Even if it wasn't a surprise, Little Joe Washington's death Wednesday afternoon is a shock. The Houston music community has lost one of its icons, a dynamic performer whose talents far transcended the style of music he happened to play, and whose energy made him a favorite of people generations younger than he was. Everybody who saw him came away a Little Joe fan, even if they only saw him once.
Those who saw Joe play did not soon forget it, even if they happened to stumble into Boondocks by accident some anonymous Tuesday night, or by showing up some Friday expecting to see the later show at the Continental. Half the time they left shaking their heads that sounds that crazy could come out of such a tiny frame -- especially when Joe got going and started playing his guitar behind his back -- wondering what the hell they had just seen.
He had been in poor health for some time, years even, but his health was the only thing that could keep him off the stage, and then only reluctantly. And even in his latter days when he was feeling up to playing, he did so with the kind of energy and electricity younger musicians couldn't hope to match.
Washington was the last of the great Houston guitar bluesmen, now gone alongside his old colleagues and rivals like Joe Guitar Hughes, Albert Collins, Johnny Guitar Watson and even Lightnin' Hopkins himself. ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons has a lot of that kind of soul, true, but even he can't hope to match the kind of technique and eccentricity that Little Joe had without even trying.
He was an original, and Houston is a sadder, less interesting city now that he's gone. If there's any consolation at this sad moment, it comes from the words of a colleague here at the Press: "That's going to be a hell of a memorial service."
Here is Joe doing what he did best. Turn it up as loud as you can.
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