“I was born around the corner in Midnight, Mississippi. My name was supposed to be Salvador. It’s a Mexican name. At that time people couldn’t read or write very well. The midwife misspelled Salvador and wrote down Savage Joe, so that’s my name. I grew up working on farms. There were schools in Midnight and Silver City and the small towns around us. They closed those schools in 1971 for integration and sent us to Belzoni High school. I had three good white friends in Midnight. We rode horses and played cowboys. We could jump on each other and come back to friends, but no one else could jump on us.
I had ambition for something more. I left Midnight in 1978 and went to Chicago. That was a whole new atmosphere. I worked for 16 years at the Hamburger Hamlet. It was on the Gold Coast where the rich people live. Oprah Winfrey was a block away and I fed her when she came in. I met The Isley Brothers, the Commodores and Gladys Knight. Universal Recording studio was above us and the stars were up there rehearsing and recording. They all came down to eat. Luther Vandross bought two rotisserie chickens every time he came in.
I worked at Hamburger Hamlet from 4 p.m. to midnight. I grabbed a coffee and doughnut and was at the construction site at 5 a.m. running a jackhammer or putting concrete blocks on buildings. That’s hard on your body. I started out as the mud man mixing concrete. Sometimes I was 10 or 15 stories in the air pushing the concrete mud in a wheelbarrow across the scaffolding.
I worked hard, but I had it going on. I drove a Cadillac and wore bell-bottom pants, wide hats and stacked shoes. I had gold around my neck. It was a good time. I was also hustling with dope boys dropping off packages here and packages there. I did jail time. My testimony is I should have been dead a long time ago. A bullet grazed my nose. I was stabbed twice in street fights. In the fast life, you live by the sword and you die by the sword. There can be a lot of money in drugs, but you’re selling your soul to the devil.
I had a good time with plenty of one-night stands, but what’s good to you ain’t always good for you. Sin feels good when you’re doing it. But if a man gains the world and loses his soul, what has he gained? Nothing. Sometimes you have to keep your eyes in your own head. I got messed up in the head and God pulled me down to get to know Him. I took classes at Moody Bible College. I’m proud of my relationship with God and I’m proud of my kids. A man needs someone to carry on the family name and to leave something behind.
I came back to Midnight in 2013 because I was sick. I was in pain and they took me to the doctor in Belzoni. They said you’re going to have to go farther than this. We drove to Jackson. They rolled me into a CAT scan and found I had a hole in my gut. The doctor said, ‘You’re leaking, I need to operate right away. Sign here if you want to live.’ The last thing I remember was putting an X there and blacking out. My sister told me that I’d better not die. I woke up with staples in my stomach, tubes in my nose, and a blood transfusion in my arm. I thought, ‘Lord what did I do to deserve this?’
I’ve had good times and bad times, but I’ve lived a beautiful life. I sit out here and talk to the Lord the same way I’m talking to you. I magnify and glorify Him. This dog hangs out with me because I don’t abuse her. She’s a good pet. This world is big enough for me, you, the dogs, the horses and the cows. They used to say at Hamburger Hamlet ‘Can’t we all just get along’?”
(I found this picture of the Hamburger Hamlet where Savage worked for 16 years)