Smokin' Joe Kubek sat for this photo in 2004. (Richard Michael Pruitt/Staff photo)

Smokin' Joe Kubek sat for this photo in 2004. (Richard Michael Pruitt/Staff photo)

Friends of Dallas blues guitarist Smokin' Joe Kubek confirm the news broken throughout Sunday afternoon and evening on Twitter and Facebook: He died over the weekend. According to several accounts, he suffered a heart attack shortly before he was due to take the stage at the Pleasure Island Seafood & Blues Festival in North Carolina headlined by Dr. John. Kubek would have turned 59 next month.

Fellow bluesman Pat Boyack, who considered Kubek a mentor, says he died in his sleep. At the time of this writing, there has been no official statement posted to his website or Facebook page. For now, it seems, only a Czech blues site has noted his passing.

For decades, Kubek -- a Pennsylvania native raised in Irving -- defined the resilient blues scene in Dallas. 

"Our music is too rocked up for the blues, and too blues-ed up for rock," he told The Dallas Morning News in 2004. "Our record company always wants us to come up with stuff that's more radio-friendly."

No modern Dallas bluesman had Kubek's cred. Though he would later say it was "for just a second," Kubek played with Freddie King when Joe was just a kid, and shared the stage with him just days before the influential bluesman died at Presbyterian Hospital on December 28, 1976. He was the link from the Texas Cannonball to Al "TNT" Braggs (with whom he sidekicked for several years) to the Vaughan Brothers (he used to sneak into clubs to see Jimmie, and later became friends with little brother Stevie, and performed at the Kessler just last month to help raise money for the Vaughan Brothers Arts Project in Oak Cliff). 

"Joe's history is deep in Dallas," says Boyack, "from R.L. Griffin to Doyle Bramhall and Stevie Ray Vaughan."

His first record, 1991's The Axe Man, contained a dozen covers, among them John Lee Hooker's "Little Wheel," Aaron "T-Bone" Walker's "Little Shuffle," Albert King's "Crosscut Saw." Kubek made them for the club, and played them for the back row of the arena -- the sound of the Texas blues ever since Johnny and Edgar Winter first plugged in. Subsequent records -- and there were many -- gave equal billing to Bnois King, the Louisiana-born singer-guitarist with what KNON's Don O. once called a "smooth, fluid, flowing, jazzy style."

Smokin' Joe Kubek (Richard Michael Pruitt/Staff photo)

Smokin' Joe Kubek (Richard Michael Pruitt/Staff photo)

King cut his teeth playing South Dallas clubs and the blues-rock scene that, by the late 1980s, had  decamped for Lower Greenville, Lemmon Ave. or the West End clubs tucked away in basements.

Sometime in the late 1980s, King told Don O., "they were trying to start up Mother Blues again. I walked in that place one night, and I saw this big guy. It was Joe Kubek. I didn't know him and he didn't know me. We just stood there and looked at each other. Somehow we ended up in the dressing room of the performers that night and we still didn't speak. We also ended up onstage during the jam, and even played some together. Even though we never spoke, I remembered him because he could play. I left that night and didn't think about it again.

"Then one night I went down to Poor David's Pub, and there was Joe Kubek. He came over and said, 'Say, man. I remember you. You want to play a little bit?' That was the first time we ever spoke. When we got onstage together, it was immediately like I had been playing with the guy all my life. There was no clashing, no competition. Every time I would do something he would do something that made me sound good. Every time he did something, I would do the same. It was just automatic. I had played with a lot of guitar players, but it always turned into a shooting match or a duel or just completely clashed. This was without any conversation about it."

Bullseye Records, the blues offshot of revered indie-roots label Rounder, released their first official collaboration in 1991: Steppin' Out Texas Style. Several others followed on Bullseye, Blind Pig. Alligator ("the Rolls-Royce of blues labels," Kubek said when signing in 2007) and other labels. More than a few topped Living Blues magazine's radio charts. Their most recent record, Fat Man's Shine Parlor, was released in February.

"The thing about Joe was that he had two loves in his life: his wife Phyllis and the guitar," says Boyack. "He always thought about music and playing. He was into everything if it had guitar. Joe also never stopped touring. Even when the scene went to s---t, Joe still made those long trips because that's what he knew and, more importantly, what he wanted to do. It's fitting that he died on the road, really. That's where he felt at home. But he also loved his wife. I can attest to that."

We will update when we know about funeral arrangements and memorial services. Until then ...

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