Little Joe Washington isn’t a studio musician. Just like his life, his blues guitar playing is a reaction to the moment. For Houston Guitar Blues, Washington recorded over three dozen songs in one marathon session, playing until bleeding fingers made further recording impossible.
Revisiting his classic 1960s Donna Records sides “Hard Way 6” and “Last Tear” and his notable Federal label co-writes with Johnny Otis, “Someone Loves Me” and “I Feel Alright”, Washington sounds as raw, immediate and turbulent as a barroom knife fight. His sharp, leathery voice exudes decades of hard living, but it is the depth, breadth and undeniable legitimacy of his playing that draws the attention as he stutter-steps through an array of urban blues styles.
After years of substance abuse and homelessness, the diminutive guitarist has recently revived his career, and he’s receiving recognition not only for his singular talent but for his place in Houston’s storied blues history. Washington now lives in a rent-free apartment above Houston’s Continental Club, where he plays a Wednesday happy-hour residency gig.
Some in Houston respectfully refer to Washington as “the last man standing” in reference to his legacy alongside other great Third Ward bluesmen such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert “Iceman” Collins, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and Joe “Guitar” Hughes. Indeed, there won’t be many more records like Houston Guitar Blues — which makes the album and the man all the more treasured, despite their flaws.