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Stubb Stubblefield: Archangel Of Barbecue

From 1968 to 1975 in Lubbock, Texas, C.B. "Stubb" Stubblefield ran a barbecue joint and roadhouse that was the late-night gathering place for a group of local musicians who were below-the-radar and rising: Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall.

"I'll never forget when Linda Ronstadt came," Ely's wife, Sharon, recalls. "She went into Stubb's kitchen in her little white ballerina slippers and walked through the most barbecue sauce-encrusted floor I've ever seen."

Stubblefield, born poor and hungry, had a kitchen calling. He wanted to feed the world — especially the people who sang in it. He had been an Army cook in the last all-black regiment of the Korean War. Back home in Lubbock, he generously fed and supported both black and white musicians, creating community and breaking barriers.

Lubbock was very segregated back then, recalls singer/guitarist Gilmore. "One day [blues guitarist] Jesse [Taylor] was hitchhiking, and this big huge black man stopped and picked him up. It was Stubb. C.B. Stubblefield. He had a barbecue joint, a tiny little dive, and Jesse started hanging out with Stubb. ... At some point, Jesse said, 'Stubb, could I bring a few of my friends and play?' It was unusual for a white kid and a black man to become close friends."

"The place was about barbecue and music," says country music singer and songwriter Hall. "You knew if you wanted to hang out with your kind of people, you could go out to Stubb's and see a bunch of pickers out there. It was like camels to a watering hole. And he loved musicians. He was kind of an archangel."

But Stubblefield had "zero business sense," Gilmore says.

And no money, Ely adds. "Everybody tried to help him, and eventually we got him to make some barbecue sauce in the kitchen, and then we'd take it out and sell it for him."

"We had an organization we called the IRS: Idiots Rescuing Stubb," Hall says. "Once in a while Stubb would go out of business, and we'd all get together and raise some money and put him back in business."

According to Hall, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were members of the club.

In 1985, Stubblefield moved to Austin and opened Stubb's, a legendary club with a legendary sauce, that still opens its doors to new talent pouring into town each year for the South by Southwest music conference.

When we produced the Hidden Kitchens Texas radio special, we recorded music for the hourlong program in Austin at KUT studios with Gilmore, steel guitar player Cindy Cashdollar and bass player Tom Corwin. During the recording session, Ely came by. Gilmore and the Elys are longtime friends from Lubbock. When we started talking about Hidden Kitchens Texas, the conversation quickly turned to Stubb.

"Stubb had this deep, beautiful voice," Gilmore says. "He just exuded love. He'd get up and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Stubb, and I'm a cook.'"

"I never had any Stubb's barbecue," Hall says. "Stubb and I were great friends. I loved him like a brother. But I never told him — I was a vegetarian."

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, with Laura Folger and Nathan Dalton. Mixed by Jim McKee.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) are producers of the duPont-Columbia Award-winning, NPR series, Hidden Kitchens, and two Peabody Award-winning NPR series, Lost & Found Sound and The Sonic Memorial Project. Hidden Kitchens, heard on Morning Edition, explores the world of secret, unexpected, below-the-radar cooking across America—how communities come together through food. The series inspired Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR's The Kitchen Sisters, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year that was also nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Writing on Food. The Hidden Kitchens audio book, narrated by Academy Award winner, Frances McDormand, received a 2006 Audie Award.