About Joe Doucet
By the year 2004 I presumed to believe I had met all the great African-American blues guitarists who still lived in Houston’s Third Ward, a legendary hotbed of talent since the era of Lightnin' Hopkins. But one November day there, a stranger stopped his car, walked onto the vacant lot where a colleague and I were photographing and interviewing a resident musician, and softly said, "I can play that guitar you’ve got."
Amused by his uninvited pronouncement, I handed him the instrument and said, "OK, show us." Without the benefit of a shoulder strap or amplifier, he launched into a muted yet impressive version of "Hideaway" by Freddie King, followed by an adept romp through Clifton Chenier's "Hot Tamale Baby." Though he was eager to perform yet another tune, I stopped him, stared with astonishment into his unfamiliar face, and blurted out, "Who are you?" "I'm Joe Doucet," the wiry little man responded with a grin, then added triumphantly, "And I told you I could play that guitar."
As this recording demonstrates, he can sing too—and not just in English but also in the Creole French dialect that is his birthright. Mixing original compositions with interpretations from the wide-ranging repertoire he first mastered years ago working in various bands (including those of the aforementioned King and Chenier), Doucet is a living embodiment of some of the key permutations of classic blues from Texas and the upper Gulf Coast.
With superb supporting highlights provided by the versatile septuagenarian Earl Gilliam on keyboards and the soulful O.S. Grant (Gilliam's former band-mate) on saxophone, Doucet's debut disc evokes a vintage sound. Its artful rawness is grounded in part in the electric blues heritage of inner-city Houston (where Doucet has lived since 1962) and in part in the zydeco, swam-pop, and solo acoustic traditions of rural southwest Louisiana (where he was born in 1942).
"I was raised up on a farm, sharecropping, and I had to go to school to learn how to speak English," he says of his early years. "I played zydeco, blues, country & western, all of them, when I was coming up. But mostly all I played was blues." After relocating to Texas, Doucet gigged steadily for about two decades, only to see his musical career evaporate as popular tastes shifted. "When that disco came in, I hit the bottom," he explains. "For a long time, musicians weren't playing any more, and I was hitting the bottle, from the pain that I had. I was missing my playing. Everything was turned around on me."
Forced into an undesired retirement, Doucet eventually stabilized his life and resumed making music, albeit mostly at home. However, since 2005 he has re-emerged, clearly rejuvenated by his association with Dialtone Records and new opportunities to perform. Fortunately for those of us who appreciate such wonder, his primal style of articulating the blues has endured, apparently unchanged by the passage of several decades. Like some anonymous passer- by on a Third Ward Street, the music of Joe Doucet could easily have remained an unknown. The fact that we now have it here to enjoy, preserved on this disc, is a special treat indeed.
— Roger Wood, Author of Down In Houston: Bayou City Blues (University of Texas Press)