Joe “Mr. Google Eyes” August was born on September 13, 1931, in New Orleans. He cut his musical teeth as a member of the First Emmanuel Baptist Church choir, but it was the blues that really called to him. As a teenager, Joe worked as a delivery boy for Dooky Chase’s restaurant. According to Dr. John’s autobiography, Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of The Night Tripper, “…he loved to eye the ladies; one night a waiter called him “the googlest-eyed motherfucker” he’d ever seen, and the name stuck.” Mr. Google Eyes it was.
Joe would sometimes sit in with bands that played at Dooky Chase’s, and he used the money he earned to buy his own P.A. system, which proved to be a great way to get seasoned vets to give him a shot. He soon got a steady gig at the Downbeat Club, playing with Roy Brown, who proved to be an influence on his vocal style. August made his debut for the black-owned Coleman Records with 1946’s “Poppa Stoppa’s Be-Bop Blues,” a song paying homage to New Orleans DJ Poppa Stoppa, aka Vernon Winslow. Louisiana wouldn’t allow black DJ’s on the air at that time, so it was Vernon’s job to teach the white DJ’s how to sound more hip; it must have worked, because three different white DJ’s at the same station would use the name Poppa Stoppa over the years. Also: apparently, Poppa Stoppa was a slang term for condoms. Makes sense to me.
He sounds a lot older than fifteen years old here, doesn’t he? Coleman capitalized on the novelty of Joe’s youth by proclaiming him “Mr. Google Eyes — the world’s youngest blues singer.”
Joe’s contract was purchased by Columbia in 1948. “For You My Love” soon followed, and the sound is clearly adding Rhythm (or, if you prefer, Jump) to it’s Blues.
“Rock My Soul” is pleasingly raw and raucous. Great saxophone work at the end.
This ode to life’s simple pleasures was released on Okeh, which was a columbia subsidiary at that time. It was released in 1951, even though it had been recorded two years prior. Here’s “No Wine, No Women.”
The B side was a song from that same recording session called “Rough and Rocky Road.” Like the A side, it features steady accompaniment from Billy Ford and His Musical V-8’s. Hot stuff.
By 1951, Joe was married and living in Newark, NJ. He befriended bandleader Johnny Otis , who got him signed to the Duke label after his Columbia contract expired. Songs like “O What a Fool” were solid tunes, though the energy of Joe’s earlier work seems a little lacking. Take a listen and decide for yourself.
Joe and Johnny moved to California in 1955 and worked the L.A. club circuit together for a while. August recorded “Strange Things Happening In the Dark” for Flip records while he was out there. The funereal horn parts that bookend the song leads one to wonder if he was trying to capitalize on Screaming Joe Hawkins’ spooky schtick. Good song, regardless.
Joe returned to New Orleans in 1960. His marriage had ended and he was dating a white woman, which led to harassment from the local police. When he tried to end the relationship, his lover shot him in the gut. Joe survived, and would continue to bartend, MC, and sing—sometimes with Earl King and Deacon John—in New Orleans until his death in 1992.