Follow Your Heart
Moving with the Giants of Jazz, Swing, and Rhythm and Blues
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Illinois Press
Foreword by Tavis Smiley
The life story of Joe Evans as voiced in Follow Your Heart will touch your spirit. This moving account of an unsung musician and record company executive who is now in his nineties should be required reading...
Foreword by Bill McFarlin
Follow Your Heart is historically compelling and beautifully written. The book chronicles several eras of American popular music as the saxophonist and record company executive Joe Evans lived them. The importance of the story is underscored...
It is not often that an author gets to say, “This is the story I was born to tell,” but in the case of Follow Your Heart, it is an accurate and appropriate statement. I first met Joe Evans in fall 1994 when he audited my African American music course at...
At the outset, I must acknowledge the role of Joe Evans’s beloved wife, Anna Mae Evans (1923–99). Long before I arrived on the scene in the early 1990s, she believed this was a story that needed to be told, and when Joe Evans and I came together, she played a pivotal...
1. Pensacola Blues
One day in 1921, when I was about five, I heard a fishman on a horse-drawn wagon singing a song. Between the pauses, he blew what looked like a cow’s horn, alerting people on the outskirts of Pensacola, Florida, that he was in our area...
2. Music Crazy
Once the music bug bit me, it became my obsession and my passion. It was as if the rest of my childhood quickly sped away. Music eventually became my great discovery, but the initial path was a bumpy one...
3. Boy Meets Band
My first and lasting impression of Raymond Sheppard was that he was very neat. He was brown-skinned with dimples, clean shaven, and always well dressed. Even when he was giving lessons, I can’t recall seeing him without a shirt and...
4. "Ma" Rainey's Deep South
As the youngest members of the Ray Shep band, Bobby Johnson and I got to be pretty close. In the Shep organization, everybody was supposed to be equal. Everybody got the same salary. But when it came to discussing business, it was a...
5. New York, New York
In September 1938, I was on my way to New York City for the first time. I had already traveled up and down the East Coast with Shep as far north as Richmond, Virginia. New York City was just about four hundred miles beyond. When I arrived at the...
6. Hootie and the Bird
By 1942, World War II had turned the country’s economy right side up again. There were so many jobs around that the comedians joked about how choosy people had become as to where and under what conditions they would work. As a result...
7. The Big, Big Bands
Louis Armstrong was still one of the hottest musicians around. I had known of him since I was a child listening to him on the radio and records. I was amazed to be playing with this music legend. Since I was a seasoned musician, I wasn’t intimidated...
8. Call Me "Italy"
Back in New York working the freelance scene again, I was running into fellow musicians at the usual spots. While Charlie Parker was becoming an American musical icon by the late 1940s, his fellow bebopper, Dizzy Gillespie, was also gaining a reputation...
9. The End of an Era
When I returned to the states in March 1954, I had to reestablish myself back in New York. Even though I hadn’t been gone that long, everything looked so strange. In Italy things moved very slowly. It would take us two hours to eat a meal...
10. The Rhythm and Blues Scene
When the Savoy closed, it was the end of a musical era. I felt a social and economic void. I filled the social void by increasing my time at the Apollo Theater. In order to fill the economic void, I supplemented my income by working for...
11. The Rise of Carnival Records
Before I went back to Motown, I met with the Manhattans at Kenny Kelly’s house to rehearse. His mother owned the building. I picked some songs I wanted them to rehearse, and I rewrote several of the songs they had written. “When you get them the way...
12. After the Manhattans
I was sitting in my office considering options, when I heard an announcement over the radio: “You can go to college on weekends, in the evenings, even on Sundays; just come to Essex County College for more information.” Essex County College was just...
Epilogue: Long Good-byes
This story was to have ended in the mid-1990s with my eightieth birthday. Although I never imagined I would make it this far, I turned ninety-one on October 7, 2007. But the last several years have been punctuated with a loneliness and sadness...