, June 26, 2020

In Case You Missed Him......Joe Medwick

Joe Medwick
I’ve recently been enjoying Hammond Scott’s reminiscences of his days with Black Top Records on his Facebook page.  As longtime readers of FBF will know, I am a longtime fan of the New Orleans-based label and many of my first excursions into listening to the blues involved Black Top’s excellent catalog, where I was introduced to many of my favorites, the Neville Brothers, Earl King, Snooks Eaglin, James “Thunderbird” Davis, Anson Funderburgh, Sam Myers, and the Rockets, Bobby Parker, Bobby Radcliff, Grady Gaines, Roy Gaines, W.C. Clark, Lynn August, Clarence Hollimon, Carol Fran, and Robert Ward.

It was on Grady Gaines’ 1988 album Full Gain where I first heard Joe Medwick.  Medwick sang two tracks on that album, but the one that captured my attention was the third track on the disc, a slow, smoky blues ballad called “If I Don’t Get Involved.”  It was a powerful song just from the lyrics, but Medwick’s performance just blew me away.  I had recently started listening to some of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s recordings (most specifically, the incredible Two Steps From The Blues), and Medwick’s vocal  certainly fell in the vicinity of Bland’s…..tender and vulnerable but rawhide tough at the same time.  While I enjoyed the entire Full Gain album, I kept coming back to this song.  It really spoke to me….I don’t remember if it was things in my life at the time or what, but it definitely made an impact.

Of course, this wasn’t in the days of “information at your fingertips” that we have now, so it was difficult to find out more about Joe Medwick at that time.  He later appeared on volume 4 of Black Top Blues-A-Rama:  Live Down & Dirty with Gaines, his Texas Upsetters, and Joe “Guitar” Hughes, where he sang “If I Don’t Get Involved,” “C.C. Rider,” and a couple of Bland’s tunes, which sounded as good to these ears as these originals.  One of the highlights of listening to this portion of the set is Gaines’ introducing Medwick as “Joe Metric,” but the mispronunciation of his name sure didn’t affect his performance at all. 

At the time, I thought it would be fantastic if Black Top were able to release a whole album of Joe Medwick, but sadly, it didn’t work out that way.  Medwick passed away in April of 1992……I remember reading somewhere that he had liver cancer, so he didn’t even get to appear on Gaines’ Black Top follow-up, Horn of Plenty.

Bobby "Blue" Bland

What I didn't know about Joe Medwick until I read his obituary was that he wrote several songs for Bland at Duke Records, including those that he performed at the Blues-A-Rama (which I only recently purchased).  While he did receive partial composer credit for "Farther Up The Road" (reportedly with Johnny Copeland), he is also believed to have written "I Don't Want No Woman," "Cry, Cry, Cry," "Turn On Your Love Light," "I Pity The Fool," "Driving Wheel," and "Call On Me," among others. 

Don Robey
Since blues and R&B recordings were in high demand at the time, Medwick was able to sell his songs to local music producers, including Duke Records' Don Robey.  However, Medwick rarely asked for formal contracts for songwriting credit, so basically he sold them for cash he needed at the moment (he called them "rent songs") and the producers, most notoriously Robey, claimed songwriting credit (and royalties) for themselves.  Medwick later acknowledged that he used poor judgement in giving up his songwriting credits and royalties, but he needed the cash at the time to live on (partying with the rest), and he never really blamed Robey (or others) for misleading or exploiting fact he insisted that Robey offered him the standard contracts, but Medwick insisted on the cash up front.  

Robey did record three not-particularly-memorable Duke singles with Medwick in the late 50's, and also sang demos for Bland, but Bland fell out with Medwick for some reason and afterward was so mad that he couldn't even listen to Medwick's voice, which effectively ended Medwick's tenure with Duke.  He connected with Huey Meaux's Crazy Cajun studios in the mid/late 60's recording, releasing multiple singles under his own name, Joe Masters, or Joe Melvin, on a variety of labels.  Nineteen of those tracks were collected by the UK label Edsel on an album, I'm An After Hour Man.

Medwick was basically inactive on the Houston music scene until reconnecting with Grady Gaines in the mid 1980's.  His appearance on Full Gain earned him a measure of popularity in the last few years of his life.  Black Top actually included a couple of Medwick's songs on Gaines' follow-up, Horn of Plenty.  Ironically, "If I Don't Get Involved" was later covered by Bobby "Blue" Bland for his Midnight Run album in the late 80's and ended up getting a good bit of radio play on R&B stations.  Apparently, he overcame his anger at Medwick enough to record his song, which hopefully earned him a few dollars in his waning years.

Sadly, Joe Medwick didn't get the recognition that his talent deserved, via a few tough breaks brought on by bad choices and bad luck.  However, in more recent times, his talents have become more appreciated, thanks to stories like this one on the internet.  It's just too bad he wasn't here to enjoy it.

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