THE SLY FOX
Born Eugenia J. Fox, 12 October 1928, Sumner, Mississippi
Like the late Ike Turner, Eugene Fox was born in Clarksdale, MS. His short career as a recording artist was entirely due to Ike. Fox later dismissed it all : "It was something I didn't want to do anyway. It was something Ike wanted to do. I knew I wasn't a singer, and I could just play the horn the way the man wanted me to play, you see. But I wasn't no singer. It was Ike's idea. He thought, because I had a gravel voice, it'd be better if I did it. I never sang, I don't sing."
Eugene Fox served three years in the US Army as a full-time musician. His instrument was the tenor sax. After his discharge in 1950, he came back to Clarksdale and joined a blues band called the Tophatters. Not to be confused with Ike Turner's first group, the Top Hatters, which developed into the Knights of Rhythm, the group that backed Jackie Brenston on "Rocket 88". When Turner reformed the Knights of Rhythm in October 1953 and was looking for a new sax player, Fox was happy to join. What he didn't know was that Ike Turner would try to make a performer out of him. Practice sessions were held at Ike's house and in February 1954, Turner took Fox to the radio station where he (Ike) had been a disc jockey, WROX, to record - in the words of Marv Goldberg - "a couple of semi-bizarre numbers", "The Dream" and "Sinner's Dream". These were spoken rather than sung, accompanied by Ike's guitar, and also featured a female voice, which belonged to Annie Mae Wilson, who was Ike's wife or girlfriend at the time. (Not to be confused with Annie Mae Bullock, who later became Tina Turner.) Shortly thereafter, Fox recorded another tune, "Stay At Home" (more of a regular song), backed by the Kings of Rhythm. In March 1954, "Sinner's Dream"/ "Stay At Home" was released on Checker 792, credited to "Eugene Fox With Ike Turner's Orchestra". It didn't sell, but "Sinner's Dream" became a funny routine at local nightclubs.
Meanwhile, Ike Turner had defected to RPM Records and sold them three takes of the unissued "The Dream". The longest of these was split up into two parts and released on RPM 420 in November 1954. This time Eugene was billed as "The Fox". Fox, the reluctant recording artist, even had two records out at the same time, because a few weeks later, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller released "Hoo-Doo Say"/"I'm Tired Of Beggin'" (credited to "The Sly Fox") on Spark 108. These songs had been recorded at Ike's Clarksdale house in March or April, along with a third song, "My Four Women". Fox thought they were only practicing and was surprised when these tracks were eventually released. Again, Eugene is talking rather than singing, with Ike's stinging guitar behind him. When Leiber and Stoller wanted the release the next Sly Fox single, "My Four Women", they didn't have a B-side, so they decided to create one themselves. "Alley Music" is basically a piano instrumental by Mike Stoller, with amusing vocal interjections by Jerry Leiber, who is trying to imitate Fox's gruff voice. Though Eugene had nothing to do with it, this side was also credited to The Sly Fox. "My Four Women" is great fun, the story of the singer's troubled love life. All four women gave him grief, the fourth to such an extent that he ended up killing her, for which he got "only 99 years". This single was released on Spark 112 in April 1955. There were no further releases by the Sly Fox. He went back to college, graduated in 1956 and took a teaching post in Clarksdale, where he was still living at the time of his death in 2000. His retirement from music was permanent.
The four Spark recordings are available on the CD "Leiber & Stoller Present the Spark Records Story" (Ace CDCHD 801, released in 2001).
Acknowledgements / more info : Marv Goldberg's bio at
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