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Joe Hill Louis (September 23, 1921 – August 5, 1957) was an American singer, guitarist, harmonica player and one-man band. He is significant, along with fellow Memphis bluesman Doctor Ross, as one of only a small number of one-man blues bands to have recorded commercially in the 1950s, and as a session musician for Sun Records.
Louis was born Lester (or possibly Leslie) Hill on September 23, 1921 in Raines, Tennessee. His nickname “Joe Louis” (a famous boxer) arose as a result of a childhood fight with another youth. At the age of 14 he left home to work as a servant for a wealthy Memphis family, and also worked in the Peabody Hotel, Memphis, in the late 1930s. From the early 1940s onwards he worked as a musician and one-man band.
Louis’ recording debut was made for Columbia in 1949, and his music was released on a variety of independent labels through the 1950s, most notably recording for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, for whom he recorded extensively as a backing musician for a wide variety of other singers as well as under his own name.
His most notable electric blues single "Boogie in the Park" (recorded July 1950 and released August 1950) featured Louis performing "one of the loudest, most overdriven, and distorted guitar stomps ever recorded" while playing on a rudimentary drum kit at the same time. It was the only record ever released on Sam Phillips' early Phillips label before founding Sun Records. Louis' electric guitar work is also considered a distant ancestor of heavy metal music.
His most notable recording at Sun Records was probably as guitarist on Rufus Thomas’s “Bear Cat”, recorded as an answer record to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog”, which reached No. 3 on the R&B chart and resulted in legal action for copyright infringement. He also shared writing credit for the song “Tiger Man”, which has been recorded by Elvis Presley, among others.
Around 1950 he took over the Pepticon Boy radio program on WDIA from B. B. King.
He was also known as “The Pepticon Boy” and “The Be-Bop Boy”.
Louis died on August 5, 1957 in John Gaston Hospital, Memphis, at the age of 35, from tetanus contracted as a result of an infected cut to his thumb, sustained while working as an odd job man.
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Joe Hill Louis
1921-09-23 to 1957-08-05