Passages

Joe "Guitar" Hughes

(9/29/37, Houston, TX - 5/20/03, Houston, TX)



May 23, 2003, 9:32AM
Local blues legend Joe 'Guitar' Hughes dies at 65


By MICHAEL D. CLARK and MARTY RACINE
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

Joe "Guitar" Hughes, a staple of the Third Ward blues scene for half a century, died Tuesday night of cardiac arrest at Memorial Hermann Hospital. He was 65.

Joe "Guitar" Hughes died Tuesday at the age of 65.
Hughes didn't have the name recognition of peers such as Johnny Clyde Copeland and Albert Collins, but fans of electric-guitar blues from Texas to the Netherlands were familiar with the native Houstonian's hot licks. He suffered a massive heart attack May 15 and had been in the hospital in critical condition since.

"Joe never took (his career) to the national level of some others, but he was instrumental in helping his friend Johnny Clyde Copeland get there," says Nuri Nuri, producer and host of the Blues Brunch Sunday-morning show on KPFT, 90.1 FM. "He was able to gain regional success, and he did a lot of gigs overseas. He was one of those guys that kept the blues going."

Hughes was born in the Third Ward on Sept. 29, 1937, and grew up among the rich blues talent in the area, including Copeland, Collins, Lightnin' Hopkins and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Hughes and Copeland became disciples of the electrified string improvisations and bombastic brass introduced by T-Bone Walker shortly after World War II.

In the early '50s Hughes and Copeland formed the Dukes of Rhythm, which became the house band for popular Houston blues club Shady's Playhouse. Copeland and Hughes worked together occasionally through the 1970s, but their relationship transcended music. Copeland's death in 1997 took a toll on Hughes.

"I think when Johnny died, it was a boot to the heart. I'm not sure Joe ever got completely back up from that," said former Houston guitarist Jerry Lightfoot, whose song Don't Turn Your Back on Me was recorded in Europe by Hughes. "Johnny Clyde was almost like (Joe's) son, or certainly a favorite pupil."

Hughes was a bandleader at Shady's until 1963, releasing regional singles, including The Shoe Shy and Ants in My Pants.

"He was a very talented musician," said Houston guitarist Texas Johnny Brown, 75, who played many gigs with Hughes.

"He was a real metropolitan guitarist," said Lightfoot. "He didn't play like T-Bone. Joe came from just as intellectual a place, musically, but it was about living in the city, living in Houston."

When his stint at Shady's ended, Hughes went on the road with the Upsetters, an R&B band that also featured Little Richard and Houston saxophonist Grady Gaines among its members.

By 1965 he had moved on to the band of Bobby "Blue" Bland, who also had shown reverence for T-Bone Walker with a rendition of Stormy Monday Blues.

In 1988 Hughes started putting out his own solo records, beginning with Texas Guitar Master Craftsman. The finest example of his fret-and-string wizardry is widely considered the 1989 album If You Want to See These Blues. His last studio album was 2001's Stuff Like That, after which began a series of health problems.

During his years of solo creativity, Hughes was a staple of the Houston and Texas blues scene, as well as Western Europe's. A search on the Internet turns up as many Hughes fan pages in Dutch and French as in English. In 1996 he recorded Live at Vredenburg, his seminal concert-album release, in the Netherlands.

"Joe had engagements overseas, but he chose to be a local musician," said bassist Eugene "Spare Time" Murray. "He was a top-notch player. He did not only play blues; he was versatile. He could do country-Western, jazz.

"It's a shame. He didn't get a chance to lean back on his porch in his older age and play his guitar."

He is survived by his wife, Willie Lee "Mae" Hughes, seven daughters and two sons.

A public visitation is set for 6-9 p.m. Friday at James Stripling Funeral Home, 1402 Cleburne St. (713-526-0091). Funeral and burial services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Pleasant Green Baptist Church, the Hudgins Settlement in Bay City. Information about the services will be available at the visitation.

This Page Created With Respect By Monte Matthews

Expert & Affordable Web Design & Web Hosting