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Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King: "Fat Man's Shine Parlor"

Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King

I first heard of Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King when my colleague Bob Porter said they were one of the best bands he's seen live.   

Considering that the "Bluesmeister" has seen 'em all, I listened — and I've been playing Kubek & King ever since in WBGO's Blues Hour.

They were both playing very young.  Joe, when he was 14,  growing up around Dallas, was already playing "old school" Texas blues guitar.  At 19, Joe was still not old enough to drink in the joints he was playing, but he had what it took to join the band of the great Freddie King.  

Bnois was born in Delhi, Louisiana, and started playing sooner, at age 8.  He came up singing gospel and playing jazz guitar.  He playied for years on the road, but eventually landed in Dallas — where, 25 years ago, King and Kubek connected.

They have different styles on the guitar -- Bnois jazz-inflected, Joe full-tilt boogie, Joe in a word: Smokin' -- but together King and Kubek have a distinctive sound.

I think, when they're deeply rocking, they sound like a bear too late for a barbecue and angry that all the ribs are gone — growling!
 
Their newest album on the Blind Pig label is Fat Man's Shine Parlor — so titled after a shoeshine parlor in a black district of Dallas. 

Yes, you could get a shine, but in the back you could have fun that was not exactly virtuous: gambling, drinking, and womanizing.   All of the above show up in the songs on this album, along with other tropes of the blues. 

Adultery: "Done Got Caught Blues." Whiskey: indeed a "River of Whiskey."  Money (or the lack thereof): "Crash and Burn."  "You look like a million," Bnois sings, " but you ain't got a dime!" 

There's heartbreak aplenty.  One woman dies, and her man mourns.   Another woman who's caught her man in flagrante delicto flips her man the bird.  

"How Much" is a blues about flying — how much a cab to the airport costs, the indignities of shoeless security, the endless lurking on a tarmac, and how much is this gig I'm going to going to pay anyway? 

"Lone Star Lap Dance" is an instrumental and lets Joe and Bnois show how much they can play after decades on the road. 

And that salivating bear does get the barbecue — with "Cornbread."
 

- Michael Bourne, host of WBGO's Blues Hour and Singers Unlimited

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