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Lester Williams

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Though little known outside of the Houston blues circuit where he made his home for several decades, vocalist/guitarist Lester Williams was a local phenomenon during the early '50s whose success even led to an appearance at Carnegie Hall. Born in Groveton, Texas on June 24, 1920, he grew up infatuated with the sound of T-Bone Walker, whose style Williams consciously emulated; after serving in World War II, he formed his own combo, and in 1949 signed on with the Houston-based Macy's Records. The label's then-stockboy, Steve Poncio, produced Williams' debut single "Winter Time Blues"; it became a regional hit, although subsequent efforts were less successful. However, by 1951 Poncio owned and operated his own distributorship, United Distributors, and through various channels struck up a business relationship with Specialty Records owner Art Rupe; as a result, Williams joined the Specialty stable, and with Poncio again behind the boards scored his biggest hit in 1952 with "I Can't Lose with the Stuff I Use," a track later covered by B.B. King. The song was another regional smash, and was sufficiently popular on a national basis to land the singer on a February 1953 Carnegie Hall bill which also included Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine and Nat King Cole. Williams' follow-ups failed to catch on, however, and by 1954 he was regularly performing on Houston station KLVL and touring throughout the South. He later recorded on Duke before one final date for Imperial in 1956; in the years to follow he remained a staple of the Houston club circuit, touring Europe four years prior to his death on November 13, 1990. ~ Jason Ankeny

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