By Carolyn Edgar
As far as I knew, my daddy only hated one song. And it was "I Gotcha" by Joe Tex.
Chances are great that you never heard of Joe Tex or "I Gotcha." You didn't miss a damn thing. Joe Tex was a minor blues and R&B singer whose songs were staples of 1970s Detroit R&B radio stations. "I Gotcha" was an early '70s hit for Tex. His other big '70s hit was "Ain't Gon Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)." Great guy, that one.
Maybe Daddy heard "I Gotcha" on the clock radios my parents bought to ensure that we kids (there were six of us) got up for school on time. Or maybe, thanks (or no thanks) to Soul Train, we kids inflicted "I Gotcha" on Daddy's poor eardrums. Maybe he watched Soul Train with us one Saturday before we turned the TV over to him for his weekend sports-watching marathon, and he saw Joe Tex perform "I Gotcha." However it happened, Daddy's hate for "I Gotcha" was instant.
Daddy hated "I Gotcha" with the heat of a thousand suns. He hated Joe Tex just as much. Daddy hated Joe Tex like the man had stolen his woman back in the day and then brought her to the family barbecue. Daddy used to say that if Joe Tex was playing on the corner of our block and he could stand on his porch and watch him perform for free, he would stay in his house. Our house was the fourth house off the corner, and the distance from our house to where Daddy imagined himself ignoring Joe Tex's free concert couldn't have been more than 100 feet. Daddy could have thrown a rock at Joe Tex playing on the corner and would have stood a good chance of hitting him. He would have been as likely to bean him as 1970s Detroit Tigers' pitcher Mark Fidrych on one of his crazy pitching nights.
Daddy didn't appear to pay too much attention to pop music or culture, so for him to have such strong feelings about such an irrelevant singer and song was unusual. In fact, Daddy's response to Joe Tex was so outsized and so out of character for him that it cracked us up. But we never asked Daddy why he hated Joe Tex and "I Gotcha" so much. Daddy wasn't the kind of man who would have ever spelled out all his reasons for hating Joe Tex and that damned song. He said he hated the man. He said he hated the song. And that was that.
You couldn't grow up around a man that hated Joe Tex and be a Joe Tex fan. I guess I first started hating "I Gotcha" because Daddy did — even though we enjoyed playing it around him just to set him off. I was seven years old when "I Gotcha" came out in 1972, but one of the benefits of being the youngest of six kids was that I picked up on certain things way earlier than I probably should have. Even back then, I recognized that the song was vaguely creepy.
Joe singing "I Gotcha!" during the refrain wasn't sexy like Teddy Pendergrass. It was more like Daddy's friend Mr. Bryant, who came to our house every Sunday morning dressed in his Sunday best, smelling of a recent shower and an even more recent nip from the bottle he carried with him in his paper bag. Mr. Bryant always asked us girls for a kiss – "Gimme some sugar," was how he put it. My mother was always on guard. Mama stood watch over the uncomfortable kiss ritual with Mr. Bryant, vigilant against the intrusion and doing her best to minimize its effect. We hated everything about it, from the smell of his whiskey to the feel of his old lips and stubble. I don't remember exactly how it happened — whether one of my sisters said she didn't want to give Mr. Bryant some sugar anymore, or whether my mother decided enough was enough and stopped the whole charade from happening. But thankfully, sometime before I reached puberty, we stopped having to kiss Mr. Bryant. Daddy was initially offended by our refusal of Mr. Bryant. I can't say that he eventually came around to my mother's point of view, but as he watched his daughters grow up, he had to have realized that us kissing Mr. Bryant — a man who was neither a relative nor a close family friend — was something that needed to stop.
As the youngest, I was the last child to participate in Daddy's weekend sports-watching rituals. I became quite the sports fan, thanks to Daddy. After Soul Train went off and Daddy took over the TV, I was the only child who stayed in the living room. I loved sitting next to Daddy on the couch, cheering on Tigers players like Sweet Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell, or directing my nascent pre-teenage lust towards stolen base king Ron LeFlore. I would cry if Bo Schembechler and the Michigan Wolverines lost to Woody Hayes' hated Ohio State Buckeyes. Even before I enrolled as a freshman at Michigan, the chant OHowIHateOhioState was embossed on my frontal lobe. When there was no baseball or football to watch, I would watch whatever Daddy was watching — from Muhammad Ali to Wimbledon to bowling to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) broadcasts of curling matches.
I loved going to Tiger Stadium with Daddy. He would buy a big bag of peanuts in the shell from one of the vendors outside the stadium (because they were cheaper than buying them from the stadium concessions), and we would sit in the bleachers, the cheapest seats, surrounded by all the suburban drunks. While we munched on peanuts and dropped shells at our feet, Daddy would point out to me all the things happening during a game that you couldn't notice just watching it on TV.
But then, all of a sudden — the exact timing is a blur, but it feels like it happened before my thirteenth birthday, right around the time we stopped having to give Mr. Bryant some sugar, and not long after "I Gotcha" started infecting our airwaves — Daddy suddenly declared me "too old" to go to Tigers games with him anymore. I was left trying to figure out how I could be too old to go to the stadium when I clearly still reveled in watching the games with him on the sofa. And it wasn't until much, much later in my adult life, long after Daddy was gone, that I found myself recalling just how much Daddy hated that fucking song and wondering why he hated it so much – and why I couldn't go with him to Tigers games anymore. In my memories, those two things were forever connected.
I searched the lyrics to "I Gotcha" on Google. And all I could think was:
OMG THIS IS THE MOST MOTHERFUCKING RAPIEST SONG EVER WRITTEN.
If there were a separate music category called Rape Tunes, "I Gotcha" would be Number One on the list — followed immediately by "Baby It's Cold Outside" and much of the Rolling Stones' catalog. The lyrics to this song made me wonder just what the fuck was going on in the 1970s. I am a child of the '70s and '80s, but a lot of music happened in the '70s that never should have happened and never should happen again.
"I Gotcha" isn't an earworm, it's the aural equivalent of a flesh-eating disease.
Check out Tex's creepy-ass performance of "I Gotcha" on Soul Train:
What is this motherfucker wearing? Seriously. What the fuck is that? A onesie with built-in fringed cowboy boots? Only a man who believes in sexual assault as a tool of seduction would wear that outfit.
Look at how he's grabbing the Soul Train dancers shouting "I gotcha!" at them. He grabs one of Soul Train's most famous dancers, Damita Jo. She looks game. She's playing along. But she keeps some distance between herself and Joe. She never lets him get too close.
At the end, he just starts grabbing girls out of the crowd. Some of them look like they want to run away from this weird asshole, but they're afraid of what Don Cornelius will say to them after the broadcast. If only we had known then what we know now about sexual harassment.
Reading the lyrics to "I Gotcha" highlights how incredibly rapey and unsubtle they are:
I gotcha, uh huh, huh
You thought I didn't see ya now, didn't ya, uh huh, huh
You tried to sneak by me now, didn't ya, uh huh, huh
Now gimme what you promised me, give it here
If you think that's bad? It gets better — and by better, I mean much, much worse:
You promised me the day that you quit your boyfriend
I'd be the next one to ease on in
You promised me it would be just us two, yeah
I'd be the only man kissin' on you, yeah
Now, kiss me
Hold it a long time, hold it
Don't turn it a-loose, now hold it
A little bit longer, now hold it
What the fuck, man? "Hold it a long time, hold it"? Son. You're trying to rape this woman and your dick don't even work. Go home and order a pizza. You suck.
As bad as all of that is, this is the part of the song that makes me lose my lunch:
You made me a promise and you're gonna stick to it
You shouldn't have promised if you weren't gonna do it
You saw me and ran in another direction
I'll teach you to play with my affection
Now, give it here
You never should've promised to me, give it here
Don't hold back, now give it here
Don't say nothin', just give it here
Come on, give it here
And then the refrain:
Shouldn't made a promise to me
You never should've promised to me, gotcha
Give it on, here
You thought you got away from me, didn't ya?
Ha ha ha
Oh, I gotcha
Give it on up, I gotcha
Give it on here, I gotcha
You tried to sneak by me, now didn't ya?
Oh, I gotcha
In sum: A woman (may have) told Joe Tex he could smash after she broke up with her boyfriend. But she obviously changed her mind (if she ever made him a "promise" in the first place), and the next time she saw him, she tried to run away from him. Joe gets mad and decides to take what he thinks she's promised. How the fuck did this song ever get made?
I don't think my daddy was totally honest when he said that if he saw Joe Tex on the corner, he wouldn't come out on his porch. I think if Joe Tex had been playing on the corner of our block, my daddy would have gone out on the porch. Then he would have left his porch, marched down to the corner, and beat Joe Tex's ass. I believe Daddy would have kicked Joe Tex's rapey ass and dared him to ever set foot inside Detroit city limits again — or at least within 100 feet of our house.
I think Daddy hated "I Gotcha" for the same reason he stopped taking me to Tigers' baseball games. I think he must have heard one of those bleacher drunks say something about his daughter that meant he would have to fight if we kept going together. I think Daddy knew exactly how rapey "I Gotcha" was and hated the song and Joe Tex for exactly that reason. At some point, Daddy must have realized how fucked up it is to be a girl in this world — and to be a father of girls in this world. Daddy wasn't the kind of man who would have ever expressed any of these feelings out loud. His protectiveness was the ineffective shield he tried to erect around us. But without providing any rationale for how he felt, his actions just seemed arbitrary. I wish he'd had the words to tell us why he didn't want us listening to Joe Tex, or why hitting puberty meant I was too old to go with him to sporting events where we would be surrounded by drunk white men.
I'm still a bit salty about the Tigers. But I appreciate why Daddy hated "I Gotcha" and Joe Tex. It is one of the worst songs ever made.
Daddy, you were so right.
Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer who lives in New York. She loves Prince and hates Joe Tex. She is currently a student in the MFA program at City College of New York.