Joe 'Guitar' Hughes

Houston bluesman who found a European audience
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Joe Hughes, guitarist and singer: born Houston, Texas 29 September 1937; married (two sons, seven daughters); died Houston 20 May 2003.

Houston, Texas, has long been home to a thriving blues scene. From the falsetto-voiced Joe Pullum who enjoyed a massive hit in 1934 with "Black Gal", through the legendary Lightnin' Hopkins, to post-war guitar heroes such as Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, it has nurtured a series of major talents whose impact continues to resonate.

If Joe "Guitar" Hughes never quite made it to the blues front rank, he nevertheless played a key role in his city's musical evolution, serving as mentor and friend to Copeland and working alongside established stars such as Bobby "Blue" Bland, before belatedly becoming a favourite amongst European audiences.

As a youngster he found himself drawn to the music of performers who, he later recalled, "had fire in their playing", including Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown" and T-Bone Walker. He became a mainstay of local talent shows and eventually met Johnny Copeland with whom he founded the Dukes of Rhythm. The group enjoyed a residence at Houston's Shady's Playhouse blues club throughout the 1950s and Hughes cut several singles including "Make Me Dance Little Ant" (1958) and "The Shoe Shy" (1963). Copies of these discs later found their way across the Atlantic, creating a fan base that would lead to regular European festival appearances in the years leading up to his death.

By 1963 Hughes was working as a member of the Upsetters, an R&B band led by the saxophonist Grady Gaines. In 1965 he joined Bobby "Blue" Bland, appearing on several of the singer's famous Duke recordings, and in 1967 began a two-year stint with Al "TNT" Braggs that would, in turn, be followed by over a decade of semi-retirement.

He maintained his close friendship with Copeland until the latter's death in 1997, collaborating on a pair of fine albums, Flyin' High (1991) and Catch Up With the Blues (1993). If the former acknowledged the sounds of Louisiana with its guest appearances by Dr John and Buckwheat Zydeco, the latter, which featured both "Gatemouth" Brown and Lonnie Brooks, suggested, through its prominent use of a steel guitar, unexpected country influences.

In 1986 the Dutch label Double Trouble released Texas Guitar Master, on which he was joined by his fellow Gulf Coast guitarist Pete Mayes. Three years later Black Top Records issued the acclaimed If You Want to See the Blues and Hughes followed it with a clutch of acclaimed fusions of blues and soul, including Texas Guitar Slinger (1996), Down & Depressed: Dangerous (1997) and, finally, Stuff Like That (2001).

Paul Wadey