Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King, one of the most talented guitar tandems in any genre, have been thrilling music fans all around the world with their red-hot Texas rockin' blues for twenty-five years. They’ve developed into a dynamic musical tour de force, with Joe's flame-throwing guitar work complemented by Bnois' cool, jazz-inflected playing and soulful vocals. Their incendiary live shows feature two top flight guitarists intuitively locked in with each other and backed by a firepower rhythm section, making for a powerful and irresistible combination. They’ve teamed up once again with Blind Pig Records for their latest recording, Fat Man’s Shine Parlor.
There's no question why they gave Joe Kubek the nickname "Smokin’.” He's one of the hottest electric guitar players on the blues scene today, with the technique and the chops to burn up any stage. He was born in Grove City, Pennsylvania in 1956 but grew up in Irving, Texas. He was leading his own bands and gigging in clubs all around Dallas when he was a teenager. By the time he was 19, he was backing many famous blues players in the area, including playing rhythm guitar behind legend Freddie King for a while, until King's death in December 1976.
"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 lessons of being a professional touring musician. One night, he even had the chance to play B.B.'s guitar, Lucille. "King 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."
Kubek didn't hit his stride, however, until he teamed up with jazz guitarist and singer Bnois King (no relation to Freddie) of Monroe, Louisiana, in 1989. This union began during a regular Monday-night gig in Dallas when Kubek invited King to sit in and found that King's softer, jazz-based guitar and vocals perfectly complemented Kubek's headier rock-inspired guitar work. The combination just clicked, resulting in a tasteful blending of differing styles with satisfying, fiery results. The two became fast friends and one of the most potent guitar combinations around. Kubek explains the relationship succinctly: "I pull the blues out of him, and he pulls the jazz out of me. Bnois knows so much about jazz it's amazing."
King was born in Delhi, Louisiana in 1943. Playing guitar from around the age of eight, King heard gospel music in church but leaned towards jazz, having enjoyed the music played on local radio stations. In high school he started playing blues cover songs with a local band. Later he traveled on his own through Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, finding local bands to gig with and also performing with carnival tent show combos. King made his way to Dallas in 1979, gigging with jazz bands until he hooked up with Kubek 10 years later.
Joe and Bnois are a study in opposites. The two come from differing musical backgrounds - Kubek was raised on sweaty Texas blues while King has a love for jazz and R&B. Kubek explodes on stage with a blazing blues/rock style born from the guitar traditions of Texas. King finesses fat chords with a hollow body Gibson and belts out blues with his whisper-to-growl voice, his sound rooted in the jazz tradition of Louisiana.
Together, they form a musically intuitive partnership. As Blues Revue put it, "King's jazzy guitar work is the perfect foil to Kubek's more incendiary style. They are simply the best guitar tandem on the scene today." Guitar One magazine observed, "King's jazzman style and soulful vocals have proved the perfect complement to Kubek's full-bore guitar attack and fat, natural tone."
Over the years the duo has compiled a prolific discography. Their debut recording was released on Bullseye Blues in 1991. The band immediately grew out of Texas and began touring nationally. This was followed by a successful series of six more albums for Bullseye throughout the 90’s.
They signed to Blind Pig Records in 2002. As Joe remarked, "Blind Pig gave Bnois and me a great deal of creative freedom to make the recording we wanted to make. The label also gave me the opportunity to produce the sessions. That's something I wanted to do for a while. We had a great time."
The resulting album was Roadhouse Research, released in February of 2003. Billboard praised the CD, saying, "Kubek demonstrates, yet again that he remains one of the most distinctive electric guitarists currently plugged-in. His fiery, agile lead guitar is complemented by King's adroit rhythm guitar and vocals." Downbeat offered this compliment, "What these road-tested Texans have learned about using guitar-driven blues-rock to please roadhouse revelers carries over into the studio." Blues Revue added their own kudos by commenting, "Roadhouse Research lives up to the high standards Kubek and King set on previous outings. Kubek's big-as-Texas lead guitar and King's jazz-laced rhythm guitar and hearty vocals are still a great combination."
Their second Blind Pig CD, Show Me The Money, released in 2004, demonstrated even more all-around artistic growth by these veterans. But Kubek's flame-throwing guitar work tempered by the finesse of King's accompaniment and smooth vocals remain the bedrock of a powerful, irresistible combination. Or, as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune put it, "a rare blend of hot guitars and cool savvy, that does, indeed, smoke."
Despite fifteen years of incendiary shows and nearly nonstop touring, Joe and Bnois’ first live recording amazingly didn’t occur until 2006, when Blind Pig released My Heart's In Texas. Issued on both CD and full length concert DVD, it documents a blazing New Year's Eve set at the legendary J&J Blues Bar in Ft. Worth, Texas. Living Blues said, "It was one mighty fine night of roadhouse roots rock." Blues Revue called it "A rough, raw and above all, soulful example of Lone Star roadhouse blues-rock," while adding this comment about the video: "This great bar band knows how to fire up a crowd in any city on any night of the week and the DVD captures the band on a powerful night."
In 2008 the duo released the first of two albums on Alligator, Blood Brothers, followed in 2010 by Have Blues Will Travel. The next year Kubek and King released Close To The Bone on the Delta Groove label, which also released Road Dog’s Life in 2013.
Joe and Bnois returned to Blind Pig to record Fat Man’s Shine Parlor. Said Kubek, "We are very excited to be back with Blind Pig. Some of the best stuff we perform on stage, the favorites that our treasured fans from all over come to hear, is material we recorded for Blind Pig. It's a label that always delivers the very best quality music to fans and radio, and we're all about giving our fans and blues radio our very best artistry.”
More than anything else, Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King exist to perform live, bringing their no-holds-barred brand of soul-charged, Texas rockin' blues to old fans and newcomers night after night. From the smallest Texas roadhouse to clubs and concert stages all over the country and around the world, Kubek and King create a memorable one-two punch of raw, tough, blues-rock filled with intensity and purpose.
Postscript: Joe Kubek passed away on October 11, 2015.