The first time Smokin' Joe Kubek ever spoke to Bnois King, it was at Poor David's Pub in the early '90s. Kubek asked him to play guitar. King agreed, joined him onstage and later said it immediately felt like they'd been playing together all their lives. No notes clashing together, no competition — just a conversation between two old friends.
Kubek and King conversed onstage for more than 20 years as a two-guitar band that melded blues, rock, jazz “and even a little soul into their unique sound,” as Don O so eloquently stated in a Dallas Observer interview with the bluesmen in 2012. They could be found on stages in Dallas, Austin and across the ocean in Turkey. They've toured all over the world and released 15 albums on multiple labels, including My Heart's in Texas, (2006), Blood Brothers (2008) and Close to the Bone (2013).
Now their conversation has ended. Kubek was found dead on Sunday in his hotel room in North Carolina. He was 58.
Several media outlets have reported that Kubek's friends confirmed the Dallas blues guitarist suffered a heart attack. But no cause of death has been officially reported.
When Kubek was just a kid, he played guitar with Freddie King onstage just days before King died at Presbyterian Hospital in December, 1976. Kubek continued to share the stage with blues legends like Al “TNT” Braggs, the Vaughan Brothers, Doyle Bramhall, Sr. and R.L. Griffin. Some would say his roots run deep in Texas blues.
Kubek continued to perfect his playing in South Dallas clubs. In 1991, he released his first album, The Axe Man, a compilation of a dozen covers from blues legends like John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker and Albert King. He later met Bnois King at a club once known as Mother Blues. They didn't connect that night, but not long after their initial meeting, Kubek saw King at Poor David's and asked him to jam.
Clint Birdwell, a longtime friend and former record producer of Kubek, remembers Kubek as a guitarist who always “hit the sweetest notes” and someone who was laid back, “almost to the point where it was hard to motivate him because he was so laid back,” Birdwell says.
Birdwell last spoke with Kubek at the Mark Pollock benefit show at Granada Theater on September 26. The benefit show was one part celebration, the other part to raise money for Pollock's fight against cancer. Kubek played at Pollock's benefit show, and he planned to play at another benefit show — Blues Against Breast Cancer — on October 24 at Poor David's to raise money for his wife Phyllis' cancer treatment.
“He's been her caretaker,” Birdwell says.
Birdwell spent more than 30 years working on an album with Kubek. Dallas guitar legend Charley Wirz brought them together right before he died of a heart attack in 1985 and let Birdwell hear some of the recordings.
Released in 2012 by Bird Records, Kubek's Let the Right Hand Go is a compilation of rare and unreleased recordings from the '80s to early 2000s. The album features Kubek jamming with some legendary blues artists, including Bramhall, Sr., “TNT” Braggs, Wirz, Keith Ferguson, Marc Benno and Bruce Bolin, among others.
Birdwell said that Kubek and King played a show on Friday at the Live Oak in Fort Worth and planned to play a show this past Sunday in North Carolina. That Sunday morning, Kubek got up and went to eat breakfast downstairs at the hotel when he said that he wasn't feeling well and told King that he was going to lay back down.
A short time later, they found him dead in his hotel room.
News of Kubek's death spread across social media accounts, and Birdwell said many of the people in the Dallas blues scene were stunned and saddened to hear about Kubek's death.
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Dallas blues guitarist Lance Lopez posted a picture of Kubek on his Facebook page. “Joe was one of my biggest supporters and dearest friends for many years,” Lopez wrote. “My heart is heavy. I will miss him.”
Other commenters posted, “RIP Joe. Great guitar player.”
We couldn't agree more.
The public is invited to say goodbye to Smokin' Joe from to 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday at Donnelly's Colonial Funeral Home at 606 W. Airport Freeway in Irving. If you wish to help Smokin' Joe's wife, you can find information about how to donate on his Facebook page.