Mar 27, 2019
by Robert Feuer
If telling you Joe Louis Walker is a member of the Blues Hall of Fame, a two-time Grammy winner, and a four-time Blues Music Award winner, isn’t enough to get you out to see him headline the Apple Blossom Festival, I may as well stop typing.
Born in San Francisco, a 1949 Christmas Day present for a family originally from Cleveland, Mississippi, Walker learned the blues from his father’s 45s and 78s. “Blues was a natural to me,” Walker says during our early March phone interview.
He describes the blues scene during his teenage years as “very healthy,” allowing him to perform with classic East Bay artists such as Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCracklin. At age 13, he played the Fillmore, located a half-block from his junior high school. At the time, that venue functioned as an African-American “community playhouse,” Walker says. “It was like the Apollo Theater for us.”.
When the hippies arrived, with Bill Graham and Chet Helms, “everything started being thrown together in one big pot.” Walker took up psychedelic rock. “I put it together into my own style.” The Matrix, a nearby club, created for and by musicians, opened, with Jefferson Airplane the house band. The Grateful Dead’s Ron McKernan (aka Pigpen) invited Walker to play there. Walker performed with Mike Bloomfield (“a good friend”) and roomed with him for a long time. Buddy Miles introduced Walker to Jimi Hendrix.
Walker’s repertoire includes gospel, funk, jazz, soul, and rock. “I speak several languages, but blues is my mother tongue. Though I liked chicken, not seven days a week,” he says.
From 1975-85, he played gospel exclusively, with the Spiritual Corinthians, switching back to blues at a performance with them at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Boss Talkers became his band in the ‘90s.
Walker has played with a who’s who of accomplished blues and jazz heroes.. He highlights his times with James Cotton, and B.B. King, who he collaborated with through three decades. “B.B. was special to me.”
He’s extremely prolific in the studio, with a new release every year or two. “I’m sort of like a man catching a plane,” he says. A new live album is coming soon, and he’s also working on a double album, Feed the Poor, in his name, but including 17-18 other artists. It’s an attempt to help the less fortunate. “I like to think of myself as an ambassador for the blues and the culture. It comes out of a culture of oppression.”
Walker’s career peaked with his 2013 Blues Hall of Fame induction. “I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there with all these greats,” he says. He has another two nominations, for an acoustic album, in the 2019 Blues Music Awards.
“I’ve been in the trenches. I’d like to be known for the credibility of a lifetime of being true to my music and the blues.”
Walker will be joined on Sunday, April 14 at Sebastopol’s Ives Park by openers Nancy Wright and John Courage.
Sunday, April 14th, 2019
7400 Willow St, Sebastopol, CA 95472
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