Editor’s note: On July 31, Alligator Records announced the upcoming release of “Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues,” an acoustic album by Joe Louis Walker, British harmonica player Giles Robson and pianist Bruce Katz. For details, see the press release at the end of this article.
The Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis displays the likeness of a litany of legends who are no longer living. One of those busts, however, is of Joe Louis Walker, who is still very much alive and fighting for the blues.
The 68-year-old Bay Area native, who has lived in New York for the past decade, visited the newly built Blues Hall of Fame in 2016 when he was in Memphis for the Blues Music Awards.
“It did give me a real good feeling going into the Hall of Fame,” Walker told Tahoe Onstage. “Like Jimi Hendrix said, I wish my dad could see me now.”
Walker appreciates his fellow inductees and wants to emulate Muddy Waters’ philosophy about supporting other players.
“Every night we play, we try to do an homage to what I like to call the originators,” Walker said.
“It all continues. You go from Son House to Muddy Waters — who is the real truth in my estimation — when it comes to taking the mantle that Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy (Williamson) No. 1 gave him. It was a brilliant thing, accepting everybody … from Johnny Winter to Mick (Jagger) to Joe Louis Walker to Robert Cray to you name it. He was always encouraging and always down to earth.
“And after that I think B.B. King by outliving everybody, by being what I call the Muhammad Ali of the blues. Before B.B., you couldn’t play the Radio City Music Hall and you couldn’t play Carnegie Hall.
“You like to be appreciated but you also like to be compensated, too. We’d all like to make a little bit of real money before we die and I think B.B. made that possible for people like me, Gary Clark Jr., Robert Cray and on and on.”
Walker brings something different to Bluesdays
On Tuesday, July 31, Walker performed for the second time at Squaw Valley’s Bluesdays, a weekly summertime tradition. He was joined by keyboardist Travis Reed, drummer Byron Cage and bassist Lenny Bradford.
“What you hear on the record is what you are going to see on the stage,” said Walker, referring to his most recent album, “Everybody Wants A Piece,” which was Grammy nominated for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year.
Walker has been prolific in the studio since his recording career began in 1986. Since 2002, he’s released 12 albums, which vary in styles that range from electric Chicago blues, acoustic, rock, gospel and Christian blues.
Traffic flowed fairly well from South Shore up Highway 89 on Tuesday, but it was snarled from Incline Village on Highway 28. Walker and his band allowed time for the crowd to arrive and began the Squaw Valley show at 6:25 p.m.
The weekly audience loves its blues and has shown displeasure at times during the last 10 years when bands occasionally stray into other genres, such as rock or bluegrass. Nevertheless, the large crowd happily danced along as Walker played a variety of styles. With his ivory Epiphone with a Bigsby tremolo, Walker played George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Jesse Stone’s early rock-swing tune “Don’t Let Go.”
“You don’t really have to cater to people all the time,” Walker said. “If I want to make a record that’s more of a jazz record, I’ll make it. No disrespect to the blues people, if they don’t buy it, I’ll understand. If I make a traditional acoustic blues record and the electric slide people don’t get it, that’s fine.
“Fans are on a journey and (artists) are on a journey. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve put so many records out there with so many different styles.”
The commonality of the different styles is that they are guitar driven. So it might be a surprise to learn Walker lists piano players Pete Johnson, Amos Milburn and Meade Lux Lewis as some of his greatest influences.
“Dad always played boogie-woogie piano on the record player,” Walker said. “I just love that sound. It’s so infectious. If I could die and come back, it would be as a boogie-woogie piano player. I can play a little bit, but not like those cats.”
— Tim Parsons
The Village at Squaw Valley
6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays
Aug. 7: Kenny Neal
Aug. 14: Chris Cain
Aug. 21: Terry Hanck
Aug. 28: Coco Montoya
Sept. 4: Cedric Burnside Project
Walker’s new album, European tour announced
Alligator Records has acquired the rights to release “Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues,” a dynamic new acoustic album from three of the blues’ best players. Together, Grammy-winning guitarist, vocalist and Blues Hall Of Famer Joe Louis Walker, virtuoso pianist Bruce Katz and next-generation British harmonica ace and bandleader Giles Robson take listeners on a musical tour of beautifully played, soulfully sung traditional blues. The album features a carefully chosen collection of eleven stripped-down, unadulterated rare and classic blues and one newly written instrumental performed by absolute masters of the form. Alligator Records will release the album throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Munich Records, a division of V2 Records Benelux, will release it in all other territories. The official street date, set for late autumn, will be announced soon.
The album was conceived in December of 2016 when Joe Louis Walker first met and jammed with Giles Robson at a festival in the Netherlands. Robson imagined recording an acoustic blues album with Walker. Walker quickly agreed, and suggested adding famed piano player Bruce Katz to the mix. The result is “Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues.”
Produced by Walker, Katz and Robson and recorded at NRS Studio in Woodstock, New York during a sub-zero stretch of weather in January of 2018, “Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues” captures three blues giants reinterpreting obscure and classic songs. The trio digs deep, playing with gimmick-free raw energy on songs by blues masters including Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum, Blind Willie McTell, Smiley Lewis, Papa Lightfoot and Big Maceo. The songs may be old, but the recordings are fresh and vibrant. Walker’s vocals and guitar have never sounded more soulful. Katz’s virtuoso piano playing adds texture and depth, while Robson’s harmonica playing fuels the music to even greater heights. According to Robson, “Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues” celebrates the dynamics, grooves, lyrics and feeling of pure, traditional blues. It’s blues played intimately and at a low volume and with the wonderful space that is created when drums and bass are taken out of the equation.”
NPR Music says Walker is “a legendary boundary-pushing icon of modern blues.” With 23 solo albums and countless touring miles to his credit, he is among the blues’ most honored players. Pianist Bruce Katz, with nine solo albums under his belt, has performed regularly with Delbert McClinton, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, John Hammond and others, and is among the most in-demand pianists on the blues scene. Harmonicist Giles Robson has recorded three albums and has won fans all across the UK and Europe. Together, the interplay of these three master musicians borders on telepathic. They will be bringing the music on the road, beginning with European and UK dates in autumn of 2018, with more dates and locations to be announced.
- Confirmed 2018 tour dates are as follows:
September 7 _ Foscani Blues Festival, Romania
September 8 _ Rockstadt Club, Brasov, Romania
September 13 _ Pizza Express Live, Maidstone, UK
September 14 _ Blues De Flux, Zaandam, Netherlands
September 15 _ Pizza Express Live, Birmingham, UK
September 16 _ Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London, UK