by Danny Coleman
Originally published in Rock On Radio on NewJerseyStage.com
Yeah, I don’t believe I have ever been there but you’d know better than me because you live in the area,” laughed blues great Joe Louis Walker as he discussed his upcoming appearance at The Beverly Blues Festival, “Ghetto-psychedelic guitar licks,” his “Puppies” and much more. “Maybe they’re trying to get something going with the festival; more power to them.”
Born in the San Francisco Bay area of California, Joe left home around the age of 16 to pursue a career in music; the blues in particular. Along the way, he encountered many of the legends and players who helped shape his now award-winning career. Joe brings his pedigree along with his band to Beverly and as you’ll read; he has much more to offer such as a new record and some post-pandemic advice on booking gigs.
“I have a brand-new album coming out on the 40 Below label and a single will be out in October,” he began. “The album is titled, “The Weight of The World;” that’s the name of the album but we will be having a single released every four to six weeks until the album is released in February of next year 2023 and it’s all original material. You know, it was all in-house writing by myself and one other writer and we’re looking forward to that on the 40 Below record label. I’m a big fan of their stuff they recorded with Sugar Ray Rayford and of course John Mayall and I was approached by them to record and since my contract is up with Cleopatra; although we’re all very, very good friends and we have a lot of other things in the pipeline with Cleopatra but that’s further down the line but right now this is a different project but we’re very proud of what we did there. My first album with Cleopatra was “Everybody Wants a Piece” or no, no the first one was “Viva Las Vegas Live” and that was a DVD and a live record and then I did “Blues Comin’ On” and that came out and then “Eclectic Electric” which came out during the pandemic and that was during that last part of my contract but I’m still very good friends with all of them and as far as I’m concerned, they are a killer brand and we’re gonna be doing more later on and it should be coming out in a few years; they’re a class act as far as labels go; at least where I’m concerned. I think nowadays, you really have to have gigs, I had an idea; Rick Estrin & The Nightcats and John Primer, we did a tribute to Muddy Waters and that date was booked two and one-half years ago. So, people are booking farther and farther out and I think; you know the way the world is now and you remember when the pandemic was going strong and everyone would book things and everything would be rescheduled and people were cancelling things; well, we’re still sort of going through that. Maybe people have gotten tired of COVID but COVID hasn’t gotten tired of us because it’s still here and with different strengths. So, you really have to try to take into account, that if you wanna get something done you have to just keep bumping up the time frame and then if there’s a delay or something like that, then you sort of give yourself a little bit of a cushion.”
“During COVID, we lost people like John Prine who was one of the greatest, it’s just taking away people and I’m pretty sure that not one person on this planet thought that they would be living through a pandemic. I remember and I know you do too, when people had to stay in the house and we were crying and begging and kicking and screaming for a vaccine and then politics got involved and politics seems to permeate everything nowadays and it affects deductive reasoning and what happens is; everybody gets tribal. When we were begging and crying and screaming for a vaccine and we finally came up with one, some of the people didn’t want to take it and you can’t always know XYZ with a vaccine but I don’t know and I’m not a doctor but I do know that when I was a kid and you were a kid, we had to take a vaccine for supposedly things like polio and everything else and now we find out something like that has reared its head. So, maybe our careers have to take the second seat today and all of these things that are happening in our lives and on the earth are a wakeup call that we sort of gotta pull together regardless if the person next to you, you might or might not agree with. I do believe when we pull together, we find the answers to our problems and hopefully we can do that again.”
Walker’s discography is lengthy and he has performed with and worked with more musicians than anyone has the time to count and the theme of “Togetherness” permeates all he does and this new album is no different.
“I wrote some and I had other writers; I’m one of those people who sort of write like I talk. Some people like Bob Dylan write using a lot of metaphors and Muddy Waters would write the way he talked but I sort of write in third person but Eric Horn (Sp) wrote “The Weight Of The World” and we made it the title track because the subject matter is wide open. The first lyric is, “Woke up with the weight of the world, the weight of the world sitting on my shoulder.” Well, you know we all wake up one day and we feel like things are sort of insurmountable and you could finger point to politics or when you go to catch an airplane and they tell you that it’s raining in a town where you going or you know it’s 100-degree weather and I mean, it’s the weight of the world. We’ve got a really good one, “Waking Up The Dead” which is a great title and it’s basically about a person that a lot of people follow and my favorite line in the song is “We bought it, we bought his story hook, line and sinker.” Well I would say that in today’s world, there is a set of laws for some people and then set of laws that don’t apply to be quite honest about it and it seems the higher up in government or the church or whatever sort of high minded institution we choose to talk about; if something goes wrong with the people in the lower parts of that institution they catch hell but with the people at the top, nothing ever happens and we wonder why we get the same results to some of the same problems; that reason is because you have the same people who cause the problems talking about the results. So, if we have someone, just off the top of my head that has been in politics for 50 years, 45 years, 35 years well maybe they should have changed professions because if you were a basketball player, a baseball player or if you worked as a baggage handler and you did it for 10 years and a lot of things you did didn’t work; you would have been replaced. So, in other words; term limits, term limits, term limits (laughs). I’m sorry, I mean I don’t want my grandfather who would be 89 to 90 driving the kids to school, so I don’t want grandpa being the president of The United States. I mean, he could be the nicest grandpa in the world but grandpa, you need to retire and let younger people get in there and do something and if you need a for instance, look up the average age of the founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest but I mean those guys were 20 and 25 to 23 years old and you know they were ready to bear and change the world and you know they hadn’t compromised with everybody and their mother; not that there’s anything wrong with that but you asked about the album and some of the songs bring up issues that could apply to some of those things like the weight of the world and waking up the dead and things of this nature and I think it’s very timely.”
Keeping with that theme, Walker feels that music has and still continues to lead the way in togetherness; we just need perspective.
“I do believe,” he continued, “That if we can get together to the point where you can have a gay person, a transgender person, black person, white person, Jewish person, Hispanic person, a regular person or someone from Knob Hill all in the same foxhole; I don’t think that anybody is gonna turn to the gay guy and say; you know what? If somebody shoots at me, I don’t want you to help me (laughs). I don’t think people would care and so why would you care when you get out here in this polarized world? That’s because I think fear is at an all-time best selling high right now; be afraid of your brother, be afraid of the person next door to you, be afraid and I don’t necessarily think that we have to; I really don’t. You know my favorite song that pretty much says it all is a song by Dolly Parton, it’s called “A Coat of Many Colors” and the gist of the song is that when you pull one strand out of the coat because you don’t like that color, the whole coat comes apart and I don’t care who made the coat because art is all-inclusive, armed services; all-inclusive, sports, all-inclusive and you name it. There’s nothing here that was made by one person and music is the epitome of the downtrodden speaking their mind and reaching more downtrodden across the sea. The people who are downtrodden from the across the sea brought the same music over here but it was accepted from them because the downtrodden overseas maybe look a little more like the well to do over here; they listened to the downtrodden from Liverpool but they wouldn’t listen to the stuff by the guy that lives right around the corner; why?”
Somewhere there is a quote from members of The Rolling Stones saying something along the lines of they took American blues music and brought it back here and audiences loved it so it was akin to selling Americans music they plucked from our own backyards; Walker doesn’t necessarily agree.
“No I don’t believe that people like Mick, Keith or John Lennon were selling American music back to Americans; all they were doing was playing the same music that inspired Elvis Presley, inspired Jerry Lee Lewis but they would give credit to the people that invented it and that’s what made the English guys so well liked and if you see any of the movies; “Eight Days A Week,” where they walk in and Brian Epstein asked them if they’ll play to a segregated auditorium and The Beatles said, “Not now not ever; we don’t even know what that is” and every college they played had to be one where everybody could listen to their music and that’s what made those guys so great. So, I don’t think they sold us American Music, I think America didn’t like its reflection in the mirror”
Circling back around, Walker continued on putting differences aside and getting together.
“You know, with so many layers to our country, if you ask that question; you’re pretty much gonna answer it yourself because if you look back in history there’s a difference. There’s a big difference but the thing is that people have learned to get together and work together on common issues and that is the main thing; when people wanna be together and they have a common cause, they will commit. Music is a common thing that we play together and I’ve very rarely seen; well, I can’t say rarely because I’ve seen people say, I won’t play with that guy ’cause he’s white or I won’t play with that guy ’cause he’s black,. I gotta roll that one back because in the ‘30s and ‘40s there were a lot of people, revered band leaders now who would not play with black jazz musicians until John Hammond Sr. came along and pretty much forced Benny Goodman to play with Teddy Wilson and then pretty much forced him to play with Charlie Christian who did 36 passes of “Coming Home” and not one was the same and Americans don’t wanna hear that; they just don’t want to hear it. So, what happened was when Benny Goodman started playing with Charlie Christian and Charlie could play Bach “Fugue #33” with his eyes closed and Mozart; he sort of integrated those people into his band and before that there were not very many integrated jazz bands and most Americans don’t know that history and a lot of times if you bring that history up people get offended because they think that you’re pointing at them but it’s something to be proud of that we overcame that together. That if there wasn’t a John Hammond who sort of forced people like Benny Goodman and made him change the way he lookd at the people whose music he became super rich from and Benny Goodman was about as poor a human being as you can imagine when he left the Southside of Chicago. American music is full of stories like that and most of them are inspirational and cathartic and you gotta look at it that way. Nobody is claiming that you should know the whole story; did you know the jazz scene was garnered against Billie Holiday, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis? Most don’t because they overcame it.”
Saturday September 24 sees Joe visit Beverly for the first time and one can hear the pride in his voice when he discusses his musical “Family.”
“I’ve got the regular people who I made the record with on this show. I’ve got Scott on keyboards who has been with me for quite a while, John on drums and Jeff Murphy’s been with us for a while since Lenny Bradford is more at home now and so Jeff has been playing bass with us and we all sing and Lenny has done some recording with us so we have a little stockpile of stuff that we’ve done; we’re like a musical family. We have Byron Cage who played with me on “Everybody Wants A Piece” the Grammy nominated record, Byron started playing with another one of my puppies, Vanessa Collier and another one is playing with Eric Krasno and another one of my puppies is playing keyboards with Christone Ingram now, Will Gorman is playing keyboards with Vanessa, Jordan Rose is playing drums on Broadway Pit for a while; I think he’s doing much stuff though. I’m so proud of all the young people that sort of come from my band; a lot of them I got out of Berkeley School of Music and they were playing with me while they were going to school which was really cool because that’s the way it should be. I’m really extremely proud of Vanessa, she came out of school and did a couple of years with me all over the world and I stressed to her, do your own thing, this is a stepping stone to you doing your own thing and then one of these days you’re gonna be getting the blues awards and go to all these places that I’m playing and taking you to now and she’s really doing great; I’m extremely proud of her and all of them, they’re just great musicians.”
Walker’s talents are not limited to the guitar, he has also produced and performed with multiple other artists and in some cases like that of Misty Blues front woman Gina Coleman and the great Eliza Neals; just working with him advanced their careers.
“I’m extremely proud that I was able to really help them. Another one was a young lady named Bertha Blades who had changed her name to Sari Schorr which was her name anyway and she’s doing really well in Europe and there are a couple of artists over in Europe that I produced in the ‘80s and ‘90s that are household names like Otis Grand, Todd Sharpville and guys like that; Marcus Bonfanti used to back me and he was playing with Ten Years After for a while and I’m proud of these guys because they were young and they all loved music and I just said, man, that’s the way I felt when I left home at age 16 and Mike Bloomfield took me under his wing and let me live with him and sort of let me live on his dime and he introduced me to all kinds of people; everybody needs a little bit of help somewhere. People like Gina Coleman andEliza Neals are really motivated and they’re very talented and write their own material and they’re really good on stage and their stuff is original; especially Gina because her stuff doesn’t sound like anybody’s and I’m really proud of her being able to tackle difficult subject matter in her stuff and to be able to take the lumps that you’ve got to take in this business in all kinds of different ways and take it and make it cathartic then to put it in a song is really cool and I really respect that out of Gina.”
To discover more about Joe Louis Walker, please visit https://www.joelouiswalker.com/