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St. Louis Stepped Up to Help the Legendary Preston Hubbard. But Did He Actually Need It? 

Preston Hubbard at Beale on Broadway.

Reed Radcliffe

Preston Hubbard at Beale on Broadway.

On April 12, 2014, Preston Hubbard, legendary bassist for the Grammy-nominated band Roomful of Blues and Texas-blues kings the Fabulous Thunderbirds, was helped into the emergency ward at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. His neuropathy was so severe he could barely walk, and his frail body was losing a battle against the toxins inside it. By all accounts, including Hubbard's, his condition was dire and might have killed him. He had insulin treatments and three blood transfusions. After 30 hours in the ER, he was finally stabilized.

At the age of 61, the musician's body had been ravaged by decades of hard drug and alcohol use. Hubbard has never been shy about his "insane behavior," his former life as an addict, a dealer and a prison inmate. Before, during and after his career as a successful musician on the East Coast and in Austin, Texas, he lived dangerously and recklessly, and cheated death and oblivion more than once.

Yet Hubbard, who has lived in St. Louis for a decade and backed up local blues artists such as Big Mike Aguirre and touring artists like Felix Reyes, denied on his Facebook page that drinking contributed to his illness. "I had critical blood sugar," he wrote at the time. "I don't know how long I have been diabetic, but my blood sugar was insane."

In a familiar music-business story, Hubbard had no health insurance, and his medical bills were substantial: upward of $18,000, with some of the debt waived by Barnes.

On the weekend of June 7 and 8, 2014, the St. Louis blues community came together to help one of its own. The benefits — one held at the Blues City Deli and one at BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups — raised, according to one of the organizers, approximately $7,000 to help with Hubbard's medical bills.

Musicians came from around the region and the country. Kim Wilson performed, with Prez joining his old Thunderbirds comrade on stage for some classic blues, including a scorching version of B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel." Bonnie Raitt, with whom Prez had worked on her Nick of Time album, sent signed CDs for the auction. One supporter donated a guitar (owned and played by Duke Robillard), as did fellow T-Bird and Texas-blues great Jimmie Vaughan. (Vaughan's Stratocaster never sold at the auction; Hubbard decided to keep it.) Local blues aficionados donated posters, albums, art and other items. Dozens of musicians, including the Funky Butt Brass Band and the Soulard Blues Band, performed.

"Every little bit helps," Kim Wilson said from the stage at BB's, as Hubbard beamed beside him. The sentiment echoed throughout the room.

"Everybody was there to try to help somebody out," says Jeremiah Johnson, who performed at the event. "We were all there for a good reason. The music was good, and topnotch talent came out. You're all there for a guy that's basically a legend. He's gonna be in the books forever. Even though I didn't know him well, it was a good feeling to help him out."

The events were successful, not just in the money raised, but as celebrations of Preston Hubbard and his contributions to American music.

There was only one problem: While the blues community felt it needed to do something for Prez, Prez didn't need the money.

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