Joe Louis Walker
" Interview "
Soon to be fifty-nine-years-old, Joe Louis Walker is still one of the most exciting and innovative artists on tour, as evidenced by his recent appearance at the Long Beach Blues Festival in sunny California this past Labor Day weekend.
Let's backtrack to age fourteen when Walker picked up the guitar, playing Blues (with occasional romps into psychedelic Rock) during the blossoming San Francisco circuit. But by 1975 Walker was burnt out on Blues and turned to God, singing for the next decade with a Gospel group, the Spiritual Corinthians. But when the Corinthians played the 1985 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Walker became re-inspired to embrace his Blues roots again. He assembled a band, the Boss Talkers, and wrote some stunning originals that ended up on Cold Is the Night, his 1986 debut for the now defunct High Tone record label.
Cold Is the Night initiated Walker's arrival in hair-raising fashion and then Walker followed with additional recordings for High Tone, as well as for Verve, which further established him as one of the leading younger Bluesmen on the scene. Walker is more acclaimed for his High Tone output, which also included 1988's The Gift and 1989's Blue Soul, plus two sparkling live sets (released in 1991 and '92) Live at Slims Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Walker's High Tone era ended in 1993 when he switched over to the then-upscale Verve label and five more discs followed that were a bit more commercial than the harder-edged High Tone recordings. Walker also recorded JLW for Polygram as well.
The new century saw Walker bouncing around various labels, which included two lack-luster disks for JSP and a much-improved outing for Telarc in 2002 titled In the Morning. Walker also recorded for Evidence and Mike Varney's Blues Bureau imprint, which gave us the very nice and underappreciated New Direction in 2004. Yet after this new century's flurry of activity, Walker has been absent from releasing a domestic recording for about four years.
That is until his most recent effort, Witness to the Blues his first for the Canadian-based Stony Plain label produced by Duke Robillard. Which is precisely the time that I had an opportunity to check in with Mr. Joe Louis Walker.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: How are you doing this morning, Joe?
Joe Louis Walker: I'm doing pretty good. How about you?
BW: You have been globetrotting all over the world.
JLW: That's right, I've been all around this year, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Italy, Sicily, Germany...
BW: The new album, Witness to the Blues, is pretty hip and it's your first one for Stony Plain and was produced by Duke Robillard.
JLW: Yes, I was very fortunate to have Duke produce this one for me. We had a lot fun making this recording.
BW: I had Duke in here a few weeks ago and he told me he was really happy about how your new album came out, plus he made sure he told me that he also plays on a few tracks, too! Did you record this new CD at his studio?
JLW: Yes we did, we recorded in Rhode Island.
BW: This CD has a nice glow to it.
JLW: There was good feelings during the sessions, plus all the musicians were great players, I could not have made it without them as they added so much of themselves to it.
BW: Will you be doing any gigs with Duke Robillard?
JLW: I think so, I think we are going to do some things in the future and, depending on Duke's schedule, we are planning on doing some recording in November with a very special guest that I cannot say who it will be right yet. Sorry but I cannot let the cat out of the bag, but it is someone I have been wanting to record with for years. I will say that he's a friend of mine that lives here on the East Coast, who's been an inspiration to a lot of musicians.
BW: A Blues guy?
JLW: Oh, yeah.
BW: I'm just double-checking, as you've been a liberal-minded player.
JLW: Well, that's right and we are just going to have a good time doing it.
BW: Will this be another Duke Robillard production for Stony Plain?
JLW: I think so.
BW: It's hard to guess these days, especially the way the music business is.
JLW: Yeah, I think it will be Stony Plain.
BW: On High Tone records, who I just read were bought out by Shout Factory...
JLW: I believe so, but I don't know for sure, as I have not spoken to the president of High Tone in a while, but I know he was in discussions about doing something for some time, so it might have come to fruition by now. I have not been living too much on the West Coast lately so I kind of lost touch with that scene. I just go and play out west and come back to New York.
BW: Is New York your home base now?
JLW: I kind of live on both ends.
BW: Not your traditional Bluesman.
JLW: In a way I am, as the old guys used to live pretty much everywhere and I've lived in Canada, France for a couple of years, England, Scandinavia, Colorado; so I've been around. I go where the music leads me and I don't stay in one place too often.
BW: That's cool that you can do that. Are you happy with the results of this recording?
JLW: I'm ecstatic! It was just so much fun to make and when you are having fun in the studio and can convey that on to a CD it's just a good feeling. Every note doesn't have to be correct, as people can feel that there are no bells and whistles and smoke and stuff like that, it's just the purity in the music. No special effects and not a lot of overdubs or sweetening as we call it.
BW: That's not easy to capture all of the time.
JLW: Sometimes it's really hard, it's also hard to do a live record, as people do too much thinking, you don't want to think and play, you just want to play!
BW: Yeah, get the feel and let it go.
JLW: That's right, just let it go with the flow.
BW: A nice packaged show would be to have you and Duke do some dates and then perhaps you two could sit in with each other as well, maybe at an intimate Jazz venue.
JLW: I think Duke and I are going to do some touring together; it would be fun.
BW: Being that you now both record for Stony Plain, I'm sure Holger Peterson would like that.
JLW: Holger is a very good guy and a serious music guy. Duke and I have done so many things together like Australia a couple of times; we've done the W.C. Handy Blues All-Stars shows, so we've done quite a few things together.
BW: Very good. Duke's style of swing is quite different than yours. Do you get into that Duke swinging style of music? As I don't recall hearing you play in that style.
JLW: Oh yeah, I play all kinds of stuff. I don't always stay in that one-four-five Blues thing all the time.
BW: Well, it's been a pleasure chatting with you Joe
JLW: Thank you, Bob, I sure do appreciate the support and thank everyone out there as well, too.
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com