Joe Hill Louis
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Birth name Lester Hill
Also known as The Be-Bop Boy, The Pepticon Boy
Born (1921-Template:MONTHNUMBER-23)23, 1921
Raines, Tennessee, United States
Died 5, 1957(1957-Template:MONTHNUMBER-05) (aged 35)
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Genres Blues, Delta blues, electric blues,[1] rap,[2] Memphis blues, rock and roll
Instruments Vocals, guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, drums
Years active 1940s–1957
Labels Phillips,[3] Sun, Checker, Modern, Columbia.[4]

Joe Hill Louis (September 23, 1921 – August 5, 1957), born Lester Hill, 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.

As early as 1950, he was experimenting with techniques such as overdriven electric guitar distortion[3] and vocal rapping.[2]

Early lifeEdit

Louis was born Lester (or possibly Leslie) Hill[1] on September 23, 1921[5] in Raines, Tennessee.[6] His nickname “Joe Louis” arose as a result of a childhood fight with another youth.[1] At the age of 14 he left home to work as a servant for a wealthy Memphis family,[7] 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.[5]

Recording and radio careerEdit

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,[1] for whom he recorded extensively as a backing musician for a wide variety of other singers as well as under his own name.[8]

"Boogie in the Park" (1950) by Joe Hill Louis. It featured Louis playing an overdriven, distorted electric guitar solo while playing on a drum kit at the same time.

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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.[3] Louis' electric guitar work is also considered a distant ancestor of heavy metal music.[9]

In 1950, he also recorded "Gotta Let You Go", an early rap song.[2]

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[10] 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.[11]

He was also known as “The Pepticon Boy” and “The Be-Bop Boy”.[1]


Louis died on August 5, 1957 in John Gaston Hospital, Memphis,[12] 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.[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Dahl, Bill: Joe Hill Louis biography,
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 DeCurtis, Anthony (1992). Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture (4. print. 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." 
  4. Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 138. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Harris, 1989 p. 337
  6. Joe Hill Louis
  7. Turner, 1985 p. 24
  8. 8.0 8.1 Turner, 1985, p. 24.
  9. 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." 
  10. Turner, 1985, p. 37.
  11. Harris 1989, p. 337.
  12. 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". In Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1956 [album booklet]. London: Sun Records.

External linksEdit

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