Houston’s Third Ward Blues

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.

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