Joe Louis Walker has had quite the storied career in music. Growing up in San Francisco, Joe picked up the guitar at the age of 8 and was influenced by many legendary artists such as T-Bone Walker and B.B. King.
By the time Joe was 16 in the mid 1960’s, he was starting to get well-known in the Bay area and soon he began playing with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters to name a few.
In 1986, Mr. Walker released his first album Cold Is the Night and has gone on to release 22 albums over the last 30 years.
His latest album, Everybody Wants a Piece was released in 2015 and was nominated for a Grammy. The 2013 Blues Hall of Fame Inductee chatted with NEO Music Scene to talk about his career and his latest album. He will be playing at the Music Box Supper Club on January 13.
Greg Drugan: Hi Joe, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. What made you decide to pick up the guitar at the age of eight?
JLW: I went to school where you could check out instruments for a week at a time, like a library book. So I started checking out instruments and I liked the guitar and eventually I got my hands on one. And it piqued my interest.
GD: That was a good choice. Do you play any other instruments?
JLW: Yep. I play harmonica and I play keyboards and the bass. A little bit of the violin and a little bit of the accordion. I have them all here at home but I mostly try to keep up my (guitar) chops.
GD: You grew up in The San Francisco Bay area and it had quite the music scene going on in the 1960’s; do you remember seeing anyone at that time that stood out?
JLW: I’m from the Fillmore District so we used to go to the Fillmore Auditorium. We used to hear everybody there, gospel groups, Little Richard and all kinds of people. Then as teenagers, we had our battle of the bands there. We’d see great bands there like Sly Stone and my cousin’s band. Then the hippie revolution came, they all came to the Philmore Auditorium. I knew a lot of people that went on to make a name for themselves.
GD: How did you end up meeting Mike Bloomfield?
JLW: What happened was the Bloomfield Band came out and played in, I think it was ’67 and it just so happened that I lived on Lollar and Ashbury which was a block from Haight. I ran into Michael when I was going to a bookstore. I didn’t know that the guy that played keyboards with me, a guy named Johnny Cramer was the cousin of Berry Goldberg who was in a band that Michael was getting ready to start called Electric Flag. One thing led to another and we all knew each other and there was a big community of blues musicians that played blues/rock/everything. So everybody knew everybody and we ended up staying at the same house.
GD: Did you get to play with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band?
JLW: I played with them all individually.
GD: Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
JLW: When I was coming up, I was 16 years old in 1966 so I would see everyone at the Fillmore. You could see someone like the Grateful Dead or Howlin’ Wolf. Or you could go to the Avalon and see Jefferson Airplane and the James Cotton Blues Band. That’s the kinda stuff I grew up on. I don’t have any one particular show because I saw so many shows there.
GD: You have played with a who’s who of blues artists. Who has been your favorite artist to play with?
JLW: Of course playing with B.B. King was always fun. Playing with Ronnie Wood is always fun because Ronnie is so interesting. People like James Carter and Branford Marsalis is always great because they were so ground breaking. I’ve played with so many people I don’t want to say one is better than the other. People are always interesting when they get out of their wheelhouse.
GD: You were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame a couple of years ago; what was that like and is there an actual museum?
JLW: Yes, it’s in Memphis and it’s from the Blues Foundation which is the premier foundation from around the world. I feel that that part of my musical education sort of paid off to the extent that the people who are sort of the gate keepers to the blues think that I’m worthy to be put into the Blues Hall of Fame. I’m not your average blues guy, I’m not from Chicago and I’m not a guy who came up from those ranks. I’m from outside of that geographic area but I’ve played with so many of the guys that went to that geographic area. Like someone said, the Chicago blues are nothing but a bunch of guys from Mississippi who moved to Chicago. You can say that about a bunch of guys from down south who moved to the west coast and my dad was one of those guys.
GD: Your latest record was released in 2015; what is your favorite track on Everybody Wants a Piece?
JLW: That’s hard to say. A song like “Black & Blue” is a song that really develops, which I like. Kinda like a whisper to a scream with a good story line. And “Everybody Wants a Piece” I sorta like because I can just crank it. The cool thing about it is that the band that you see now, is the band that’s on the record. There isn’t any outside singer’s or outside violin players, we played everything. It’s a homegrown record and that’s the thing I like about it.
GD: I really like your cover of the Taj Mahal song “Do I Love Her.” What made you decide to cover Taj Mahal and Buddy Guy on this record?
JLW: I told Taj that I always wanted to do that song and he said “Do it your way.” With the Buddy Guy song (“Man of Many Words”), I didn’t even try to go where Buddy went with that song. Buddy was on fire when he recorded that song. I love that whole thing. That song was sort of a take on “Hard to Handle” by Otis Rush but Buddy put that guitar on there and turned it on its head. So I just tried to take it back a little and groove it a little bit more.
GD: It’s amazing how many artists that we have lost within the past year. I thought it was very cool that you put an “In Memory Of” on your CD jacket.
JLW: I do it on every record that I’ve made. That’s like when one of my friends die, I never take their name out of my phone book.
GD: Mr. Walker, it has been a pleasure talking with you. I’m looking forward to your next show in Cleveland.
Be sure to check out Blues Hall of Famer, Joe Lewis Walker at the Music Box Supper Club on Friday, January 13.
For more information and to pick up Joe Lewis Walker’s latest CD Everybody Wants a Piece go to www.joelewiswalker.com