Although little known to general audiences, Mr. Google Eyes looms large in the history of New Orleans R&B -- not only did his first sides predate the recording career of Fats Domino, but many of the city's soul luminaries count him as a pivotal influence. Born Joseph Augustus on September 13, 1931, he gained his formative musical experience as a member of the First Emmanuel Baptist Church choir, but found himself most deeply attracted to the blues. As a teen, Augustus worked as a delivery boy for local restaurateur Dooky Chase, who bestowed upon him the "Google Eyes" appellation because he could rarely peel his sight away from the eatery's female clientele.
Chase also sponsored a local jazz band, and on occasion Augustus sang a few numbers, gradually earning enough money to buy his own PA system. He used the PA as a bargaining chip to sit in on other acts' sets, and in time earned a steady gig at the local Downbeat Club, appearing opposite Roy Brown. Often billing himself as "Mr. Google Eyes," sometimes he appeared as simply "Mr. G," a nickname conferred after a performance in support of Billy Eckstine, himself Mr. E.
Although Brown, Paul Gayten, and Annie Laurie were the first New Orleans R&B artists to enter the recording studio, Augustus was not far behind, making his debut for the black-owned Coleman Records with 1946's "Poppa Stoppa's Be-Bop Blues"; he was still just 15 years old at the time, and accordingly the label proclaimed him "Mr. Google Eyes -- the world's youngest blues singer." "No Wine, No Women" soon followed, and resulted in an endorsement deal with Monogram Wine. "Rock My Soul" was another hit, and prompted Columbia Records to buy out Augustus' Coleman contract.
His Columbia debut, "For You My Love," appeared in 1948, but too late Augustus discovered the reverse racism that led many African American-owned record retailers to boycott the largely white Columbia catalog. Sides including "Life Can Be a Hard Road to Travel," "Cryin' for You," and "Rock My Soul" followed as one decade turned into the next, and even though Mr. Google Eyes never enjoyed the same commercial success as many of his contemporaries, his records sold well enough to support a tour with singer Al Hibbler, and he also appeared at the legendary New York City jazz club Birdland on bills headlined by Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
After marrying a woman from Newark, NJ, Augustus settled there circa 1951. There he befriended bandleader Johnny Otis, then working A&R for the Duke/Peacock family of labels. After his contract with Columbia expired, Augustus signed with Duke, cutting sides like 1953's "Play the Game" as well as writing Otis' smash "Please Forgive Me," but a series of bad deals and poor financial decisions left him broke, and in 1955 he relocated to California, working the Los Angeles club circuit alongside Otis in addition to making the occasional record like the Flip label release "Strange Things Happening in the Dark," credited to Joe August.
By 1960 he was back in New Orleans, MCing an all-star revue at the Bourbon Street club Sho Bar. After his marriage dissolved, he began dating a white woman, a relationship that brought him so much grief from police that he attempted to break it off, at which point the woman shot him in the abdomen with a rifle. Augustus survived the attack, and although miscegenation charges were soon dropped, he vowed to remain as far from Bourbon Street as possible, bringing his performing career to a halt. In 1965 Augustus cut his final record, the Allen Toussaint-produced "Everything Happens at Night," again billing himself as Joe August. For years after, he worked as a bartender and MC, occasionally performing alongside Earl King and Deacon John in the New Orleans Blues Revue. ~ Jason Ankeny