Performing Arts

Smokin’ Joe Kubek, DFW bluesman, dies at 58

Smokin’ Joe Kubek with his longtime collaborator, Bnois King
Smokin’ Joe Kubek with his longtime collaborator, Bnois King Courtesy of Alligator Records

Smokin’ Joe Kubek, the Dallas blues guitarist who was a fixture on the DFW music scene, died Sunday of a heart attack at age 58, according to an Alligator Records release.

Mr. Kubek died shortly before he was to appear onstage at the Pleasure Island Seafood Blues & Jazz Festival in North Carolina, according to the release. Mr. Kubek was scheduled to play there Saturday afternoon with his longtime collaborator Bnois King.

Mr. Kubek was born Nov. 30, 1956, in Grove City, Pa. According to Star-Telegram archives, he grew up in Irving, turned professional at age 14, played a lot of Southern rock, and took up the blues seriously in his late teens.

The Alligator release says that he was inspired by the music of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, which led him to discover such blues legends as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and others. Mr. Kubek was leading his own band by the time he was 17.

He went on to work with noted Dallas soul men Al "TNT" Braggs, Little Joe Blue, and, for a time, Dallas blues legend Freddie King. Mr. Kubek was about to tour with King in late 1976 when King died of a heart attack. Kubek played with other bluesmen named King — B.B. and Albert — as well as with Stevie Ray Vaughan and many others.

But Bnois was the King that Mr. Kubek performed with the most. According to Star-Telegram archives, Mr. Kubek had formed his own band in the ’80s and teamed up King after jamming with him at Dallas’ Poor David Pub in 1988.

“The addition of King's deep voice —which has been compared to both Otis Rush and Junior Parker —and lighter, Grant Green-style rhythm guitar, gave the band a much-needed boost, and a contract with Rounder followed shortly thereafter,” then-Star-Telegram music critic Dave Ferman wrote in 1994. “Since then, the Kubek band has been on the road constantly, playing clubs and blues festivals 10 months out of the year.”

Mr. Kubek had another way of describing his and King’s complementary styles:. “I pull the blues out of him and he pulls the jazz out of me,” Mr. Kubek is quoted as saying in the Alligator release. According to an Alligator bio, the duo played as many as 150 dates a year in the United States, Canada and Europe.

DFW.com music critic Preston Jones reviewed Mr. Kubek and King’s latest album, Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, in February 2015. “King's vivid vocals mesh beautifully with Kubek's soulful guitar licks, giving tunes like River of Whiskey the sort of last-call ache the best blues artists feel in their marrow,” Jones wrote.

Mr. Kubek frequently played such Tarrant venues as J&J Blues Bar and Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge, as well as the Bedford Blues and BBQ Festival when it was still known as Bluesfest. He also performed at such mega-festivals as South by Southwest.

Mr. Kubek is survived by his wife, Phyllis. Arrangements are pending.

This report contains material from Star-Telegram archives.

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