Joe Louis Walker seems to have been blessed with the complete package – he’s a
phenomenal guitarist, has a voice that sounds like a Cadillac, he’s an inventive
songwriter and a dynamic showman. The 63-year-old native of San Francisco has
emerged over the last 25 years as one of the preeminent bluesman of his
generation, but one who isn’t afraid to mix things up with generous dollops of
gospel, r&b and rock ‘n’ roll.
“I’m not a purist: I think there are
only two types of music – good and bad,” Walker said earlier this month in a
phone interview with The Jerusalem Post from his home in New York. “One
thing about the blues that’s different from most other music is that it’s
synonymous with credibility. When you hear Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf,
you don’t need to ask if they’re being sincere; you know they
Walker, who will be making his Israeli debut on April 4 at Zappa
Tel Aviv and April 5 at Zappa Herzliya, apparently has the credibility thing
sewn up tight. He’s been nominated in an unprecedented four categories at this
year’s Blues Foundation Music Awards taking place in May in Memphis – for
Entertainer of the Year; Contemporary Blues Album, for his latest effort
Hellfire ; Contemporary Blues Male Artist; and Guitarist of the Year, for which
he is competing against the likes of Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa.
not a shabby achievement for someone who swore off the blues for more than a
decade in favor of spiritual music. Growing up in the freewheeling experimental
San Francisco of the 1960s, Walker was not only exposed to the blues sounds of
John Lee Hooker and T-Bone Walker, but he also soaked up the psychedelic rock of
local heroes Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead and the avant-garde jazz
of Thelonius Monk. He ended up sharing the stage with everyone from Jimi Hendrix
and Steve Miller to Charley Musselwhite and the gospel- tinged Soul
“It was a very fertile and versatile scene,” said Walker.
“You’d go see the Grateful Dead, and they’d be sharing the bill with someone
like Muddy Waters or a jazz artist like Ornette Coleman. So you’d go for one
thing and get turned on to something else.”
A pivotal move in the young
Walker’s development was meeting and establishing a deep friendship at age 18
with legendary blues/rock guitarist Mike Bloomfield. Besides performing
together, the two became roommates and continued their friendship until
Bloomfield’s untimely death in 1981 of a drug overdose.
The tragedy had a
sobering effect on Walker, who left the world of blues, enrolled at San
Francisco State University, where he obtained a degree in music and English, and
began performing regularly with the Spiritual Corinthians Gospel
“As a musician, I’ve always been a restless soul, and I just got
tired of the blues scene. Things got a little excessive, myself included, and I
just switched my focus to gospel, which proved to be a fulfilling experience,”
However, by the mid-1980s, the blue mojo was itching to
emerge, and after a 1985 performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage
Festival, Walker decided to return to his blues roots for good. Since then, he’s
released more than a dozen acclaimed albums, featuring guests ranging from
Bonnie Raitt and Buddy Guy to Steve Cropper and Tower of Power.
the same thing, that restless spirit that changed my musical focus and brought
me back to the blues. I think I was more mature and knew more of what I wanted
to do. As a young guy, I didn’t really have that focus,” said Walker.
addition to appearing at some of the big music festivals in Europe, Walker also
performed at president George H.W. Bush’s inauguration and helped president Bill
Clinton induct B.B. King at the Kennedy Center Awards.
“I found them both
to be respectful of the blues,” said Walker, adding that he hopes he’ll be able
to achieve the presidential trifecta by performing for President Barack
At his shows in Tel Aviv, Walker will be performing both
acoustically and electrically, accompanied by local barnburners The Blues
Rebels: Andy Watts on guitar, Dov Hammer on harmonica, Alon Hillel on drums, and
Ilan Hillel on bass. Whether unplugged or plugged, the results will likely be
“Blues has been here, and it’s gonna stay here,” said
Walker, assessing the attraction of the music he makes. “It may not be as big as
Lady Gaga, but we’ll see how long she’s around. Blues has been around for a
long, long time.”Joe Louis Walker will perform on April 4 at Zappa Tel
Aviv and on April 5 at Zappa Herzliya
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