Joseph Abraham "Joe" Houston (July 11*, 1926 – December 28, 2015) was an American tenor saxophonist who played jazz and rhythm and blues.
He was born in Bastrop, a suburb of Austin, Texas, and studied trumpet in school, changing to saxophone later. As a teen he began emulating a touring band by buying a red suit with white pants. One night in 1941 a saxophone player did not show for a gig with the band and Houston took his place. Between 1943 and 1946, Houston toured with King Kolax's band through Kansas City and Chicago and throughout the Mid-West.
After World War II Houston returned to Texas, and recorded with the pianist Amos Milburn and singer Big Joe Turner. Initially playing alto sax, he switched to tenor in the wake of such "honking" saxophonists as Big Jay McNeely and Paul Williams. Turner got Houston his first recording contract on Freedom Records in 1949. Houston moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and played with Betty Roche and Wynonie Harris.
Eventually, Houston formed his own band The Rockets, and moved to Los Angeles in 1952 and commenced recording for labels big and small: Modern, RPM, Lucky, Imperial, Dootone, Recorded in Hollywood, Cash, and Money (as well as the considerably better-financed Mercury, where he scored his only national R&B hit, "Worry, Worry, Worry," in 1952). Houston's formula was simple and savagely direct -- he'd honk and wail as hard as he could, from any conceivable position: on his knees, lying on his back, walking the bar, etc.
Another chart hit singles in 1952 was "Hard Time Baby" which peaked at #10 on Billboard's R&B singles chart. His output for the Bihari Brothers' Crown label (where he was billed as "Wild Man of the Tenor Sax") is positively exhilarating: "All Nite Long," "Blow Joe Blow," and "Joe's Gone" are herculean examples of single-minded sax blasting.
Houston was based in Los Angeles throughout most of his career. He toured and recorded with his band the Defrosterz, started by the bassist Mark St. John, who acted as his bassist and manager almost 20 years, plus the keyboardist Mike Malone. They toured North America and recorded throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The band was signed to the Shattered Records label.
Houston's musical career ended after he suffered a stroke in 2006. Joe returned to the stage in July 2008 and performed at The Long Beach lobster Festival. He continued to entertain until 2012 when he had another stroke, from which he did not recover and remained unresponsive until his death on December 28, 2015 in Long Beach, California.
Although Houston was respected by his peers in the music world, he never reached the popularity he deserved. Critically, some fine words were offered by the dean of American rock critics, Robert Christgau, in his review of a collection of Houston tunes, about which he wrote, “This is how I explain rock and roll saxophone.”