Playwright Joe Plummer said that New Horizon Theater knows how to bring the Black experience to the stage.
That’s why the Chicago-based writer, and co-writer David Barr, were excited when the theater company decided to bring “I Gotcha! The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clan” to Pittsburgh.
The play tells the true story of soul singer Joe Tex and his journey as an innovative singer and his devout dedication to the teachings of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, former head of the Black Moslems that later became the Nation of Islam
The story is set at the pinnacle of Tex’s career and showcases both his strengths and weaknesses through his feel-good songs including “Skinny Legs and All,” “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman”) and “Show Me.”
Tex was born Joseph Arrington Jr. Aug. 8, 1933, in Rogers, Texas. He began singing on stage at the Apollo Theater and won first place in a talent contest in 1954, which garnered him a record deal.
His cover of James Brown’s “Baby You’re Right” became a No. 2 hit. The prolific musician released promising records, but he didn’t prosper in the business until 1965 while he was guided by Nashville record producer, Buddy Killen. Under Killen’s tutelage, “Hold On To What You’ve Got” was a No. 5 U.S. pop hit. The song spent 11 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold a million copies in 1966.
“Skinny Legs and All” and “Men Are Getting Scarce” were also Top 10 hits for Tex. His last major hit, “I Gotcha” was released in 1972. The song went to No. 2 and stayed on the charts for 20 weeks. After the release Tex decided to retire.
However, he returned to the music scene three years later and enjoyed a comeback with the catchy ditty, “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman.” It reached No. 12 on the U.S. charts. By 1980, Tex retired from music again. He died two years later—five days after his 49th birthday.
“‘I Gotcha’ is a true story. I wrote this because I loved Joe Tex and James Brown because they both could sing and dance. James Brown kept going and kept getting accolades and Joe Tex disappeared so I was like what the hell? I was intrigued. When I started to research, I found out that there weren’t too many quotes out there.” said Plummer.
To help find information for the play, Plummer traveled to Tex’s hometown and spoke with his aunt, widow and sons to learn more about the mysterious singer.
“My main goal was to tell the truth. His widow told me Tex’s warts and all. I wanted to show that Tex was not one-dimensional. He cheated on his wife, but he was very generous to people and he was a good provider. I wanted to make sure Tex got his just due.”
Plummer enlisted the help of his good friend, writer David Barr, to make the story come to life.
“I’m a country boy and Joe Tex was a country boy before country was cool. I played in a rock band and I did some of Tex’s songs so I appreciated his music even more, explained Barr who also resides in Chicago. “I always had an affinity for Joe Tex because he is solely himself and he wrote songs about his community. I knew I wanted to be a part of this play.”
Barr said it took the duo about three years to write and bring “I Gotcha! The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clan” to the stage. But the process was a labor of love.
“It was a painful process,” Barr said jokingly. “We had so much information that we didn’t know what to cut out. We had a great time putting it together. Tex talked about serious and good things in his music. We had to take him seriously.”
The play opened to critical acclaim at the Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago last year.
“It’s a fun play and I was excited to see the play make it to the stage,” Plummer said.
New Horizon’s production will be directed by Eileen Morris. Morris previously produced one of New Horizon’s most successful plays, “Get Ready,” which was also penned by Plummer.
“I’m excited to see what Eileen will do with ‘I Gotcha,’” Plummer said.
In addition to Tex, the play also mentions musical legends Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett and Ben E. King who made up the Soul Clan group along with Tex.
Some of the singers most popular solo hits will be featured in the play including Burke’s “Cry To Me,” Wilson’s “Midnight Hour” and King’s “This Magic Moment.”
“They all got along very well and three of the four members of the Soul Clan are in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The Soul Clan was instrumental in creating Atlantic Records with the late, great Ray Charles. If it hadn’t been for them, Atlantic Records may not exist. These were strong and determined Black men who were making their own decisions. They were given the unbelievable opportunity to impact their communities with the music,” Barr said.
The Soul Clan was formed in 1968 and disbanded in 1969. In addition to Tex, King, Pickett and Burke, the Soul Clan also included singers Arthur Conley, “Do You Like Soul Music” and Don Conway. The group had two singles, “Soul Meeting” and “That’s How I Feel.”
Both Plummer and Barr believe the rich history of Tex and the members of the Soul Clan will have mass appeal to Pittsburghers.
“Joe Tex was the first country-soul-rapper. If you dug David Banner, Arrested Development, Erykah Badu or the early Outkast music, you’ll love Joe Tex. He also did jack-leg preaching like Kirk Franklin and Donnie McClurkin do. You’ll see a lot of Joe Tex in them. Before he died, Michael Jackson credited Joe Tex for his dance moves. It’s good that Pittsburgh is doing this play,” Barr said.
“I Gotcha! The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clan” will play from May 21-30 at the Grey Box Theater, 3595 Butler St., in Lawenceville.
Show times are 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors and students with ID. Special group rates are available.
(For more information, contact New Horizon Theater at 412-431-0773 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)