Roy Head is certainly one of the Lone Star State's most enigmatic music legends. His reputation tells of a major talent unfulfilled, and it's not uncommon for him to forgo singing "Treat Her Right," his one big hit song from 1965, when he performs. Head On!, a collection of his recordings with Huey Meaux in the late 1960s and early 1970s (many of which were also released in 1999 on the British label Edsel), is further evidence of what he might have been.
This is Texas blues 'n' soul on the order of Delbert McClinton's definitive Genuine Cowhide and Doug Sahm's The Last Real Texas Blues Band. And even though these waxings are flawed by tinny, poorly mixed sound and occasional dabs of hokum and cheese, this record stands shoulder to shoulder with both of those classics, not least for the sheer passion of Head's vocals. Put Head's takes on Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love" and Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" next to McClinton's, and the similarity is uncanny, if logical, given both singers' tutelage on the Texas roadhouse circuit.
The bulk of the tracks are genuine standouts. Head cooks up simmering big-band R&B on "Bring It to Jerome" (another Diddley hit), Junior Parker's "Driving Wheel" and "Neighbor, Neighbor." He also holds his own in the musical modes of T-Bone Walker (on "Three O'Clock Blues") and James Brown (on the Duke and the Blazers classic "Let a Woman Be a Woman, and a Man Be a Man"). He dips into Stax/Volt-style soul on "Mama Mama," summons up a heart-wrenching swamp-pop croon on "I'm Not a Fool Anymore" and even transforms Sahm's "She's About a Mover" into a full-force funk workout.
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While the disc ends with a countrified take on "Treat Her Right" that's more amusing than effective, the best moments here confirm Head's legendary status from his back-flipping, stage-diving, street-fighting heyday leading the Traits. Roy Head not only could have been a contender, he was one, and had the cards fallen differently, today he might be an elder statesman of blue-eyed soul instead of just a fascinating footnote.