Joe Louis Walker: Messenger for the blues
Joe Louis Walker is true blues.
The man is always trying to get the word out about his favorite music.
"Blues has never been promoted like pop music," said the guitar powerhouse, who with his band will play The Egg's outdoor stage Wednesday at noon in a free concert.
Walker, who has released 25 albums since his 1986 "Cold is the Night" debut, said blues artists' competition includes rock big shots who decide to share their blues influences. Their big names attract big crowds.
"If Aerosmith makes a blues record or the Stones make a blues record, then it's pop-worthy for promotion," said the 67-year-old Walker, who will play just outside The Egg's main entrance as part of the venue's "Made in the Shade of the Egg" series. "When John Mellancamp found his blues roots, when Cyndi Lauper found her blues roots ... it goes on and on and on."
Walker is not bitter about the set-up.
"If you're in the trenches forever, you're just a blues artist and we understand that," he said in a telephone interview. "That's the way it is in the United States more than it is around the world."
Walker will play selections from his latest album, 2015's "Everybody Wants a Piece," at the Egg show. The collection received a Grammy Award nomination for best contemporary blues album in 2016.
"This record was the end of a triumvirate," Walker said. "I made three records, one called 'Hellfire' (2012) and the other called 'Hornet's Nest' (2014). I try to make records to attract people who wouldn't normally go to the blues, also for people who love the blues. But I ramped up the guitar a little bit and did some other different things. That's my background, all over the place, all mixed up."
Walker's background began during the early 1960s, when the San Francisco native began playing guitar at age 14. By 16, Walker had become a well-regarded musician in the Bay Area -- playing blues with an occasional foray into psychedelic rock. During the mid-1970s, he began a decade-long attachment to gospel.
People have noticed Walker's work. But, like the rock stars-play-the-blues scene, it can take a little patience, a little time, for people to check out real blues
"B.B. King said it, without malice, 'When you're a blues artist, it's like being black twice,'" Walker said. "Unless you can crack that nut, and B.B. did it, he crossed over with 'When Loves Comes to Town' with U2 and God bless Bono and Edge for taking him on that two-year tour. And 'Rattle and Hum' (U2's 1988 album). That introduced B.B. to a bunch of young people who would have never even looked at the word 'blues.' When you can retake that template ... but do you see anybody like that doing that now, like U2 did? No, I don't see that."
For Walker, the reaction is action.
"I love to tell my grandkids and my kids, you can't get a hit unless you keep swinging," he said. "So you keep swinging and hope you get a hit, but you realize the playing field is not to your advantage. Even though this is something you've cultivated when it wasn't as popular as it is, and something you've been in the trenches with forever, you just have to keep swinging and hope you get a hit."
Walker and the blues are big hits on international stages. He recently performed in China and Poland, he's been in Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, Israel, among other places. He said thousands show up; sometimes, the crowds in America are only in the hundreds. Walker believes American audiences kind of like to see on stage what they see in the mirror back home.
"They'd rather hear Janis Joplin do 'Ball of Chain' than Big Mama Thornton," Walker said, comparing white and black singers. "They'd rather hear Elvis Presley do 'Hound Dog' than Big Mama Thornton, they'd rather hear Elvis do 'Mystery Train' rather than Little Junior Parker and the Blue Flames, they'd rather hear the Rolling Stones do 'Little Red Rooster' as opposed to Howlin' Wolf. It's just because America likes its reflection in the mirror."
Walker has collaborated with top musicians. Branford Marsalis, James Cotton, Tower of Power, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal and Ike Turner all have appeared on his albums. There's never a recruitment problem.
"I believe when I worked with Scotty Moore or Buddy Guy or Otis Rush or Taj Mahal, they trust me," Walker said. "I don't have an agenda. It's, 'I want you to play on this record because I think this song will be good with you, and if you listen and you like, play on it.'
"Everybody's getting paid the same amount of the money, actually, it ain't even about the money," Walker added. "When Bonnie played on my record, she didn't even want the money. It's about the music, and I think for me as with a lot of other musicians, the reason we do collaborations is it brings you out of your wheelhouse. It gets you to a point where you can put on another hat. Most musicians I know are adventurous."
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.