Interview: Joe Louis Walker

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: October 2020. We had the honour to talk with a great guitarist: Joe Louis Walker. He has been inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame and has collaborated with BB King, Steve Cropper, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and many more. In June 2020, he released his latest studio album, “Blues Comin’ On” featuring Eric Gales, Jorma Kaukonen, Keb’ Mo’, Dion, Mitch Ryder and others. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


Are you satisfied with the response you got so far for your latest album “Blues Comin’ On”?

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Oh yes, I ‘m very happy with this record. It was very difficult getting many-many people, to have their schedules opened up to be able to record, because everybody was on tour. But we are very happy.


How difficult was it to get all these guest musicians to play on this album?

Well, yes, because at the time everybody was on tour. So, I had to wait until everybody’s tour was finished, so they could have time to record.


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Gabriel Jagger (son of Mick) wrote the lyrics to “Feed the Poor” song from your new album “Blues Comin’ On”. What’s the story behind this song featuring Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna – guitar)?

Gabriel wrote some poetry and he sent it to me and I liked the poetry and I said: “Gabriel, I’m gonna put some lyrics making a song” and Gabriel was really excited about it. I figured I wanted someone to play the lead guitar on there that could stretch out to make it exciting. So, I got Jorma Kaukonen, a friend of mine from San Francisco, from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, to play the guitar on it and it worked up pretty good.


Would you like to tell us a few words about the song “Blues Comin’ On” featuring Eric Gales and Dion?

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Well, the song “Blues Comin’ On” was a demo tape. Dion had sent me some songs. He sent me about four songs and he said: “Joe, listen these songs and see which one you like and then you can sort of arrange the song the way that you would like it to go, the way that you would like to play it”. So, I decided to go on and arranged it and I figured: “Well, maybe I get Eric to play the guitar on it” because I love the way that Eric Gales plays the guitar. The themes of this song were great and “Blues Comin’ On” was a good song to be able to do it a duet with Eric, but also with Dion. So, there are a lot of musicians playing on that song.


Why did you decide to cover Love’s “7 &7 Is”?

Because when I was young I used to go to the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and I would see groups and bands from all over, but one group that I used to see a lot was Love with Arthur Lee (vocals). Because they lived in Los Angeles, which is not too far away from San Francisco and they used to come down to the San Francisco Bay Area and play down in San Francisco, Berkeley and different places and I just liked the band.


How much did the coronavirus affect your plans?

The coronavirus did affect my plans because when we were going to let the record out, June 5th in this year, we were going to be touring. I was supposed to be touring across the United States and going to Poland and different places and promote the record by playing live and doing different shows and festivals around the world, but when the virus hit nobody could go out and play.


Does the “Viva Las Vegas Live” (2019) album capture the true atmosphere of a Joe Louis Walker concert?

Yes, that was something that my record label, Cleopatra, wanted: To have a live concert, a DVD, a CD and an album. So we did all at one time and we enjoyed it. It was very much fun in Las Vegas.


How emotional was it for you to do a duet on your song “Everybody’s Had the Blues” with BB King (from BB King’s “Blues Summit” album -1993)?

It was wonderful. BB King came to where I lived, when I lived in the Bay Area, in San Francisco, in Berkeley, Ca. BB King came there and he recorded “Everybody’s Had the Blues” with my band. But when I went to Memphis he had me do the live DVD at his club and we did “T-Bone Shuffle” and I did it with his band. I played a lot with BB and it was really a lot of honour.


Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Otis Redding -guitar) co-produced three of your solo albums. Was it an interesting experience to collaborate with him?

Steve Cropper was a person that when we started working together, he taught me quite a bit about recording and we made a good team. We made three records and we did a lot of tours together. It was a learning experience to record with Steve because he ‘s been on so many great records and in so much very great music.


What did you learn after 10 years with the gospel group The Spiritual Corinthians?

The gospel group was a good experience because they ‘d teach you how to arrange the music, they would teach you about singing and harmony singing. The experience of touring with the gospel group was great because you were around your friends. It was a positive experience.


Could you describe to us your feelings when as a young musician you opened for Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker?

It was always good to be around the older of blues musicians because they would always give you some good advice and they would also come near you when you played and they would tell you: “You might wanna try this” or “you might wanna try that”. You would go and see them and of course you would get much more experience because they ‘ve been playing blues and music for so long and touring for so long and recording for so long, that they had the experience that I was trying to acquire myself.


What does the 2013 Blues Hall of Fame induction mean to you?

It was very much an honour and I’m very much humbled. It is humbling me because I was one of the youngest people to be inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis. A lot of the musicians that I looked up to and people that I admired were in Blues Hall of Fame and I felt very honoured.


There are no solos on classic blues songs such as “Little Red Rooster” (Howlin’ Wolf -written by Willie Dixon), “Boom, Boom” (John Lee Hooker), “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (Jimmy Reed), “Got My Mojo Workin’” (Muddy Waters). Do you think the blues has become too flashy?

Well, I think there are many styles in blues. Many-many styles. There’s rock blues, there’s soul blues, there’s gospel blues, there’s funky blues. There are many styles of blues now, whereas 50, 60, 70 years ago, there weren’t so many different styles. Now, there are many different styles and so many people do blues their own way. It’s very diverse and so when I hear different styles of music put together with the blues, I just listen and I hope I do what it has to do and keep the blues alive.


By the way what’s your opinion about the song “Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground” by Blind Willie Johnson?

Well, I love Blind Willie Johnson, you know, and it’s a nice thing to play together. It was a very-very moving song.


You shared a house with Mike Bloomfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band -guitar). What memories do you have of him?

He was one of the most talented people I know. Very talented. He could play blues, country western music, ragtime music, he could play the piano, he could play the slide guitar, he could do many-many things. He was very kind to me, very helpful with my career and very helpful in teaching me different styles of guitar playing and different tuning of guitar. He introduced me to all of people that he had known in Chicago. So, Michael was very instrumental in my education and he just had been very helpful to me as like an older brother. He was very helpful to be part of my education and living situation when I was young.


What was it like to grow up in San Francisco during the ‘60s?

A lot of people were open to experimenting with new things, new lifestyles, new styles of music. They were trying to be healthy, to be better. The young people were trying to make life better for everybody. So, it was a very idealistic and good time for a while. Afterwards, a lot of people started growing up and things changed. The times changed.


Why FM radio was such a great invention?

FM radio made a lot of people to listen to songs on the radio longer than 2:30 minutes. You could write a long piece of music. It was more than a little pop thing that they could write. People could write songs like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, long songs… “Stairway to Heaven”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and they could play the whole song on the radio. They didn’t have to make a “Pt. 1” and “Pt.2” and all that stuff.


Did you have a good time playing with Slash at “Across the Great Divide” benefit concert at Ace Theater in LA in 2018?

I always have a good time playing with Slash. He’s a very nice person, he ‘s a good guitar player, he’s easy to get hold with, he’s easy to talk to, so I’ve played with him several times. He ‘d come down and play with me on occasion. He’s just a very knowledgeable, humble person.


Tony Williams came from Boston and joined Miles Davis when he was 17 years old. Are there those kinds of opportunities nowadays?

I don’t know. I think there are opportunities like that nowadays for younger people. You see a lot of younger  people playing music and becoming very well-known. So, I think there are doors open yet.


You got to know Stevie Ray Vaughan. What was so special about him?

I think he was a really positive, open person with the music. He was always very humble, very easy to talk to, just a very-very good person.


Do you think social media like Youtube and Facebook have helped younger listeners to learn about your music?

I think it has made it more available. I think social media and Youtube, all those different social media platforms have made the music more available to people.


Do you have any musical ambitions left?

Yes. I’m finishing an album right now and then probably I am gonna start another record with some friends of mine when people can fly and move around. So, I’ve got more projects to do and more music to complete.


Are you optimistic about the future of the blues?

Right now, with the COVID-19, we hope that live music, not just the blues, just live music, will come back and we will able to start playing concerts and touring and going to different countries and things of that nature, because right now I think all of music and the arts are having trouble with COVID-19, with traveling and with everything. I think the arts are suffering right now because of it.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr. Joe Louis Walker for his time. I should also thank Billy James for his valuable help.

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