Joe Louis Walker has a voice out of classic soul and blues guitar chops that were inspired by some of the greats — B.B. King, Muddy Waters, the list goes on. Walker, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee, grew up in San Francisco playing blues before entering into the psychedelic rock scene of the 1960s, rooming with blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and hanging out with the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. He returned to blues music in the 1980s after playing gospel music for a while and has entertained audiences around the world with his mix of blues, gospel, soul, R&B, and rock for decades.
Walker will be playing a show at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 28, and spoke with Valley Advocate staff writer Chris Goudreau about his upcoming performance, the evolution of the blues, his lifelong career in music.
Chris: Can you tell me what your plans are for your upcoming performance at the Iron Horse in Northampton? And have you played there before?
Joe: It’s kind of like a yearly thing. I’ve played there the last two or three years right after Christmas. It’s sort of cool because Christmas is my birthday, so it’s like a little Christmas party for me. We’re going to do some songs from the 26 CDs that I have. We’re going to do some songs off the last CD (Everybody Wants A Piece), the one that was nominated for a Grammy last year. We’re also going to do some things that we’re working on for the next CD that we hope to have out by the first quarter of next year.
Chris: Can you tell me about the new CD that you’re working on?
Joe: It’s a lot of vocal songs and different elements from different parts of the world. There’s a little bit of African influence and other things.
Chris: It seems like many styles of music have influenced your own music.
Joe: I come from San Francisco and around the corner from my house, the Dead were practicing not too far away. … It made it a fertile time to keep my ears open, my mind open, and my heart open. I learned a little bit from all of that. I’ve tried to take what I’ve learned and grew up on and inform it in my music, be it whether it’s a blues record [or] a jazz record.
Chris: What was the experience of being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame like for you?
Joe: It was a very humbling experience. I’m one of the youngest guys alive in the Blues Hall of Fame. But when you consider that I’ll be 68 on the 25th of this month, I ain’t that young. So, when you consider that I started playing music at a young age and joined the musician’s union at 14 in 1964, I’ve been playing a long time. Some of my mentors were indicated a year before me — Mike Bloomfield was a year before me. Mike was one of my mentors. I lived with him for quite a while.
Chris: Do you think the blues continues to evolve as an art form?
Joe: I think it is evolving. I think right now the biggest genre of marketing of blues is more rock blues. There’s always a new element coming in with the blues. Right now, there’s a well needed influx of women in the blues and not only women singing, but women playing instruments, guitars especially. I think there’s a big element of rock blues that it is sort of sucking all the air out of the room, but that’s only one element.
My whole thing about it is there’s room enough for everybody. There’s only two kinds of music — good music and bad. There’s also a trajectory from the originators to whatever it’s going to be. You can’t take the essence out of it. And as much as somebody can regurgitate the blues with a different image or different selling point, you still have to take it somewhere else. You really have to be, musically, not be afraid to experiment with it. Even if people don’t like what you’re doing, experimentation-wise, then that is part of the growing process.
Chris: If you want to cover a classic blues song or a rock staple, how do you put your own twist on it or make it your own?
Joe: If I’m going to do somebody else’s song, I’m usually going to do somebody’s song that I know. I usually ask their permission to do it and they know that I’m going to switch it around and do it my way. Most of the great songwriters will say, ‘Do it your way.’ I did “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I did it like a slow blues almost. On the next record I’m doing “Make No Mistake,” off of [Keith Richard’s band] X-Pensive Winos’ first record. Keith said, ‘When you do it. Do it your way.’
Joe Louis Walker will perform at the Iron Horse Music Hall on Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. with local group, The Buddy McEarns Band, opening for Walker. For more information about Walker visit http://www.joelouiswalker.com.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.