Joe Louis Walker
JOE LOUIS WALKER
Interview By mark Fredell
As always this interview was broadcast live on KFAI radio on May 12, 2007. It has been edited for clarity and space.
Mark Fredell: On the phone with me now is one of the best guitar players in the land today, Joe Louis Walker. Good afternoon Joe, how are things going?
Joe Louis Walker: Hi, things are going REAL GOOD!
MF: Excellent. Now you are getting read to hit the road for a brief summer tour , is that right?
JLW: Yes it is.
MF: And you going to be at Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square next Friday the 18th. I want to be sure to emphasize that because this is the first time in something like nine years that you’ve been in the twin Cities. (JLW: Something like that right) Yeah The last time I saw you in town was over at the old Blues Saloon in Saint Paul. Now I guess you’ve take some time off from the road is that right?
JLW: well yeah a little but you know I had moved over to Paris for a few years.
MF: Oh ok, now I thought I had read that you took some time off to spend with your kids, was that right?
JLW: Yeah, I took some time off then I moved over to Paris for a couple years, recorded an album over there and did some touring.
MF: Ok, now you actually have been very prolific with your time off as far as your recording goes. For a long time you were with Verve Records right?
JLW: Well yes, actually I was signed to Polygram which is Verve and then Polygram was bought by Universal and I was on a number of their imprints, I was on Blue Thumb and some others. But really I was on Polygram/ Universal for about ten years.
MF Sure. Now once that contract ran out you decided to be sort of a free agent right? Recording records then shopping them to different labels, how many releases have you done that way?
JLW: Oh I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you.
MF: I know it’s at least five.
JLW: Oh well I don’t really remember, but I know it’s been a few more than that. I know, well I’ve put out quite a few records, so I really can’t tell you when one ended and the next one started, but it’s been a lot.
MF: Alright, but you did do some musical exploring right? You put out the Latin flavored record.
JLW: Yeah, Pasa Tiempo.
MF: Then there was the slide guitar record She’s My Money Maker.
JLW: Yeah that was on JSP.
MF: Now JSP, That is the label you’ve had the most releases on since you left Universal.
JLW: Right, I had three one off records with them.
MF: Now I wanted to talk with you; you were on the Blues Cruise earlier this year and had a little bit of a health scare?
JLW: Yeah well see I had had my gallbladder out a while before the cruise and my stomach was still hurting me. Then when I got on the boat, the third day out my stomach really started hurting so they took me to a hospital in St. Thomas and I wound up there for nine days. It had turned out that I had caught an infection from when they took out the gallbladder. But they got it cleared up and I have a really good doctor now. They got rid of the infection with antibiotics and have really been wonderful with me, taking care of any little residual ailments that have come along with that. And I’m feeling 110% now. We’ve been playing around a little bit around here, in southern California playing festivals and such, and in the pacific north west. Just kind of playing all over and we played last night in Sweet Water and we start off this tour next week.
MF: Well alright, terrific. I know I can’t wait to see you next week, I’ve really been looking forward to it. Now I wanted to talk to you for a minute, you have always been one of those players that has always been really well respected by other players, yet it seems that with what I call the average weekend or blues fest blues fan, you aren’t that well known. But I think you’ve actually got a pretty interesting history as far as when you started out, and some of your associations and such, would you mind sharing some of your history with my listeners?
JLW: Well sure you know I started when I was real young, about 1962, one of my cousins had a band and I played with him till about ‘64. I was in the bay area and back then I played with Fillmore Slim, Charles Brown and people like that. Then eventually a guy named Mike Bloomfield moved in with me, when he moved to the west coast he lived with me and a guy named Johnny Cramer. Then in ‘69 I moved to Canada and about a year later I moved into the famous house in Carmelita that Michael (Bloomfield) had. I played quite a bit around there and I had a little record then with Voodoo Records when I was about 19. Then I moved to Detroit and got to know Muddy Waters pretty good and he let me open up for him for a while around there and up to Toronto. Then I had the house band at a place called the Matrix in San Francisco and I used to open up for Lightening Hopkins and Fred McDowell, he was the first on to show me slide, then I got to play with Earl Hooker, he let me play with him for a good while. There was Magic Sam and people like that, but you know when I was living with Bloomfield, after a while I needed a lifestyle change so I moved to Vancouver. You know I had quite a few of my friends that had died from various ailments and indulgences, so I joined a gospel group from 1975 to 1985, The Corinthians. I had gone back to gospel then after a while I got a little anxious and went back to blues around 1985, I signed with Hightone Records out of Oakland. I did five albums for them then after that Polygram signed me in the early ’90’s so I was with them for all of the ’90’s and was a lot of their imprints. Then I did a lot of one off’s like we talked about, I did one for Telarc, one for Evidence, the three for JSP and I did a whole bunch of compilations. I did a lot of collaborations, I did two with BB King, one that one a Grammy, ’Blues Summit’ then I did a live one with him called ’How Blue Can You Get’. I did a record with Branford Marsalis. Then I worked with Nick Lowe called ’What’s So Funny Bout Peace Love And Understanding’ I did the Beatles White Album tribute called ‘The Beatles Blue Album‘, I got to do ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. I did two Stones ones, Led Zeppelin, the music of Charlie Patton. I did a movie called ‘Hell hounds On My Trail’ The Music of Robert Johnson. It was really a whole bunch of stuff, I did a record called ‘Great Guitars’ which was really my most successful record I had I think ten different guitar players on there, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Cropper co-produced it with me. We had Robert Jr. Lockwood on there Gatemouth rest his soul, Taj, Matt Guitar Murphy, Little Charlie, Scotty Moore from Elvis Presley’s band. Lets see, umm, Ike Turner. Then on that album, I toured with different configurations of those people. Me and Buddy did some shows, me and Matt and Steve Cropper did some stuff. Me and Otis Grand and Ike did some stuff in Europe.
So you see I did quite a few things and most musicians that know me they know that I’m really sort of a chameleon, if I did just one thing all the time, people might know me more, but I’m quite versatile and not just for versatility sake, but that’s how I grew up. I grew up listening to all different kinds of music, but when I do blues it shows that that’s my first love. You plus I moved around a bit too, I lived in England for a while in the ‘80’s then I moved back here (the Bay area) then like I said I moved to France for a couple of years so I guess I did just a lot of various things.
MF: Wow that is a varied history, you know like I said, I can’t wait to see you. You know I came to you, for the sake of our listeners I first saw Joe at a little club in San Juan Capistrano called the Coach House as part of the Antone’s tenth anniversary tour in I guess 1986 and what Joe did was they had basically tow “house” bands for what I think was maybe 12 or 15 “headliners” and when they would switch over the bands, Joe Louis would move to center stage with his guitar and just tear it up… I thought you were great.
But I wanted to ask you, about that time, it has always been interesting to me that then, during your Hightone era, you were going along pretty well with I think your second release with them when they signed a then relatively unknown guitar player from Portland named Robert Cray. Well it seems to me that you got sort of a raw deal out of that, they (the label) seemed to turn all their attention to Cray and sort of left you out to dry.
JLW: Yeah well you know they’ll be the first to admit that, they did put a lot more energy into Robert than they did to me but you know I really can’t complain. Over time people have seen that really we are two totally different artists, you know they have seen the differences, it’s like when Bruce Springsteen came out they compared him to Bob Dylan. See all kinds of stuff happens like that and all you can do is keep doing what your doing. Now people realize that you know it isn’t over yet, I like to think that my best is a head of me.
MF: well Joe lets hope so, I want to thank you for joining me today, I can’t wait to see you next week. Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to join me here on the Showcase Of rhythm & Blues.
JLW: Oh it’s my pleasure. I want to let every body know that I will be on that Blues Cruise again next year so any one that missed me last time I’ll be there. Also I’m looking forward to playing Minneapolis next Friday, thanks Mark…
All photo's By Mark Fredell copyright controlled.