|Birth: ||Jul. 8, 1934|
|Death: ||Dec. 7, 2003|
Henry Qualls: East Texas country-blues singer found success late in life
01:41 AM CST on Tuesday, December 9, 2003
By THOR CHRISTENSEN / The Dallas Morning News
Singer-guitarist Henry Qualls, one of the last purveyors of East Texas country blues, died Sunday of complications from intestinal surgery. He was 69. Mr. Qualls died at Kindred Hospital in Dallas, according to his musical partner, Brian "Hash Brown" Calway.
"Henry was always amazed that people were so interested in him," says Mr. Calway, who performed with Mr. Qualls at blues festivals around the world. Part of his amazement, no doubt, came from the fact that he wasn't discovered until he was nearly 60.
His rise to semi-fame came in 1993, when a blues aficionado videotaped Mr. Qualls singing and picking his guitar in his yard in Elmo, Texas, a tiny town 40 miles east of Dallas. The tape wound its way to Dallas Blues Society founder Chuck Nevitt.
"When I saw it, I said ‘Holy Cow!' " Mr. Nevitt remembers. "He was one of the few guys who still did that East Texas country blues kind of thing that Lightning Hopkins and Li'l Son Jackson did. He had this gruff, whiskey-soaked voice, and he could take a pop tune and turn it into a rockin' country house party."
Mr. Nevitt was so jazzed about his discovery he promptly called Japp Hendrix, the Dutch concert promoter who ran the Utrecht Blues Festival. When Mr. Nevitt popped in the tape and put the phone up to the TV speaker, Mr. Hendrix was knocked out, too.
"It was so exciting to hear that music," Mr. Hendrix told The Dallas Morning News in 1994. "It's not common anymore, that original roots American music. I had to hire him on the spot."
The Dutch concert and the media attention surrounding his discovery helped Mr. Qualls land gigs all around the Europe and the United States, including shows at the Chicago Blues Festival and Arkansas' King Biscuit Blues Festival. Mr. Nevitt produced Mr. Qualls' debut album, Blues From Elmo, Texas, and the singer also appeared on the compilation albums Blues Across America – The Dallas Scene and Texas Blues Guitar Summit.
Success didn't change Mr. Qualls: he still lived in a century-old house next to the Texas & Pacific Railway line in Elmo and mowed farm fields for spare cash with his 1949 tractor. He occasionally performed in Deep Ellum and Fort Worth, but loathed big-city life.
"They're crazy down there. People can't remember their own name in the city. There's bodies all down by the river in the city. They put bodies down there; it's a good place for that," he told The News in 1994.
"He was such a down-to-earth guy," Mr. Nevitt said. "He was totally unaffected by the success. ... I don't think he even upgraded his whiskey – he stuck to the same rock-gut stuff he always drank."
Mr. Qualls is survived by his wife, Ethel, and nine children. A funeral service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Shiloh Baptist Church, 321 Frank Street, Terrell.
HENRY QUALLS with HASH BROWN
"Qualls, whether unearthing obscurities from Jimmy Reed or Lowell Fulson or Blind Willie Johnson or bearing down upon his own material, is a purist's dream-come-true, attacking his 36 year-old guitar with a demon-fire ferociousness first heard in the playing of Son House and other blues masters long gone to hell."--Dallas Observer
"With steady-rolling solos and Blind Willie Johnson-inspired slide, his sanctified, countrified Blues from Elmo, Texas" rivals recent releases by R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough"--Guitar Player Magazine
"If you're interested in the most uncompromised, pure-dee country blues Texan since Mance Lipscomb, you're interested in Henry Qualls. Accept no substitutes."--Blues Access
"The crudity and rough sound of his playing, along with the simplistic, bare-bones backing of his sidemen, add up to an authentic blues feel no candy-assed middle class college graduate could ever approach. 'The Elmo Stomp' is the nastiest thing I've heard in 35 years (since Link Wray's 'Rumble' of 1958). Blues connisseurs and guitar tone freaks alike are gonna lose it when they hear this disc."--The Absolute Sound
"Henry lays Maybelline flat on his lap and frets her with a Tabasco sauce bottle, creating deep country gospel as eerie and compelling as a backwoods graveyard."--Guitar Player Magazine
"Henry Qualls was the surprise hit [of Europe's 1994 Utrecht Blues Festival]. Although he takes some of his repertoire from Lil Son Jackson and Lightnin' Hopkins, and his playing clearly belongs to the Texas tradition, at the same time he's a completely individual guitarist with his own approach to music. The element of surprise, combined with the intensity of his singing and playing, made for thrilling listening. Placing [his guitar] flat on his lap and fretting it with a slide, Henry played two gospel instrumentals, filled with flurries of grace notes, that left the audience open-mouthed in delight and disbelief. You could have heard a pin drop."--Juke Blues
"This is the real thing. This ain't no slicked up, watered down, look at me, I'm playin' da blues, album."--Austin Blues Monthly
"This is, in fact, barrelhouse/juke joint blues at its roughest and most basic, interspersed with good old church meeting' music. Saturday night and Sunday morning in Elmo, Texas. I loved every raucous minute -- this is one CD you must hear at least twice -- you won't believe it the first time."--Blues & Rhythm Magazine
Created by: Whitney Qualls
Record added: May 15, 2011
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