Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hosea Hargrove

Hosea has played his rootsy style of blues in and around Austin for more than fifty years, schooling such notables as Bill Campbell and Jimmy Vaughan along the way. Don’t look for guitar pyrotechnics at a Hosea show, just straight form the soul simplicity that is the very definition of the blues. Hosea’s rich legacy of song is something that must be experienced. One of the best of his kind and one of the last of his kind, Hosea Hargrove is the real thing. Hargrove, who grew up playing family suppers in Crafts Prairie, caught a ride to his first gig on the back of Son Chase's horse, washed dishes in Dallas, and pulled cotton in West Texas, playing acoustic country blues all the while until a fellow named Willie Thornton taught him how to plug in in Phoenix, Arizona, circa 1954. It was in 1949, at age 20, that Hosea Hargrove left Crafts Prairie for Dallas to look for work. Found some, too -- washing dishes in a local restaurant -- but he held onto the dream of playing guitar. Every night after work, he'd go home and practice, or listen to the old-time blues on the jukebox at the neighborhood saloon: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightnin' Hopkins, B.B. King. Hopkins was a particular favorite, says Hargrove, "'cause he played it low." There were times, too, that he'd pick up some country & western on the radio, and though he never played the style, to this day Hargrove considers himself a Bob Wills fan.
After Dallas came West Texas, pulling cotton by day, playing guitar by night. Hargrove was one of the last of the traveling musician-pickers, once a dependable feature on the West Texas landscape. It was the early Fifties, and Hargrove played to eager fieldhands all over Texas and New Mexico. Yet it was in Phoenix, Arizona, that he played his first electric guitar, taught to him by a man named Willie Thornton.
Hargrove stuck around long enough to learn to play like his man Lightnin' and before long he was gigging around Phoenix with Thornton, playing amplified takes on the country blues he had grown up with. It was those electrified country blues -- known as "transitional blues" in some camps -- that Hargrove brought back to Central Texas in 1956, settling on Austin's Eastside, where the nightlife was jumping.Hargrove's music reflected his journey, from acoustic country roots to the electric city life, but it never took on the urban polish of a B.B. King or T-Bone Walker, who brought swingin' horns and a chart-reading sophistication to their own country blues. Instead, Hargrove stuck with the standard three-piece of Texas' early electric blues -- two guitars and drums, or alternately, guitar, bass, and drums -- playing Eastside clubs like the IL and the Victory Grill and establishing himself on the small-town Texas circuit.
In the 40 years since, he's been a fixture on the Austin blues scene, laying down his transitional sound and taking time to school a few of the younger players who have come searching for the real thing. Like Jimmie Vaughan, for instance, who looked up Hargrove when he first came to town (pre-Storm, pre-Thunderbirds), learning at Hargrove's side. The two teamed up and started playing together, traveling the circuit and surprising a few of Hargrove's regular fans.
In interviews, both Jimmie and his brother Stevie Ray acknowledged Hargrove's influence on their style. In fact, when Jimmie Vaughan first got the Fabulous Thunderbirds together, he asked Hargrove to join as a vocalist, but Hargrove declined. Eddie Stout,the owner/founder of Austin's independent blues label Dialtone Records, recently signed to Hargrove to Dialtone in 2010 and new release; "Tex Golden Nugget' electric guitar, an ancient beat up amplifier, and 80 years of experience living and playing the blues.

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