Lefty Bates

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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 in 2001.Lefty Bates


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 the Eye'.

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 Man'.

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.

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