Joe Hill Louis

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Joe Hill Louis
Birth nameLester Hill
Also known asThe Be-Bop Boy, The Pepticon Boy
Born(1921-09-23)September 23, 1921
Raines, Tennessee, United States
DiedAugust 5, 1957(1957-08-05) (aged 35)
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, drums
Years active1940s–1957
LabelsPhillips,[1] Sun, Checker, Modern, Columbia.[2]

Joe Hill Louis (September 23, 1921 – August 5, 1957), born Lester Hill, was an American singer, guitarist, harmonica player and one-man band. He was one of a small number of one-man blues bands (along with fellow Memphis bluesman Doctor Ross) to have recorded commercially in the 1950s, he was also a session musician for Sun Records.

Early life[edit]

Louis was born Lester (or possibly Leslie) Hill[3] on September 23, 1921,[4] in Raines, Tennessee,[5] his nickname "Joe Louis" arose as a result of a childhood fight with another youth.[3] At the age of 14 he left home to work as a servant for a wealthy Memphis family,[6] he also worked at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis in the late 1930s. From the early 1940s onwards he worked as a musician and one-man band.[4]

Recording and radio career[edit]

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,[3] for whom he recorded extensively as a backing musician for a wide variety of other singers as well as under his own name.[6]

His most notable electric blues single, "Boogie in the Park" (recorded in July 1950 and released the following month), featured Louis performing "one of the loudest, most overdriven, and distorted guitar stomps ever recorded" while also playing a rudimentary drum kit, it was the only record released on Sam Phillips's early Phillips label before he founded Sun Records.[1] Louis's electric guitar playing is also considered a predecessor of heavy metal music.[7]

His most notable recording at Sun Records was probably as guitarist on Rufus Thomas's "Bear Cat", an answer record to Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog", which reached number 3 on the R&B chart[8] 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.[9] He was also known as "The Pepticon Boy" and "The Be-Bop Boy".[3]


Louis died on August 5, 1957, in John Gaston Hospital, in Memphis,[4] at the age of 35, of tetanus contracted as a result of an infected cut on his thumb, sustained while he was working as an odd job man.[6]


  1. ^ a b DeCurtis, Anthony (1992). Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture (4th ed.). Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822312654. His first venture, the Phillips label, issued only one known release, and it was one of the loudest, most overdriven, and distorted guitar stomps ever recorded, 'Boogie in the Park' by Memphis one-man-band Joe Hill Louis, who cranked his guitar while sitting and banging at a rudimentary drum kit.
  2. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 138. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  3. ^ a b c d Dahl, Bill. "Joe Hill Louis | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-09-08.
  4. ^ a b c Harris, 1989, p. 337.
  5. ^ [1] Archived January 18, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b c Turner, 1985, p. 24.
  7. ^ Miller, Jim (1980). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. New York: Rolling Stone. ISBN 0394513223. Retrieved 5 July 2012. Black country bluesmen made raw, heavily amplified boogie records of their own, especially in Memphis, where guitarists like Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson (with the early Howlin' Wolf band) and Pat Hare (with Little Junior Parker) played driving rhythms and scorching, distorted solos that might be counted the distant ancestors of heavy metal.
  8. ^ Turner, 1985, p. 37.
  9. ^ Harris 1989, p. 337.


  • Harris, S. (1989). Blues Who's Who, 5th paperback edition. New York: Da Capo Press.
  • Turner, B. (1985). "The Blues in Memphis". Album booklet for Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950–1956. London: Sun Records.

External links[edit]