“I just got back from Denmark about four days ago and I’m getting ready to hit it again. I’m leaving for Florida for a short run but I like it up there in Sellersville; I’m looking forward to it,” says veteran blues rocker Joe Louis Walker in advance of his upcoming November 29 show at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, PA.
Born on the West Coast in the San Francisco Bay area, Walker has been a musician all of his long and storied life. Well- traveled with a wealth of experience and a thirst for music that is perhaps unrivaled, he has toured the world bringing his brand of blues rock ‘n’ roll to the masses for more than seven decades.
“Joe Louis Walker Viva Las Vegas Live” is his recently released CD/DVD and one that was put out as a result in part, due to popular demand.
“Yeah, it has been out for several months; the record company wanted to do a combination live DVD/CD and I thought, yeah that might be a good idea and we did it and we’ve been getting a pretty good response. When you play quite a bit during the year you see what songs people really enjoy. People will come up and tell you; oh will you play this song or play that song? People will let you know what they enjoy and we want them to see it so that’s why we did a live DVD.”
Whereas many artists with the longevity of Walker’s stay true to their core group of musicians, some go in a completely different direction; changing their band members frequently. Walker has some strong views on both sides of that coin and went in-depth when asked about his band and philosophy.
“My bass player has been with me for about 10 years, my keyboard player about six, seven or eight years now, the drummer has been with me for a while; I’ve been very fortunate to have some great musicians that have always been around and into the music. Sometimes you get these great musicians and try and connect with them but everybody’s got a life and you realize that; some guys want to spend time at home with their loved ones or what have you so you do the best you can as far as keeping a good team on the field so to speak, at least that’s the way I look at it.”
“Freelance is not a bad word if you’re a musician,” he continued, “Because let’s say you’ve graduated from The Berklee School of Music or something like that and you’re looking for opportunity and you are looking for the best opportunities. You may start off with one group and then end up with another group and then end up working your way up into your own thing and freelancing is a way to get a lot of experience; personally I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The Who has had the same people for over 20 years but I guarantee you that those guys have wanted to jam and play with other people; they’re not going to leave The Who but it’s like being able to do different things and try different things because different people bring out different things in you.”
“Look at bands that you really enjoy, since we’re talking about blues in particular; take Muddy Waters who had great musicians that went on to be great band leaders themselves. Little Walter, Otis Spann, Jimmy Rogers, Carey Bell; they all went on to lead their own bands. Muddy didn’t try and keep all those guys in his bands just for longevity, he figured, hey you’re doing your own thing, great! Now flip it around with someone like BB King who pretty much had sometimes the same guys for 10, 12, 20 years; same kind of band leaders but a different philosophy. I mean no disrespect to BB but if you compare the two, Muddy spawned so many band leaders and famous people and BB; how many band leaders can you claim came out of BB King’s band that did the things that came out of Muddy Water’s band? Not very many right? Am I right? You don’t hear people as famous as Little Walter saying, well I started with Muddy Waters; you just don’t hear it and same thing with someone like a Howlin’ Wolf. Although The Howlin’ Wolf was a great place to play and had some unique players like Hubert Sumlin but once you get past Hubert Sumlin; who was in Howlin’ Wolf’s band that you know of that went on to become a gigantic band leader like those in Muddy Water’s band? Not very many; so it’s one size doesn’t fit all so I sort of prefer the Muddy thing because I feel that the more people you play with the more different ways you go about looking at it. One person will play a song one way and another person will play it another way and you really do breathe new life into old songs. That’s what I loved about Muddy Waters, he was 60 years old and yet he would hire a guy that was 28, 29 or 30 as long as he could play solid music. I respect BB King too because he had to get some guys that were tailor made to playing the way he played; so I’ve seen it both ways. Muddy was sort of a father and that really worked for him and I can’t think of anyone in the blues genre that had guys go on and be huge stars like Little Walter and fast forward all the way to today who are really thought of very highly like Bob Margolis. You can take a line from Little Walter to Bob Margolis and ask; where did they both get known from? The response would be Muddy Waters’ band and to me that’s a big wing span; that’s a shadow, a gigantic shadow.”
So what was the main influence driving Walker’s interest in music and the blues in particular? According to him it was, “All in the family.”
“I got influenced in playing music by my father. My father played records at home when I was a little kid and it just so happens that he was from Cleveland, Mississippi so he played a lot of that type of stuff for me. My mom played BB King records a lot in the early and mid-fifties when I was a kid and I just got to hear all the music and I liked it. My older brothers and sisters played a lot of early rock ‘n’ roll so I got a good taste of everybody from The Howlin’ Wolf to Sonny Boy Williamson to Little Richard and all that stuff that they played and I really got fascinated with the music and even before I could pick up an instrument I was fascinated with the sound. Fortunately my father really respected music and the musicians so my mom didn’t think it was out of the ordinary for me to want to play an instrument so I got a little support like that. Then when my mom could afford it and she’d squirreled a little money away, she got me a little cheapie guitar about 1952 and I moved to the Fillmore District and all of my cousins were in a band and that really helped. We all joined the musicians union in 1954 and then I left home in ’66 to pursue music and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Once on the road; Walker’s education began to flourish but he also attributes his style and formation to the era that he came of age; the tumultuous ’60’s.
“I’ll be honest, I was sort of fortunate where I grew up and the time when I grew up; my formative years were in the Bay Area of San Francisco which is where I came from and to be around so many musicians where I lived in the Fillmore District and to be able to have our “Battle of the Bands” at the Fillmore Auditorium before the hippies got there, before Bill Graham, before The Family Dog and Chet Helms and so fast forward a year or two and there was this big configuration of everything meeting at once. There were young kids leaving their different areas of The United States trying to, “Tune in, Turn on and drop out” and you had a lot of people and things just meeting at the same time in the mid-sixties. You had women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, senior rights; people who did not want to have the baggage of previous generations. People were rebelling, growing their hair long, mixed relationships, on and on and on; there was Native American rights with Russell Means and all of those people occupying Alcatraz and all of that was part of the whole thing. Kent State and all of that was part of a musical movement as well as part of a movement that was about change. I think the music sort of infused the change and the change was infused by people trying to change themselves so as not to have what went on in the past. So that was all together and I think that all of that combined infused my generation and it infused everybody in my generation not just the blacks or whites but the Hispanics, older people’s rights, The Black Panthers, The White Panthers, The Gray Panthers and you had all of that going on. Me and my friends talk about it now about how the music infused the movement and the movement infused the music and all art at that time. I think everybody heard from their parents, “Get a real job” at that time and I think the ones who didn’t do what their parents told them to do and get real jobs ended up being The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, and The Joe Louis Walkers (laughs) but I did have a real job, it was music. I did have a real calling; it was trying to make music a conduit for change and I think that was done in my generation from the Beatles to BB King. That all made a change and I feel like the effects of that change are still ongoing because a lot of those people who were alive to make those changes are still alive now. So to make a long story short, I feel that blues in particular were one of the things that gave young people a voice in the context of just by them playing the blues, just by The Rolling Stones playing the blues was a statement unto itself (laughs) and I know that because they were called everything but a child of God when they came to The United States playing that kind of music and they knocked a lot of walls down as did a lot of the English guys. Then some of the American groups followed suit and I think that is still part of musical history and part of our history and it’s still being written.”
With all of these ingredients in what appeared to be a multi- cultural soup coming to a boil; how did Walker separate himself from the pack and begin his long successful career and what sticks with him now after all of these years?
“By being a child of all of those things that I just mentioned; my take on the blues and presenting my style of it is not the same style as Muddy Waters or Son House. Mine is based on my experiences and all of the different elements that infused my life. Everything from John Lennon to Muddy Waters and Bob Marley; that catches me because those three people that I just named were all groundbreaking people who literally bucked the system. To me there was no difference between John Lennon and Muddy Waters; zero difference. Every song that they did you could understand, you didn’t need a Thesaurus and if you knew anything about them as people you knew that they were stand-up people and ground breakers. You knew that there was something special about them and the same thing with Bob Marley. You know there’s something special and what it is, is the truth. When you listen to them sing and the stuff they sing about; it’s not esoteric, you don’t need a Thesaurus. I mean no disrespect to Paul Simon or someone who writes in all different styles but you can pick up a John Lennon song and read the lyrics and understand it just like you can a Muddy Waters song; of course you can also get some psychedelic stuff but if you pick up a song and you read the lyrics you know just where they’re coming from. Bob Marley; you know exactly where he’s coming from and where he stands. Usually they stand for people who are down trodden and trying to raise up humanity and I can say this for a fact; in my generation when I was 16 or 17 if you walked into a room and said that you wanted to be famous you’d get laughed out of the room. Everybody wanted to be a better musician, they wanted to make a difference through their music for a whole generation. There was no “American Idol” or “The Voice;” everybody had a voice, there were no idols. Be a star? All of the stars were in the sky, there were no stars walking around the streets, so in that context music is sort of sacred; it can literally transform your life, it can help you dream, it can make your dreams come true and it can really transform you as to what you think you are into something that you will and can be and there’s nothing like that. Basically, those three that I mentioned are all poor people; Liverpool, played there, Jamaica, played there, Mississippi, played there and believe me there ain’t much difference depending on where you go. I played there in the 80’s and I can’t imagine what it was like in the ’50’s and ’60’s; it had to be rough. So you think of that and the background that these guys came out of and you think about where they went to; humble beginnings, this whole crazy thing of you’ve got everything you want and crazy, crazy adoration, incredible where people will do anything for you, say anything for you; so how do you not lose yourself and how do you go back and find yourself? Music is probably one of the greatest transformational things in the world. It can take you so many places and bring you back and redeem you and save you; it’s incredible, it really is.”
It’s been said that there’s, “No rest for the weary” and walker exemplifies that; so after a little break and a birthday celebration it’s back on the road or should we say; “Slow boat?”
“After Sellersville I’m having a little party. I’m born on Christmas Day and we’re having a little party in mid-December and then I’m playing an acoustic show with a friend in Florida and then I’m going to fly back home for four days before I go to China to play in Beijing and Shanghai and then I’ll be back in the beginning of 2020 to get back up on the horse and start all over again. I’m fortunate that people know who I am still and I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel the world and perform my music for all kinds of people. This is my second time going to China; it’s a beautiful country with a lot of history.”
The Sellersville Theater is located at 24 West Temple Avenue in Sellersville, PA with a show start time of 8 p.m. Tickets are available through their box office or by going to www.st94.com.
To discover more about Joe Louis Walker or purchase tickets through his site; please go to www.joelouiswalker.com.