Of all the blues legends the great state of Texas has produced, none sounds quite like Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King. The two Lone Star guitarists—one a hard-edged, hard rocking blues player and the other a jazzy, elegant rhythm player who delivers raw, spontaneous solos-—have taken their dual guitar attack from the heart of Texas to fans around the globe. Kubek and King’s twin-frontman lineup is unparalleled on the blues scene. Backed by their rock-solid rhythm section, Kubek’s fiery fretwork is perfectly matched by King’s sophisticated rhythm playing and rough-edged, down-home soloing and his soulfully conversational vocals. For more than 20 years and thousands of live shows, the duo’s scorching blues and telepathic interplay has been thrilling fans all around the world. Their new CD (their second for Alligator and the 14th of their careers), Have Blues, Will Travel, is a collection of fresh original songs played with passion, taste and a white-hot intensity. Billboard said the band plays “hard-hitting, original blues. Kubek is one of the fiercest Texas blues guitarists…his fiery leads are complemented by King’s adroit rhythm guitar and classic vocals.”
The band’s Alligator Records debut, 2008’s Blood Brothers, brought the long-time musicians to their largest audience yet and earned the band accolades all across the country. The Chicago Sun-Times declared, “Genuine houserockin’ blues…they boogie till the break of day.” Allmusic described the album as “tough, robust, soul-blues that is as hot as they’ve ever gotten in the studio. Impressive.”
With Have Blues, Will Travel, they take another giant step forward. Kubek and King wrote or co-wrote all twelve songs, and, along with their road-tested rhythm section, they ignite a blues fire with enough heat to fuel an all-night party. The chemistry between Kubek’s blistering fretwork and King’s savvy vocals and unpredictable, multifaceted guitar work creates a roadhouse blend of muscular blues-rock, hip-shaking shuffles and slow-burning blues that is simply impossible to resist. Each song is infused with deep, from-the-heart musicianship, carefully crafted, true-to-life lyrics and delivered with the occasional wry smile. King calls Have Blues, Will Travel the best record the band has ever made. “I’ve been listening to this album over and over again,” he says, “and I don’t get tired of it. In fact, I’ve become a big fan of it, and I start thinking, ‘man, I wish we had made this record.’ And then I remember we did.” Kubek agrees. “We challenged ourselves, went into new territory both musically and lyrically, and came out the other end with something we’re extremely proud of.”
On the surface, it would seem hard to imagine two of the most stylistically disparate guitarists joining forces and creating such a signature sound. Joe Kubek was born in Pennsylvania in 1956 but grew up just outside of Dallas. He was leading his own bands and gigging in clubs all around Dallas when he was only 14. Bowled over by the blues a short time after first hearing Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Kubek soon discovered the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and other early blues masters including Freddie King, Johnny Copeland and Lightnin’ Hopkins. By the time he was 19, he was backing many famous blues players in the area, including legend Freddie King. In 1976, Kubek was about to head out on tour with King when King died suddenly of a heart attack. “I was in awe any time I was around him,” Kubek recalls. “I learned a lot about feeling and execution. He always came onto the stage hot. You have to entertain people from the second you start.”
Kubek next worked with R&B singer Al “TNT” Braggs and made a host of new friends, including Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan (with whom Kubek became close), B.B. King and many other blues icons. He often found himself jamming with these larger-than-life blues stars, while playing constantly around the Dallas area. He not only learned tips and techniques, but also soaked up stories and the lessons of being a professional touring musician. One night, he even had the chance to play B.B.’s guitar, Lucille. “B.B. admired my enthusiasm and he encouraged me, which really meant a lot. When times got hard, I always remembered how B.B. King had given me some encouragement.”
In 1989, Kubek met guitarist/vocalist Bnois King at a Monday night Dallas jam session. The two became fast friends, and melded their seemingly divergent styles—Kubek a rocking and fierce picker and slider, King a subtle, fat-chord rhythm player whose solos are spontaneous and unpredictable—into one of the most potent guitar combinations the Southwest had ever produced. Kubek explains the relationship succinctly: “Bnois fires me up. We are constantly pushing each other higher, complimenting each other’s solos. But it’s not planned. We never know what we’re going to do until it’s done. I pull the blues out of him, and he pulls the jazz out of me. Bnois knows so much about jazz it’s amazing.”
Bnois (pronounced Buh-noice) King was born in Delhi, LA in 1943. He was inspired to play guitar by his high school music teacher. Before long, Bnois was playing blues cover songs with a local band. On his own, he traveled through Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, finding local bands to gig with and also performing with carnival tent show groups. King made his way to Dallas in 1979, gigging with jazz combos until he hooked up with Kubek ten years later. A master storyteller, King didn’t start writing and singing until he joined forces with Joe, when both duties fell on him. “We needed a singer so I sang,” King recalls, “and every time I did the crowds went wild. We needed songs so I wrote about things that happened to me, to people I knew. That’s what I still do today.” As for his guitar work, King is similarly modest. “Joe inspires me a lot,” King says. “When I solo, it’s a spur of the moment thing. I don’t have a plan. I react to what I hear on the bandstand.”
On the strength of their huge local following, Kubek and King signed to Bullseye Blues and released their debut CD, Stepping Out Texas Style, in 1991. After conquering the Dallas scene, the band began touring clubs, concert halls and festivals nationally and internationally. Following a successful series of eight Bullseye releases, they signed to Blind Pig Records in 2003. As their popularity continued to build on the strength of their recordings and the energy of their live shows, the band’s touring schedule grew to over 150 dates per year all across the United States, Canada and Europe (where they have toured more than a dozen times), solidifying their place in the blues world with one jaw-dropping show after another.
Kubek and King signed with Alligator in 2008 and released Blood Brothers. The fresh approach, the smoking hot playing and the original, lover’s slice-of-life lyrics all added up to a blues delight. The Dallas Observer said, “An electric blast of twelve-bar heaven…they blow the roof off.”
More than anything else, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King love to perform live. With Have Blues, Will Travel and another massive tour planned, the band will hit the ground running as they gig from coast to coast, bringing their no-holds-barred brand of soul-charged, rockin’ Texas blues to old fans and newcomers night after night. Have Blues, Will Travel is not just the name of the new album. For Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King, it’s a way of life.