Raise your glass a third time to blues guitarist and singer Joe “Guitar” Hughes who died on May 20th aged 65, in hospital at Houston, Texas, five days after suffering a heart attack.


Joe was born in the Fourth Ward, Houston on September 29th 1937. His father died the week before he was born leaving his mother to bring up the children. By the time Joe was four his mother remarried and the family moved to the Third ward. there was little music at home, the family could not afford a gramophone but he would often go to his aunt's house to listen to her collection of T-Bone Walker records.


Buying his first guitar at the age of 14 with the wages earned from washing dishes, the same period would find the young Joe sneaking out to clubs and bars, his first inspiration being the under-recorded Houston guitarist Texas Johnny Brown. By all accounts it was a common sight for the guitarist to see this lad sitting in front of the stage studying his technique which must have obviously rubbed off because by the age of 16 he had formed a group with neighbours James Johnson, Hubert Henderson and Johnny Copeland. The latter, of course, would one day become a hugely successful and respected figure in the blues world. Billed as the Dukes of Rhythm, they were offered a weekend job at a club in the nearby seaside resort of Galveston.


One weekend, while playing the Galveston gig, he would learn of the sudden death of his mother, forcing the young Joe to sink even further into his music. “I don’t know nothing else that I could have done except reach and pick up that guitar. It used to save me all the time,” he was heard to say during an interview on British radio a few years back. Within a few years Hughes was an integral part of the booming Houston blues scene, centred around the Third Ward clubs such as the Eldorado, the Ebony and the Savoy, featuring artists of the magnitude of T-Bone Walker, B B King, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton and Al “TNT” Braggs, most of whom Joe would work with.

By 1960 Johnny Copeland left to seek his fortune as a solo act and, four years later, the Dukes of Rhythm disbanded when Hughes joined Grady Gaines and the Upsetters. Gaines was now leading the band that was once Little Richard’s touring band, by now backing other major artists. For a while, Joe found himself working alongside Fats Domino, Sam and Dave, Gene Chandler, Barbara Lewis and Edwin Starr. The mid sixties would find him working with his hero T-Bone Walker, before joining Bobby "Blue" Bland’s backing band in 1967, after which he spent three years in Al “TNT” Braggs’ band. He eventually settled back in the local Houston music scene to, in his words, “concentrate raising a family up right.”


Joe’s recording career, until quite late in life, had been spasmodic, although several singles appeared over the years including ‘Make Me Dance Little Ant’ (1958) and ‘The Shoe Shy’ (1963). Copies of these discs would later find their way across the Atlantic, creating a fan base for him. 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 Blacktop records issued the highly acclaimed album ‘If You Want to See The Blues’ and Hughes would follow these up with critically well-received blues/soul fusion albums including ‘Texas Guitar Slinger’ (1996), ‘Down, Depressed, Dangerous’ (1997) and finally ‘Stuff Like That’ (2001).


He maintained his close friendship with Johnny Copeland until his death in 1997, collaborating on a couple of fine albums, ‘Flyin’ High’ (1991) and ‘Catch Up With The Blues’ (1993). The 'Tales From The Woods' editorial board was able to catch this Texas guitar master in action just once, at the Utrecht Blues Festival a couple of years back, where he proved to be a highly accomplished performer. Although success was to come late in life we can only applaud the fact that, unlike so many, he was at last able to enjoy the fruits of his labour.