Joe "Guitar" Hughes was born in Houston, Texas on September 29, 1937. As a youngster Joe's main exposure to music came from the radio and records his aunt and stepfather played on the Hughes' family Victrola. A steady diet of Lightnin' Hopkins and T-Bone Walker 78's planted the seed for a future musical career.
Joe always loved singing and early on he sang along with any popular music he'd hear on the radio. His mother encouraged his obvious talent buying him sheet music for country-western tunes, gospel, ballads - any type of music except blues. That's where she drew the line. Every time she heard him sing the blues he received a severe spanking. Little did she realize that this was precisely the music that Joe would embrace for the rest of his life.
Joe Guitar HughesIn his early teens Joe took a job as a dishwasher for $25 a week and used his first paycheck to buy a guitar, a small white Country-Western model. His mother was less than pleased, having intended to use the money for family groceries.
When Joe learned a handful of songs he got together with a few friends and formed his first band. At the age of 16, Joe linked up with legendary Johnny "Clyde" Copeland, Pat Paterson, Steve Washington, and a guy named "Cornelius" to form the vocal group they called "The Dukes." Over time, Steve and Cornelius moved on. Herbert Henderson and James Johnson replaced them and the group evolved into a rockin' blues band, "The Dukes of Rhythm". Due to his exceptional musical ability, Joe became the band's leader and instructor, teaching Johnny the guitar, James the bass, and Herbert the drums.
The "Dukes of Rhythm" played every possible nightclub and juke joint around the Houston/Galveston area, including the Woodlake Inn, Ollie's Groovy Grill and the G&M Pleasure Spot. Eventually they became the house band at the famed Shady's Playhouse. They took up residence there from 1958 until 1963, playing 7 nights a week. It was at Shady's that they began a long tradition of Blue Mondays. They were a loose party-like affair that gave many local and visiting musicians a chance to drop in and play. The raucous atmosphere proved every bit as popular with the musicians as it was with the club's customers. According to Joe quite a few local workers lost their jobs as a result of having too much fun at the Blue Monday parties.
Along the way, Joe would get ample opportunity to hang with the people he admired, whether it was trading guitar licks onstage with T-Bone Walker, or playing dice backstage with Big Mama Thornton.
Joe Guitar HughesDuring this time, Houston was one of the hotbeds for great blues guitarists. The musicians were fiercely competitive with one another on stage and the best of friends off stage. In those days another Texas guitar legend, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, lived directly behind Joe. The two friends spent hours hanging and playing with the "Master of the Telecaster" Albert Collins, who was the bandleader at a nightspot called the Joker Club. When Collins finally decided to move on it was Johnny Copeland who replaced him there.
In 1963 Joe was offered a job to play with "The Upsetters", Little Richard's original band. The Upsetters had to reinvent themselves when Mr. Penniman (Little Richard) renounced rock and roll for the path of Jesus. Joe Hughes helped to redefine the Upsetters as a premier rhythm and blues band. Soon after, they hit the road as the band for a musical caravan. It was here where they backed up the likes of Fats Domino, Jackie Wilson, Sam and Dave, and others on the tour.
After two years with the Upsetters, Joe went to play with singer Bobby "Blue" Bland. Joe picked up where Wayne Bennett and Roy Gaines left off and played guitar with Bobby for the next two years. He performed with him on-stage and in the studio as part of a band that included Melvin Jackson and Harold Penia. In 1966, Joe returned to Texas and hit the road again as the bandleader for Al "TNT" Braggs.
Eventually, the grind of touring became too much for Joe. Finally, he made a fateful decision. His love for his wife Willie Mae and their three daughters caused him to abandon the touring life. He chose to stay home and spend more time with his family. His decision to stay in Houston with his schoolteacher wife may not have advanced his professional life but it's one that he's never regretted-- not for one second.
Prior to 1988, Joe's recording career was sporadic, offering a rather limited selection of his amazing musical talents.
From 1958 until 1965, he recorded a handful of singles for such record labels as Kangaroo, Golden Eagle, Jetstream, Boogaloo, Gallant, Sound Stage, and Sound Plus.
Between 1970 and 1981, he worked with many local bands in Houston, including Julius Jones and the Rivieras, Luvenia Lewis, We Four, The Music Good, and Soul Brothers Inc.
In the mid-1980's things changed for Joe Hughes. Unbeknownst to him, he had a huge following for his music in overseas. His old friend Johnny Copeland convinced him to accompany him to Europe. In 1985, Joe co-headlined a major show with Johnny in Utrecht, Holland. That success opened a lot of doors for Joe's career. International interest picked up and Joe soon found himself headlining venues and stages he'd only dreamt about. What has consistently surprised Joe the most over the years is the depth of knowledge and appreciation that his fans exhibit. They often told him things about his hometown music scene in Houston that he was not aware of due to his dedication to his house band duties seven nights a week.
Joe released 8 albums between 1985 and 2000 far surpassing the number of recordings in his previous four decades in the music business. Famed Texas music historian Alan Govenar produced a documentary about Joe and his friend Pete Mayes entitled "Battle of the Guitars." And in 1999, filmmaker Heather Korb released a film entitled "Third Ward Blues," documenting the celebrated musical community that Joe was an integral part of.
At the end of his career, when many people would have considered retirement, he reached new heights. A youngster at heart, Joe exhibited a vibrant vitality lacking in many folks half his age. With his wife and soulmate Willie Mae, a retired teacher, Joe spent his last years concentrating on his career and traveling the world, enjoying the beauty of the many host countries that truly appreciated the extraordinary talents of Mr. Joe "Guitar" Hughes.
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