Lefty Bates (March 9, 1920 – April 7,
2007) was an American Chicago blues guitarist. He led the Lefty Bates Combo,
and variously worked with the El Dorados, the Flamingos, Jimmy Reed, John
Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Etta James, the Aristo-Kats, the Hi-De-Ho Boys, the
Moroccos, the Impressions, and a latter day version of the Ink Spots. A
regular on the Chicago blues scene, Bates major work was as a session
musician on a multitude of recordings made in the 1950s and 1960s.
Bates was married to well-known area club dancer Mary Cole Bates, who died
He was born William Bates in Leighton, Alabama, United States, and acquired
his nickname from his left-handed guitar playing. Bates was raised in St.
Louis, Missouri, attending Vashon High School and while there help form the
Hi-De-Ho Boys. In 1936, they relocated to Chicago, and recorded for Decca
Records and played in several Chicago clubs. Bates served in World War II,
and later joined the Aristo-Kats, who recorded on RCA Victor.
Bates formed his own ensemble with Quinn Wilson, and they played locally
through most of the 1950s. The ensemble's few recordings were issued by
United, Boxer, Mad and Apex Records under Bates name. The majority of Bates'
paid work came from regular club work and as a session musician, most
notably as the rhythm guitarist with both Jimmy
Reed and Buddy Guy. He undertook other
work with Larry Birdsong and Honey Brown. His versatility led to employment
as part of the studio band for Vee-Jay Records, alongside Red Holloway and
Vernel Fournier amongst others. The bulk of the musicians there had also
worked earlier for Chance Records, backing both Jimmy Reed and The Spaniels.
Vee-Jay's financial strength helped them survive, and their studio band was
expected to back a diversity of musicians on an ad-hoc basis, including R&B,
blues, jazz and doo-wop artists. In 1955, the El Dorados found national
success with 'At My Front Door', on which Bates played guitar, and which
peaked at number one on the U.S, Billboard R&B chart.
From 1955, Bates worked in a similar manner with another Chicago-based
record label, Club 51, although there he had the luxury of leading 'The
Lefty Bates Orchestra'. At Club 51 he backed The Five Buddies and Sunnyland
Slim. In 1957, Bates along with Earl Hooker,
backed the singer Arbee Stidham, on his recording of 'Look Me Straight in
In 1959, Bates played with Reed on his recording of 'Baby What You Want Me
to Do'. By March 1960, Bates was part of the backing trio for John Lee
Hooker on his album, Travellin'. In 1961, Bates appeared on Jimmy Reed at
Carnegie Hall, plus in the same year played on Reed's recording of 'Big Boss
By the time the majority of his studio work had ceased, Bates led a
latter-day version of the Ink Spots in the 1970s and beyond.
Bates died of a arteriosclerosis in Chicago in April 2007, aged 87.