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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.
Louis was born Lester (or possibly Leslie) Hill on September 23, 1921
in Raines, Tennessee. His nickname “Joe Louis” 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 recording 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.