Guitar great Walker bringing music legacy to Roadhouse Bluesfest

Blues Hall of Famer and Grammy Award nominee Joe Louis Walker will headline the fourth annual Roadhouse Bluesfest at Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia on July 22. (Submitted photo)

MAGNOLIA — Joe Louis Walker is a living, breathing history of the blues.

Playing guitar and singing professionally when he was 14 and a known quantity in the San Francisco Bay area at 16, Mr. Walker played with greats such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Thelonious Monk and Jimi Hendrix.

He has gone on to perform with the likes of B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Ike Turner, Steve Miller and many more.

He has been nominated for Grammy Awards, is a four-time Blues Music Award winner and a 2013 Blues Hall of Fame inductee.

When he talks the blues, you better listen.

He’ll be headlining this year’s Central Delaware Blues Society fourth annual Roadhouse Bluesfest at Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia July 22.

Blues roots

Although a blues musician through and through, Mr. Walker has diversified throughout the years with many styles and genres, playing rock, gospel, R&B and everything in between.

“I always use the analogy of the blues as soil,” Mr. Walker said by phone Tuesday afternoon.

“In good soil, you can grow apples. You can grow oranges. You can grow all kinds of stuff. And you build upon blues.

“If you speed it up, you get rock ’n’ roll. James Brown messed around with it and got funk. You add some different lyrics and you get gospel. All of

Internationally touring blues musician Vanessa Collier will play the upcoming Roadhouse Bluesfest at Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia.
(Submitted photo)

these elements come together. When you take the guitar out and just play, you get jam band music.”

He says later musicians owe their sound to the blues singers who came before them.

“You take a song like ‘Ball and Chain.’ Janis Joplin had a hit with it but she got it from Big Mama Thornton. The Allman Brothers did ‘One Way Out’ and that was done by Sonny Boy Williamson before them,” said the 67-year-old musician who earned a degree in music and English from San Fransisco State University.

“What’s so different about (the Beatles song) ‘Back in the USSR’? Paul McCartney got that from Little Richard. They were like father and son. The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds paid homage to the blues as well. The Stones’ last record was a blues album.”

Mr. Walker said blues is just a label and can mean whatever you want it to mean.

“That just comes from record companies and critics. They need something to put it on. But there’s no difference between Muddy Waters and John Lennon. They are both straight to the point. You don’t need a thesaurus to understand what they are singing about.

Quoting The Beatles song, “‘In my life, I’ve loved them all.’ You know what John’s talking about. Same with Muddy Waters. ‘I’m a man.’ It’s to the point. When John Lennon came to America, at his press conference, he said he wanted to meet Muddy Waters. People in the states were asking where the muddy waters were. No one knew what he was talking about.

“Elvis Presley didn’t want to be Frank Sinatra. He wanted to be Little Richard. Jack White wants to be Robert Johnson.”

Mr. Walker said Americans still lag behind other nationalities in their appreciation of the purely American art form. He said in the last 45 days, he’s played Beijing, China; Sao Paulo, Brazil and he just came back from Poland last weekend.

“I was playing to crowds of 10,000 to 12,000. They love you over there and they know the culture of America and what we’re all about,” Mr. Walker said.

“In America, we like the flavor of the week. Muddy Waters would have been 100 years old this year and we’ll be talking about him 100,000 years from now. Where is Milli Vanilli? Where will The Monkees be? They had great songwriters and they are nice guys but their music didn’t translate to the rest of the world.

“Oasis thinks they are The Beatles. What drugs are they on?”

A lifeline

Mr. Walker said he started playing music at an early age as a “lifeline.”

“I think it was that way for nine out of 10 guys whether they were from Birmingham, England or Birmingham, Alabama. We were all just trying to find ourselves,” he said.

“My dad and mom raised me on music and later when they separated, we moved to the Fillmore District of San Francisco (from Poughkeepsie, New York) and I found out I had cousins who had a band that was tailor-made for me.

“When you’re young, you have a love for this stuff and when you go to bed, it’s not about going to sleep. It’s about playing your guitar and trying to figure out chords and another door opens and you find out a lot about yourself.”

Mr. Walker now makes it an important mission to spread music education around the world. Despite the many accolades he has received for his music, he said receiving the USA Oliver Fellow Award in 2005 is his proudest accomplishment.

He used the $50,000 in prize money to assist in acquiring musical instruments and lessons for young people who are excited to learn but may not have the means necessary to be opened up to the world of musical creativity.

“I was really knocked out. I was the first blues guy to receive that,” he said.

Mr. Walker said he is excited about the younger crop of blues artists but warns about those he calls “Facebook musicians.”

“Those are the ones that put something on YouTube and it gets a whole bunch of likes and suddenly they are a blues musician playing festivals across the country and they haven’t been in the trenches and been playing for 30 and 40 years. It used to be if you said you wanted to be on ‘American Idol,’ you’d get laughed out of the room.”

Lucky man

Having released his first album in 1986, Mr. Walker’s latest record, his 24th, came out in 2015 called “Everybody Wants a Piece.” It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

“It was so rewarding to get that nomination,” he said.

“We’ve been doing these songs during sound checks and just sat in the studio and recorded them. There were no guest artists and everything was organic.”

With more than 50 years in the music business, Mr. Walker considers himself a lucky guy.

“I’m fortunate to still see people enjoy themselves at my shows and I’m fortunate to be able to talk about my music and myself. I was in San Francisco before and after the Summer of Love. I’ve lived in England, France and Scandinavia,” he said.

“I’m fortunate to be able to say I’ve played with and know The Rolling Stones. I know Keith and Mick. I knew B.B. King and I know Elvis Costello and Bryan Ferry. And I’ve been fortunate to cross so many barriers and so many genres back and forth. I’ve just been so fortunate.”

‘Strongest lineup’

Along with Mr. Walker, this year’s Roadhouse Bluesfest includes Grammy winner Alvin “Youngblood” Hart’s Muscle Theory, singer and saxophonist Vanessa Collier, Delaware’s Roger Girke and The Wandering Souls, last year’s Central Delaware Blues Society Battle of the Bands winner Tom Craig and Soul Patch and The Blues Reincarnation Project.

Central Delaware Blues Society President Barry Pugh is excited about this year’s event.

“I think it’s the strongest lineup we’ve ever had,” he said.

“We have a Grammy nominee and a Grammy winner. Vanessa Collier (a recent Smyrna at Night headliner) has performed all over Europe and the United States. Then you have a local favorite in Roger Girke. Tom Craig and the Soul Patch Band, from the Philadelphia area, have been big supporters of the blues society. The Blues Reincarnation Project is a good, young group. We really want to emphasize the youth and have them take the reins as we older folks age.”

The price of tickets will go up at midnight tonight. Early bird tickets are $25 for society members and $30 for nonmembers. Starting Saturday, tickets will be $30 for members and $35 for nonmembers.

Included in the day will be food trucks, craft beer, including a booth from Blue Earl in Smyrna, and craft vendors.

Tickets can be purchased at centraldelawareblues.com or at the door. Gates open at 11 a.m. with the music starting at noon.

Jonathan’s Landing is at 1309 Ponderosa Drive in Magnolia.

 

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.