Roy Head

Roy Head has lived an archetypal rock and roll movie, though in his case the movie lacks the climatic final scene when the hero rises from the ashes of a shattered career to claim his rightful place in the top ranks of the music pantheon. Still active today, at 56 years of age, in his prime during the 60’s Head was one of the most powerful and acrobatic rock ‘n’ soul singers to ever grace a stage. In addition to his contributions in those fields, Head did rise from the ashes of his rock/soul days to fashion a modestly successful country career logging twenty four chart singles for eight labels between 1974 and 1985. (A separate Edsel issue, “Country Crooner” [NESTCD 912], is devoted to the country side).

Notes on the Recordings

Material indicated by a star (*) was released by Crazy Cajun on the Head album “Boogie Down” (CC1067) in 1977. Material marked # was released on “Rock ‘n’ Roll My Soul” (CC1073) also in 1977. I have no idea when the sessions were conducted but my guess would be late 60’s or early 70’s.

“One More Time” is the song that carried Roy Head and The Traits from local band to regional star status. This is cool even today: surf guitar, drums in the garage, spooky organ and Head’s plaintive vocal. Dig the handclap percussion and retro axe ride. Back in 1958 there was damn little that smoked this spicy and spikey.


Here’s an experiment that actually works pretty well. Head usually resisted adapting his music to the hot trends but “Don’t Want To Make It Too Funky”#, complete with processed vocal and smooth-toned guitar break, wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the Rick James repertoire. Monster cool B-3 organ ride halfway home makes way for Roy’s chantlike vocal. If this guy isn’t soulful, I’ll eat my computer! 

“Get Out Of My Life Woman”* was on the playlist of most every white and black soul band in the south during the 60’s and 70’s. Head and the crew give it all they’ve got here, with a percolatin’ horn section, whistling organ and funky bass. Just when things start to get mundane, the sax player rips it, then Roy returns to nail the vocal and the whole ensemble goes into rave-up mode all the way home. 

“It’s Three O’Clock In The Morning”* is a classic Texas slow dance, crotch-grindin’ deep blues, sounds like Bobby “Blue” Bland track. Head and a tasty and tuneful Fender fretrider turn in a gut-bucket beautiful reading; if you’re a blues lover, folks it doesn’t get much better than this! Doesn’t hurt a bit that the song is melodically similar to “Stormy Monday”. A fine fine track with sharp guitar punctuation at the close. 

We’ll keep the sad and mournful blues tone going with another classic, “I’m Not A Fool Anymore”*. Roy again shows why many in the profession consider him one of the best “blue-eyed soul” singers of his era. Horns and the B-3 support him admirably. 

“Trying To Reach My Goal”# presents Roy in his uptempo “jump” mode and you can clearly hear that he was working some of the same turf in Houston as Delbert McClinton was working up North in Fort Worth. The guys get wound up really keenly and Head lets loose some fine guttural interjections like “skin it back” and “Good God” vocal imprecations that prove his James Brown influences beyond the shadow of a shout. 

Roy flirts with a bit of Jamaican funk beat on “Double Your Satisfaction”# and, not surprisingly, emerges sounding tough. The sax and organ apply the Ray Charles touches in the double time outro. 

“Soul train leavin’ New York City. Destination now diddy-wah-diddy. Be In LA now in two hours flat, cause children now that’s where it’s at. Get on board”. Then to a sort of funk lite beat Roy namechecks blues and soul greats, assigning each a duty on the “Soul Train”. Not only that but you get a bizarre chorus that oozes tags lines from the greats Head sings about, examples being Joe Tex, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, The Supremes, Jimmy Reed and so forth. Stone cold cool is what “Soul Train” is, you’re gonna love it. 

Back then in Texas you had to be able to deliver a good waltz now and then no matter what kind of band you had. Head here puts his considerable pipes to working up some magic on Gene Thomas’ “Baby’s Not Home”. The string section doesn’t work all that well but they don’t intrude too badly. Again, an excellent vocal performance. 

And you had to know Bo - Diddley of course. Every band absolutely had to offer up at least one of those great jagged, syncopated sonic epics and on this set Head and cohorts offer up not one but three examples, “Bring It To Jerome”#, heard here, plus “Who Do You Love” and “Before You Accuse Me” later in the set. Substitute a smokin’ harp blower for Jerome Green’s slinky maracas and you’ll be on target here. 

Huey P. Meaux and Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) are listed as co-writers on “Operator, Operator”*, a hard drivin’ rocker. The lyrics could well have been penned by Meaux (they need a little mo’ work) but musically this is no wrong number. The band boils right along and that could well be the good doctor on the swirling organ. 
Here’s a happy sounding selection, “The Same People”, propelled by a kickin’ drummer, that shows off Roy’s uptempo soul side. His snappy sounding lead vocal is ornamented by a good chorus and a sympathetic horn section. This one shows off his Wilson Pickett side very well. 

Next we go back to a funk-blues mode with one of Roosevelt Sykes’ best songs, “Drivin’ Wheel”#, covered in the late 50’s by Jr. Parker. Head pulls out all the soul shouter’s tricks here with a couple of sassy tempo changes and a hard-charging bunch of players burning behind him. The guitar player rides to glory at the close. 

It’s back to Bo for “Who Do You Love”, probably Diddley’s most covered composition. Kicked off by bouncy traps and a sashaying horn section, Head enters the swirling fray to intone the magic words, “I walked 47 miles of barb wire, use a cobra snake for a necktie, brand new house by the roadside made from rattlesnake hide. Got a brand new chimney made on top that I made outta human skulls, c’mon take a little walk with me darlin’, tell me who do you love”. Roy and his pals especially the guitarist, get wound up on this one, another selection always found in the live shows of all great Texas bands. 

“I Can’t Stand It” is a superb example of Texas funk that Head makes into his own. A snaky bass line, syncopated drums, a Leslie-ized organ and perky horns make this one a corker. Roy talks it down and we get a couple of false endings. Nice stuff! 

Roy moves back into an uptown soul feel for “How Do You Think I Can Live With Somebody”#. Another strong Head vocal drives this one, written by the same team (Thomas-McRee-Thomas) that penned “Double Your Satisfaction”. 
“Mama, Mama”# is a selection clearly influenced by “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch”, just check out the intro. Credited to Simon Reyes, the song adroitly rhymes New Orleans and beans but the cut’s impact is lessened by slight tempo variations and sorta squeaky background vocals. 

A guitar vamp returns us to the Diddley-land for Roy’s solid version of “Before You Accuse Me”. The guitarist has the most fun here, taking an Albert Collins like run at the bottom of his axe. As on other uptempos, here’s another chance to contrast the styles of Head with McClinton. 

Out of nowhere a steel guitar rides in for “Do What You Can Do” a countryish number written by Weldon Dean Parks. Roy talk-sings his way through this one that features much more restrained backing than any of the previous cuts. This shows the country influence prevalent in Head’s youth and, despite being a change of pace, works very well. 

“Neighbor Neighbor”*, is credited to Huey P. Meaux, doubtless after some time spent listening to Classics IV records. The track bubbles right along compositional issues notwithstanding and features a can-opener guitar solo, an on-the-money brass section and plenty of hot shot Head vocal licks. 

“I Was Born A Free Man”# was penned by R ‘n’ B artist Joe Pipps and shows a pro’s touch. The horns are full of chrome and producer Meaux makes full use of echo to good effect on Head’s delivery. 

One of Huey’s distinguishing characteristics as a one man producer/publisher/label head was his tendency to cut his biggest songs on just about any of his artists he could talk into having a go. Here Roy gives us a serviceable version of the Sir Douglas Quintet gem, “She’s About A Mover”, also cut by various others from the Meaux stable. 

Roy’s vocal on “Let A Woman Be A Woman” is right on target but the tracks sounds confused, doesn’t sound to me like the band had it fully together. They work at it manfully, however and almost pull their chestnuts from the fire. Lotsa Head grunts and vocal cackles but there isn’t much to the lyrics beyond the title. 

We started with Roy’s first signature song over an hour ago so let’s close out with a different, decidedly strange version. If the backing chorus isn’t weird enough try the bizarre guitar sound, straight out of Chet Atkins’ “Boo Boo Stick Beat” school. Nevertheless, as with much of this material, and in the rare cases like this one where the band doesn’t have it together, Roy rises above to turn in an excellent vocal. 

Altogether, I firmly believe that the selections on “White Texas Soul Shouter” firmly buttress this writer’s claim that Roy Head is truly one of the finest, and certainly the most underrated rock/soul/blues artists to emerge from the fertile Texas-Louisiana melting pot. Turn the lights down low, grab your partner and ease on into dance mode, you’ll be steppin’ and slidin’ to the singing of one of the very best, Roy Head! 

~John Lomax III, November 1998

Roy Head bio

Born on January 9th, 1941, in Three Rivers, Texas about halfway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Roy Head grew up in a musical family that surrounded him with country sounds. They moved to San Marcos and he began singing country music in the family group by 1950. Around 1957 Head’s fascination with country music was overshadowed by his growing excitement for the more driving sounds of James Brown’s hard-edged R’n’B and the pioneering rock records made by Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Elvis. In 1958 he organised The Traits, his first band, and they soon became a popular attraction in local high school gymnasiums, at teen canteens and sock hops. In addition to the standard four-piece rock quartet line up, The Traits also boasted a hopping three-piece horn section, a rarity for white bands back then, forty-one years ago. 

Roy Head & The Traits went into the recording studio later that same year, emerging with “One More Time”, the kick-off tune for Edsel package. A scorching R ‘n’ B-inflected rocker written by Head (with the band receiving credit), “One More Time” deserved national exposure but, unfortunately his label T&T Records San Antonio, didn’t have the clout. Nevertheless, “One More Time” did become a regional hit, enabling The Traits to become an extremely popular group in central Texas, western Louisiana and southern Oklahoma. 

Little wonder, this writer recalls seeing The Traits engaging in red hot “battles of the bands” during the early 60’s and they absolutely smoked! Not too many groups worked up their own material back then, but in addition to “One More Time”, The Traits presented other originals along with sizzling versions of early rock and black hits. These events replete with “Applause Meters”, generally pitted The Traits against The Triumphs, led by Head’s contemporary B.J. Thomas, and you could feel the competitive nature of the two singers take charge as each tried to outdo the other. 
As I recall, Head and The Traits usually emerged victorious, primarily because Roy was a frenzied on-stage dervish, jumping into splits, spinning, dropping to one knee, screaming, shouting, sweating and pacing the stage in constant motion. Thomas, though a kinetic on-stage performer, simply couldn’t match the San Marcos wildman. 

And so it went throughout the first half of the 60’s - The Traits stood atop the pyramid of regional bands with all but Head also holding day jobs, playing weekends and earning pretty good pocket money now that they had moved up from high school gyms to frat parties, clubs and even opening slots for touring national stars. The group issued a series of unsuccessful records for a number of small Texas labels. 

Everything changed in a hurry when Head and Traits’ bass player, Gene Kurtz, came up with a little ditty they thought had the potential to bring them greater success. But rather than this writer’s ramblings let’s let Roy tell the story, as he related to Bob Claypool of the Houston Post, back in 1975: “The song was called ‘Talking About A Cow’ then and it was pretty risqué. We’ve been doin’ it on-stage for awhile. We were advised to ‘clean it up’ so we cleaned it up, rhymed it and titled it ‘Treat Her Right’. It cost about $200 to record and the tapes were eventually taken to Don Robey by Charlie Booth”. 

Houston impresario Robey was primarily known for issuing records on black artists like Bobby “Bland” Blue and Junior Parker on his Duke and Peacock imprints, but he decided that “Treat Her Right” was worth a shot, so he issued her the record on his new Backbeat label in the summer of 1965. 

“Treat Her Right” blasted its way to #1 on the R ‘n’ B charts and to #2 on the pop list, prevented from hitting the top spot only by “Yesterday”. Since then Otis Redding, Sandy Nelson, Joe Stampley & The Uniques and plenty of other artists have covered the song and in 1971 country queen Barbara Mandrell racked up her first Top 15 country hit with her adapted version entitled “Treat Him Right”. 

Suddenly Roy Head and his Traits were a hot commodity, before long they were sharing the bill will such stars as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and Tony Joe White and appearing on national TV shows such as “American Bandstand”, “Hullabaloo” and “Shindig”. 

Looking back those days in late 1965 marked the apex of Head’s fame. He had two additional hits that year, “Just A Little Bit” and “Apple Of My Eye”, both Top 40 entries, but never was able to post anything resembling a pop hit in 1966. And before much of ‘66 had unreeled, his life began to unravel. Let’s turn again to Head for the story: 
“I had a group, The Traits, who decided they didn’t want to travel, so I went ahead and worked without them because I thought, ‘I’m not going to make any money sitting on my ass, they all have regular jobs’. They don't want to travel as they wanted me to stay and work, like weekends with them. So I went out and did a lot of everything, recordings, plus television, movies, whatever I was lucky enough to get into. They thought they were right, I can’t put them down for their beliefs. It kind of put a damper on my career and I’m very hard headed and I said, ‘Hell with ‘em, I’m not going to record nothing’”. 

The dispute wasn’t resolved until late 1967 but by them Roy had developed nodes on his throat so he went from the clutches of lawyers to the embraces of doctors, telling journalist Leon Beck: “I busted up my vocal cords and that laid me up for a while and I went back to work too soon and did it all over again. So then I was like a cube of ice. You get cold in this business, you just forget it, especially with rock ‘n’ roll. If you’re not on top of the market constantly you’re a dead loser. . . I got into the bottle pretty good. I guess I just used it as a crutch because I would get on stage and there would be 30 or 40 people in the house and I would think, ‘Hell, I’m killing ‘em’ and the only one I was killing really was me”. 

There’s just one thing worse than being a drunk and that’s being a mean drunk who wants to fight and that’s what Roy Head became in the late 60’s. My favourite quotes on this subject come from the man himself, as told to Claypool and Beck in the mid 70’s: “My personal problems were that I liked to fight and drink. It was nothing I could put my finger on, but I just got into acting crazy. I was banned in a couple of states for my fighting - I broke a club owner’s jaw once, broke another guy’s knee. I had a bad, bad reputation from it. I drank a lot, but I wasn’t an alcoholic or anything like that, regardless of what you’ve heard...I like to fight, just getting down on the gravel out in the street. I’d love to walk down the street right now and pop a dude in the mouth...I got a reputation to where a lot of dudes would come in the clubs looking for it. Like I was working at one place and a dude walked up in the middle of the floor show and said something to me. Well I just broke his jaw and then, when I hit him, everybody jumped in it....Not too long ago some dude was tailgaitin’ me so I threw on the brakes and we locked up in the street. I just did a facial on him”. 

As you might suppose, these charming tactics did not endear Head to club owners or fans so it wasn’t long before he found himself unemployable. In addition, he didn’t like the way the music of the early 70’s sounded. “They came out with all that fag rock, with lipstick, rouge, earrings and all that. I’m not knocking it but it’s not my bag. People kept saying, ‘Why don’t you change, do what’s happening now?’. But I didn’t feel it and I still don’t - I just got lost in all that psychedelic stuff”. 

However, by 1974 he realised that winning bar battles might perhaps be counterproductive so, guided by a patient manager, Houston club owner Lee Savaggio, he staged a comeback in the country field, singing the music he had grown up hearing. “Baby’s Not Home”, included here and on the other Edsel release, “Country Crooner”, became his first country chart entry late in 1974 for Mega Records, then he fashioned three more minor hits in 1975 on the Shannon label. Head moved over to major label ABC-Dot the next year and tallied ten hits there, including his biggest success “Come To Me” (#19 in 1977). He changed labels to Elektra in 1979 and scored four minor chart entries there before losing that deal: “me and Jimmy Bowen (Elektra Boss) got sideways”, the singer recalled in late 1998. 
He posted an additional six charters from 1981 to 1985 on a string of successively smaller labels, beginning with Churchill and ending with Texas Crude Records. Alas he then dropped off the national music radar screens and though he has continued to perform regularly, in fact he maintains two separate bands, one to play his country material, one for his blues shows, he hasn’t been able to fashion a fresh comeback into the national limelight. When I spoke with him in late November 1998, he said “I’m still doing music, still having a good time. Doin’ a show with B.J. (Thomas) in December, that’ll be like a real reunion”. At 57 however, he admits that “It’s starting to get a little thin, if it doesn’t pick up I might have to get a job. I dunno what I want to do, though, I love music so much.” 

Roy Head remains one of the finest on-stage performers this writer has been privileged to witness work his on-stage magic. He’s a vastly underrated rock/soul pioneer and a man, who were it not for some bad breaks and the lack of good management or production when he was in his 20’s and 30’s could easily have become as famous and critically regarded as his Texas contemporaries such as B.J. Thomas and Delbert McClinton: for when it comes to white soul shouters Roy Head was one of the very best. Let’s all hope life has some pleasant surprises slated for him yet! 

~John Lomax III, November 1998