Joe Louis Walker
@ The Blues Saloon, April 25, 1997

Joe Louis Walker, touring on the release of his new album Great Guitars, is a true road veteran. He started playing the blues as a teenager during the 1960's in San Francisco and was exposed to some of the legends in both rock and blues at that time through his roommate Mike Bloomfield, the influential guitarist with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. "He opened my eyes to a lot of stuff, a lot of guitar styles," Walker says of Bloomfield. During this time he played with people like Steve Miller, Jmi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Lightnin' Hopkins, Earl Hooker, and Magic Sam. "I was opening up for people like Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters," he remembers. Other local bluesmen Walker befriended included Lowell Fulson, one of the architects of the California blues sound and the legendary slide guitarist Fred McDowell, a major influence on Walker's style.

The fast life of the late 60's finally got to Walker and by 1975 he was burned out and in desperate need of a change. He spent the next 10 years until 1985 with the gospel group the Spiritual Corinthians and was able to get his life back on track. Since that time he has been playing the blues with a dedication that is second to none. He has also put out over 8 albums on Hightone and Verve. Joe Louis Walker with his band the Bosstalkers were voted the Best Blues Band at the 1996 W.C. Handy Awards.

On stage with Walker at his recent packed Blues Saloon show was his tight four-piece band with Jeff Minnieweather on drums, Joe Thomas on bass, Tom Rose on guitar and Mike Eppley on keyboards. Joe Thomas put on an interesting performance where he was playing his bass with just his left hand on the neck while he held the mike in his right. He belted out some pretty impressive vocals and laid down some funky licks as the band warmed up the audience for Walker. Walker and his band put on a brilliant display of traditional blues, funk, R&B and rock-tinged blues, all with a soulful quality that draws on his rich blues background and years of constant touring. He has honed his blues guitar skills to a fine point that strikes right at the heart of his listeners.

Walker's slide guitar playing is a sight to behold. During the second set he put on a slide demonstration that stopped the dancers in their tracks. I have only seen this happen once or twice in the past year where a guitarists was able to totally mesmerized the audience. This was an awe inspiring performance. Joe Louis Walker is one of the most versatile, exciting and innovative blues guitarists performing today. His shows are on my list of "never miss" when he is in town.

A good place to start your JLW listening experience would be Great Guitars, Blues Survivor, or JLW. If you like the raw experience of a live performance then his two Live At Slim's albums are a treat. In addition to Great Guitars, Walker's most recent collaboration is with harmonica master James Cotton on Cotton's 1996 Grammy nominated album, Deep In The Blues, an acoustic work featuring Cotton with JLW on guitar. One of my favorite songs by Walker is Lost Heart on his Blues of the Month Club album from 1995. This song and album was produced by legendary guitarist Steve Cropper and is reminiscent of the great soul/R&B songs from the 1960's when Cropper was with Otis Redding.

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