He’s been called one of the greatest bluesmen of his generation, but the humility with which Joe Louis Walker speaks befits a man who, as he puts it, is “just happy to still be here.” Here’s a guy who sat in with the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Thelonious Monk, and Jimi Hendrix as a teenager yet still approaches his craft as if there’s plenty of work left to be done. Then again, his volcanic playing and instantly recognizable vocal tone speak for themselves whenever he sets foot on a stage, so boasting about his resumé isn’t necessary.
I caught up with Walker recently to discuss his latest project as well as his upcoming date at The Tralf on Jan. 10, which, if you call yourself a fan of the blues, is a show not to be missed.
MNOD: What initially attracted you to the blues?
JLW: I just wanted to play music. I remember being 5,6,7, and 8 playing records with my dad, which definitely influenced my musical direction. My mother always gave me a lot of encouragement in my music and living in the Fillmore District of San Francisco exposed me to a lot of different genres. Labels were never really that important to me, because, if you’re playing it right, I’ll listen to anything.
MNOD: Do you think younger generations can relate to the blues?
JLW: I think young people are always looking for something they can relate to. If they’re exposed to it early on or see other young people getting into it, they’ll be more apt to get into it, as well.
MNOD: How did your latest record “Journeys to the Heart of the Blues” come about?
JLW: I made that record with Bruce Katz and Giles Robson. I was on tour in Holland and was approached about making an album together. We decided to make an acoustic record that featured no bass or drums, which ended up being a great recording process. We’ve all worked on so many projects in the past that we just fed off each other’s energy in pursuit of a common goal. There are some classic blues songs on there that we reinterpreted in a way that people haven’t heard before.
MNOD: Where did your blending of styles originate from?
JLW: I grew up in the Bay Area during the 1960s, so there was a lot of musical experimentation going on at that time. Social mores were being challenged and I was fortunate to be a part of that. The way I played and listened to music changed in a big way.
MNOD: Who were some of your early influences?
JLW: I listened to all types of music. Jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel. Some of my early favorites were Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Django Reinhardt, and Freddie King. I’ve always been a student of playing, so, if you’re playing it right, I’ll enjoy it.
MNOD: Did singing or playing come more naturally to you?
JLW: Probably playing. I sang in gospel choirs when I was younger and they would teach you harmony and how to stay in your lane. It’s like a sports team in that you had to learn your position or else the entire thing breaks down. I could play 24 hours a day, because it’s just me accompanying my own voice. I probably don’t practice as much as I should anymore, because I just got off tour eight or nine days ago and it’s good to recharge yourself after a while. I’ll take a break and then head into the studio next week.
MNOD: Do you still enjoy touring?
JLW: Most of the time, but the travel restrictions have made it a lot harder than it used to be. A lot of it is out of your hands now, so you just have to hope for the best. I’ve been up to Buffalo many times and it’s always a great place to play.
Joe Louis Walker plays The Tralf Music Hall with Jony James Blues Band on Jan. 10 as part of the Howlin’ at the Tralf series.