A few years back, independent filmmaker Heather Korb started sniffing around Houston's music scene for a possible documentary. Her search led her to a local blues vet named Joe "Guitar" Hughes. Through Hughes, Korb met blues legends Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Johnny Clyde Copeland and Albert Collins, and those introductions provided her with the idea that eventually became Third Ward Blues. "Joe told me he knew them all really well," says Korb. "And that ... well, that's the film. I knew they were quite well known, but I didn't think it was well known that they all came from Houston."
Hughes, Copeland and Collins grew up within three blocks of one another in the title ward; all were influenced by the older, Louisiana-born Brown, who had established strong ties to Houston via his signing to Don Robey's Peacock label. The quartet provides a collective focal point for the terse, intriguing documentary, which traces the Bayou blues from its origins to the present. "Even though it's called Third Ward Blues, it's not meant to be about every blues musician who ever came from the Third Ward," says Korb. One of her goals, she says, was to revisit the days when Lone Star icons like Lightnin' Hopkins and T-Bone Walker performed at El Dorado Ballroom and other fabled Houston venues.
But the movie's anchored by the aforementioned foursome. For years, the white, 30ish, Kansas-bred Korb interviewed them, filmed them performing and visiting old stomping grounds, and searched for archival photos. The $15,000, 29-minute film was finally released last year.
Though two of the film's central figures are now gone -- Collins died in 1993, Copeland last summer -- Korb believes her candid study of the artists in their element would have made them proud. "Essentially, the film allows you to experience these musicians and the types of places they play in," says Korb. "Hopefully, it also gives you a glimpse into their personalities that you would never get seeing them in concert."
The filmmaker adds that she's not done documenting Texas's deep roots. Her next project is Double Bayou, a "poetic portrait" of a community near Anahuac.