July 25, 2024
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James Polk and The Brothers Were Indie Recording Pioneers in 1960s Austin
James Polk and The Brothers  Were Indie Recording Pioneers in 1960s Austin
Posted Date: February 08 2024
A Black History Month Profile
by Aaron Lack

Before Dr. James Polk became known as The Godfather of Austin Jazz; before his work with Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles and many others; before he was an IBM executive and University Professor; he was a working musician and primary school educator who pioneered independent recording in the Austin music scene of the 1960s with his band, James Polk and The Brothers.

James Polk and the Brothers with Polk on sax. Photo by Burton Wilson at the Ascot Room East Austin.

Polk began working as a professional musician at the age of thirteen, with his father’s blessing. After graduating from Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in 1962, Polk taught at the all black Booker T. Washington High School in Elgin TX while pursuing a master’s degree at Texas A&M University - Kingsville (then Texas A&I) (Spearman). Polk’s passion was in playing jazz music, but he needed a way to work in the realm of popular dance clubs playing The Billboard Top Ten of the day. To accomplish this, He formed James Polk and The Brothers with trombonist, Larry Collins.

Polk applied all of his talent, knowledge, and experience to the project and it became far more than a dance music cover band. While writing original material for the group, Polk encouraged and assisted the other members of the group in writing songs and arrangements. James Polk and The Brothers was one of the first integrated bands in Austin, which allowed them to work in venues that would not otherwise have been available to them in the segregated early sixties (Bloxson).
The band featured an evolving lineup that included many future Austin luminaries such as:
James Polk: organ (and sometimes tenor sax)
Angela Strehli - lead vocals
Yvonne Joseph - lead vocals
Teresa Maxwell - backing vocals
Imogene Polk - backing vocals
Martin Banks - trumpet
Donald Jennings - trumpet
Reginald Caldwell - tenor sax
Fred Smith - tenor sax
Larry Collins - trombone
Matthew Robinson - guitar
W.C. Clark - guitar
Tim Pickard: guitar
John X. Reed - guitar
Don Lupo - bass
James Shof - drums
John Taylor - drums
Sonny Taylor - drums
.. And many more

In 1969, Polk formed Twink Records, named for “the nickname of the proprietor of a popular East Austin club, the Hide-A-Way Lounge, who permitted Polk to use the name for his label,” (Spearman).

Label and master tape box notes for “Stick-To-It-Tive-Ness,” Photos courtesy SonobeatRecords.com

In the same year, James Polk and The Brothers recorded two sides of a 45 rpm single at a tiny home studio in Northwest Austin for Sonobeat Records. The band could barely fit into the small space and musicians had to be careful not to step on each other. The sides included the Yvonne Joseph composition, “Stick-To-It-Tive-Ness” and Polk’s “The Robot,” (sonobeatrecords.com). After shopping it around to larger labels, Sonobeat Records released the single in November of that year.

Label for “Just Plain Funk,” Photo courtesy of Twink Records

At the same time, Polk recorded “Just Plain Funk” and “Black Door Jeanne” for his own label, Twink Records, and released it in September 1969. In my phone interview with Dr. Polk in February of 2024, he admitted that he might have saved the better material for his own label, though both releases have become collectors items. “Just Plain Funk” has continued to be re-released as recently as 2003.

James Polk in the late 1970s, Photo courtesy of Twink Records

James Polk and The Brothers then recorded an album for Sonobeat Records, titled Polk Chops, that remains unreleased. One of the band’s last performances was opening for James Brown at The Austin Community Center (azblueshof.com).

A chance meeting at a San Antonio club with jazz great, Lionel Hampton, resulted in Polk on tour in Europe as the bassist with Hampton in 1970. ‘The Brothers band had to be set aside. When Polk returned to Austin in 1972, he worked at IBM for a short time, but was soon drawn back into the music business where even greater success awaited with the likes of Ray Charles and others.

Every time Dr. Polk landed back in Austin, he would continue on his own path musically, while continuing his academic education, creating new music and mentoring new musicians. Dr. Polk continued to release music on Twink Records into the 21st century with albums When Evening Comes (2001) and Go With The Flow (2007). Now at the age of 84, he is beginning to see even greater recognition as more of his amazing story is told.

Dr. James Polk at the Continental Club Gallery on Jan. 14 2019 (Photo by Shelley Hiam)


Miles Bloxson, Feb 1st 2023, kutx.org, “Black History Month Spotlight: Dr. James Polk”

Michael Coran, Michael Coran’s Overserved, March 20, 2022 “Dr. James Polk: Godfather of Austin Jazz”
Kahron Spearman, Fri., Jan. 18, 2019 Austin Chronicle, “Organ Great James Polks Works Wonders Outside The Limelight “

“James Polk and The Brothers,” https://sonobeatrecords.com/james-polk-and-the-brothers.html, retrieved Feb 1st 2024

“Don Lupo,” https://azblueshof.com/donlupo/, retrieved Feb 1st 2024

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