Lefty Bates

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Lefty Bates
Birth name William Bates
Born (1920-03-09)March 9, 1920
Leighton, Alabama, United States
Died April 7, 2007(2007-04-07) (aged 87)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Chicago blues[1]
Occupation(s) Guitarist
Instruments Guitar
Years active Mid 1930s – early 1980s
Labels RCA, Vee-Jay, various
Associated acts Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy

Lefty Bates (March 9, 1920 – April 7, 2007)[2] 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, and the Impressions.[2] 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.[1]

Bates was married to well-known area club dancer Mary Cole Bates, who died in 2001.[3]


He was born William Bates in Leighton, Alabama, United States, and acquired his nickname from his left-handed guitar playing.[2] Bates was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, attending Vashon High School and while there help form the Hi-De-Ho Boys.[4] 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.[1]

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.[1] 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.[4] 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.[1] 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.[5][6]

From 1955, Bates worked in a similar manner with another Chicago-based record label, Club 51,[4] although there he had the luxury of leading "The Lefty Bates Orchestra". At Club 51 he backed The Five Buddies and Sunnyland Slim.[1] In 1957, Bates along with Earl Hooker, backed the singer Arbee Stidham, on his recording of "Look Me Straight in the Eye".[7]

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'.[8] In 1961, Bates appeared on Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall, plus in the same year played on Reed's recording of "Big Boss Man".

Bates died of an arteriosclerosis in Chicago in April 2007, aged 87.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Eugene Chadbourne. "Lefty Bates". Allmusic. Retrieved October 13, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Rock, Doc" (2007). "The Dead Rock Stars Club 2007 January to June". thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Accessed October 13, 2011]
  3. ^ Jensen, Trevor (April 19, 2007). "William H. 'Lefty' Bates: 1920 - 2007". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-10-14. 
  4. ^ a b c Robert Pruter and Robert L. Campbell. "The Club 51 Label". Hubcap.clemson.edu. Retrieved October 13, 2011. 
  5. ^ Pruter, Robert (1996). Doo-wop: the Chicago scene (1st ed.). Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. p. 113. ISBN 0-252-02208-4. 
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 133. 
  7. ^ Danchin, Sebastian (2001). Earl Hooker, blues master (1st ed.). Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. p. 108. ISBN 1-57806-306-X. 
  8. ^ Gioia, Ted (2008). Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music (1st ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-393-06258-8. 

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