Opposites attract
Slag the West End for being a tourist pit if you will, but it deserves credit for being the original bonding ground for bluesmen Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King. King was a Louisiana-born jazzman who didn't figure blues even existed anymore until he accompanied vocalist Kendra Holt to a blues jam at the West End's (now defunct) Prohibition Room. He sat in with Kubek, and the two melded so well that they lost no time in forming a band. Their first album was an all-over quickie, Axe Man, for the Belgian Double Trouble label, but in 1991 they signed with Rounder's Bullseye Blues subsidiary and soon became one of the company's best-selling acts. They've done five albums for Bullseye, the most recent of which is Got My Mind Back, but Chain Smokin' Texas Style (1992) and Texas Cadillac (1993) are better.

The pair are an arresting study in visual contrasts: African-American King is trim and wiry, while Kubek is a big guy with an enormous soul patch that runs the length of his chin and jewel-encrusted rings crowding the fingers of both hands. King dresses in the direction of uptown cool, while Kubek has a fondness for loud Hawaiian shirts. The contrasts don't stop there, however; some biracial blues teams couple white acolytes with black veterans, but the Kubek-King alliance is a different critter. King was a jazzer with little hard blues experience. Kubek, on the other hand, had not only played with Freddie King but had gigged and cut records with soul-blues badmen like Little Joe Blue, Ernie Johnson, Al "TNT" Braggs, and Charlie Roberson. His trademark stinging tone owes much to his association with these artists, especially King. While King was playing snazzy jazz at Tabu, Kubek was backing R.L. Griffin at Ernest Davis' classic Classic Club on Cedar Crest.

Diverse alloys make the firmest bonds, and the combination of Kubek and King is dauntingly forceful: Both men play guitar with head-twisting intensity, and King writes clever, sardonic songs and sings spiritedly, with more passion than in his jazz days. Comparing them to many modern bluesers is like comparing shark to carp. Sometimes it's hard to think of Kubek and King as local acts. When they tour, they tour, staying out for months at a time and hitting what seems like every state. They have developed a number of ways to combat the numbing repetitiveness of the road; one of them is their habit of taking Polaroids of each other standing by roadsigns, clutching fistfuls of dough from triumphant gigs. Listening to this hard-hitting band's albums is highly recommended; hearing them live is even better.

--Tim Schuller


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