Longtime Houston bluesman Don Kesee, known by all who met him for his good nature and huge, friendly smile, passed away Wednesday afternoon after an extended illness. He had been on dialysis for some time and, according to folks who saw him at a benefit in November, he had not looked at all well lately.
Kesee was one of the elder statesmen of the local blues scene included in our August 31, 2011 cover story about the Houston blues community.
Kesee was born near Hempstead and began playing guitar when he was 9. His father had been with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama for some years. After a teenage apprenticeship in blues bands in Hempstead and LaGrange, Kesee moved to Houston in the early Sixties, joining The Esquires.
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Kesee eventually became the manager of the band and after some years changed the name to The Soul Masters, the name under which Kesee has performed ever since. A self-taught guitarist, Kesee picked up what he called informal lessons at legendary Third Ward dive bar Shady's Playhouse, where he saw and interacted with the cream of Houston blues players.
Kesee has been a regular act at Shakespeare's Pub and the Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club for decades. But in the past two years, diabetes limited his public appearances and hampered his performances. The blues community held a benefit for Kesee in July last year to help defray some of the expenses of an extended stay in rehab.
Kesee never made it big, but as local blues historian Dr. Roger Wood said, "He loved the blues and he loved being onstage. He didn't have any original material and he wasn't that interested in pushing hard to make it big, but he was one cool guy to watch play the blues."