"I wish that African-Americans would embrace this music in its original form more. It is our history we should keep and preserve it."
Khalif Wailin' Walter:
Flamin' Voodoo Axeman
Khalif "Wailin'" Walter without a doubt belongs to the the new generation of Blues players coming from the Windy City and contributing to it's rich legacy of Chicago Blues. This definitely ain't your grandaddy's Blues though. Khalif's music, while firmly rooted in the Chicago electric blues guitar tradition is fused with elements of Funk, Soul, Rock, and Reggae to create his own kinda funkin' boogie groove. With his previous album "She Put The Voodoo On Me" (2012) and the new "Nothin' Left To Lose" (2018, Pepper Cake), he has garnered international recognition and acclaim. Khalif “Wailin’“ Walter's electrifying live performances have lit up the Chicago Blues music scene and stages throughout Europe and Africa with his unique style of Funk drenched Boogie Blues that rocks the house down to the ground. So where have you seen him? Khalif “Wailin’“ Walter appeared regularly on the Chicago Blues circuit, and performs in venues and festivals throughout the U.S., E.U. And Africa.
Khalif Wailin’ is a guitarist, singer, bandleader, and songwriter. The son of military parents, he grew up travelling the world. He first picked up a guitar at 17 years old. Due to an entirely chance meeting of B.B. King, where B.B. was kind enough to give him a half hour lesson, Khalif knew right away. He worked and travelled with cover rock bar bands until he passed through Chicago. He settled in Chicago in the late 80's after as he puts it. Khalif developed his approach listening to Dion Payton with his psychedelic trance blues rock amalgamation and the Kinsey Report who mixed both funk and reggae with deep Chicago Blues groove; like in the music of modern day Blues icon Gary Clark Jr., many musical elements can coexist and be branches of the tree that is Chicago Blues. Khalif Wailin’ has toured with and performed under the tutelage of his uncle and mentor, Carl Weathersby and was a 4 year band alumnus of 2-time Grammy nominee Lonnie Brooks Band. Khalif has appeared on stage with such Blues giants as Taj Mahal, Otis Rush, The Jimmy Vaughan Band, The Buddy Guy Band, Junior Wells, Bernard Allison, Pinetop Perkins, Billy Branch, Sugar Blue, Toronzo Cannon, Curtis Salgado, Tommy Castro, Larry McCray, Paul Lamb, Tad Robinson, Keith Dunn, Louisiana Red, and A.C.Reed.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues means to you?
It’s really like meditation and prayer for me. It’s the place where my soul feels plugged in to that universal energy that connects us all as humans. I do with it what anyone should do with a gift and that's to share it as best I can.
What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?
Well I'm from Chicago. You just walk 100 meters down the street on any given day and you can see the very best and the very worst of humanity. I just try to paint pictures of these stories with my lyrics and music that people can feel and that move people in some way.
How do you describe Khalif Walter sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?
Great question...I have played in many different settings. Touring Rock band, jazz in University, funk bands. There is nothing in the world that touches me like a real down home shuffle but that for me isn’t enough to express myself. My music is my statement. Where I feel complete is when I am challenging myself completely mind, body, soul, and spirit.. I need the different styles to be me. Jazz comes from my head, Blues from my gut, funk comes from the hips, and well Rock comes from somewhere else below the waste. I am experimenting with some new things though. I like the challenge of playing solo acoustic. I like the challenge of playing acoustic in a band setting. I am expanding my song writing and trying to push myself more for the next CD. And I really want my voice to be more of an instrument on its own. My musical philosophy is that if I get to a point where I don't absolutely love this and keep growing then it’s time to quit and find something else to do. Life is way too short.
"Like all other art, Blues is a reflex reaction to and interaction with the culture we live in. What I take away from this as an artist and a historian is that My work can coexist as Blues as well as Howlin Wolf's or Muddy's work. My Blues is mine in this time and with the struggles of modern day."
How has the Blues music and culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Playing the blues has given me a chance to travel 1/2 way around the world. I have seen that we all have a lot more in common than what separates us. We all want the same things....to peacefully live happy healthy lives for us and our families. We pray differently, eat defiantly, live differently, but we are all one people. The great thing about playing music is that it opens doors and hearts. I am invited in as a guest to share what I have and I am very very humbled that people want to hear what I have to say and more importantly they share their cultures with me.
What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? Where does your creative drive come from?
Well I actually started with research in African-American History while I was a Jazz Music Performance student at Roosevelt University and completely fell in love with it. As a blues player the two just naturally ended up colliding. What I realized though with the death of young Chicago Blues player Chico Banks was that our worldwide influence had transcended just the Buddy Guy/Junior Wells era and was still very much relevant. I started to document our generation of Chicago Blues in the same way the classic Chicago artist (Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Howlin' Wolf, etc.) were. I honestly in many ways consider myself more of a historian entrusted with a scared part of African-American history than I do a musician. There are some really relevant guys in Chicago now making waves which are felt all over the ocean in Blues world.
How do you describe new album "Nothin' Left To Lose" songbook and sound? Are there any memories from studio sessions which you’d like to share?
I really prefer that everyone listen to it and decide for themselves what they think but from my standpoint the Blues is bluesier, the funk is funkier, and the rock and rockier than in the past. I will say that I worked meticulously on each song. I wanted the songs to be the star. I wanted each song to tell its own story. I also grew a lot artistically as a producer, singer, guitar player, and especially as a songwriter between my last CD She Put The Voodoo On Me.
One thing though that is really funny are the songs Bang (Interlude) and One Last Nerve. Just purely due to time constraints, I ended up playing all the instruments on those songs. It is mentioned in the liner notes but I didn't make a big deal out of it because I wanted people to just listen to the music as a whole. I was a notoriously bad piano student in University. So bad in fact that my professor asked me to never tell anyone that I studied with him when I earned a barely passing grade. I played Organ on Bang (Interlude) and that has received quite a lot of very unexpected recognition surprisingly for my organ playing and for my bass playing.
"In my live show, I try to just take everyone on a journey. If you like the trip you are welcome to come along and if not the train is leaving without you. What I always enjoy playing live is that I feel like it’s almost like prayer. I connect to this energy that flows through us all links us all as humans."
What are your hopes and fears for the future of the Blues? If you could change one thing in the musical world, what would that be?
My biggest hope for the future of the Blues is that I am still around for a while and part of it. If I could change one thing it would be that money would not be a barrier to get my or anyone else’s good music out there and in front of more people. This CD could have been done 2-3 years ago but I wanted it done the way I wanted it done and so I scraped together the money and did the CD in stages. This is a business...the selling and marketing of art and while talent is important it is not what drives the industry. It is unbelievable how much money plays a part in the power of just getting your name recognized and your product visibly seen on the market.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in the blues circuits and roads?
Wow...umm...that is a really tough question. I guess the most important thing I have learned is to not take anything for granted. We are not promised good reviews, good or big audiences, receptive ears for our art. We have to earn all that one note, one song, one show, one CD, one fan, at a time and so that means we have to bring it every night.
Also, I have learned to find balance in life; to live life wherever I am 100% in that moment. I really appreciate the time on stage and touring with my guitar. When I am done though, I equally appreciate putting the guitar down too and just living life. I absolutely love being a dad and my time with my kids. It means more to me because it is balance, I need to be the creative me.
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Probably the best was the first time I played the Chicago Blues Festival under my own name. I kept saying all I needed was just a chance. I wanted to prove that I deserved the title Chicago Bluesman. I think another great moment was the first time I realized people were singing along with my songs that they knew my music.
The worst...that has to be a gig I did in Lithuania called Bluzio Naktys. I couldn't take my full band and I played with another bass player. He was totaled drunk by the time my set started at midnight and was falling off the stage. Unfortunately my name was the one on the marquis not his and I looked bad. To this day if I see that guy, he had better just run.
What do you miss most nowadays from the OLD DAYS OF CHICAGO BLUES?
Definitely the storytelling aspect of songwriting and the fact that this music was by, for, and of "the people". I like the old school guys who really knew how to connect with an audience.
"It’s really like meditation and prayer for me. It’s the place where my soul feels plugged in to that universal energy that connects us all as humans. I do with it what anyone should do with a gift and that's to share it as best I can."
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
To be honest although it had nothing to do with music, the birth of my son completely changed everything in my life. I took a year and a half away from music to stay at home and I still work very hard when I'm home to just be Daddy. It very much put everything in life into perspective. That said I truly do enjoy my life in the present moment only. The past is gone and the future is not promised. No matter what is going on I just enjoy the fact that I'm blessed to be alive and present in that moment.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Don't...but if you do anyway, I warned you. (laughing hysterically) Really just learn the business. Everyone wants to be then next guy that turns the musical world upside down but generally that rarely happens. Learn how the business works so that you can continue to work. I also say keep your feet firmly grounded in reality. Talk to other working musicians so you know what you are actually getting yourself into.
Why did you think that the Blues culture continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?
My personal impression is that it’s just different. It’s a curiosity. But I also think that there is spirituality to the music an expressiveness that is unique to the Blues. People like to be moved in this way.
Are there any memories from Louisiana Red, Otis Rush, and Junior Wells, which you’d like to share with us?
I have a lot of special memories of all of people I have met. The most humbling thing is that all of these people just took the time to share some of themselves with me. Most of these people don’t have or didn’t leave this world with lots of money. They gave me what they had to share, their time and knowledge. I am very blessed to have met each and every one of them. From Red I really learned much more about life than anything else musically he taught me.
Which memory from Taj Mahal, Pinetop Perkins, and Billy Branch makes you smile?
The funniest blues story I have is about Billy Branch but I absolutely cannot tell that to anybody. Billy and I still laugh about it but it's private.
The first time I got to play with Pinetop was amazing. He looked at me during the first song and asked "Are you ready, son? It’s your solo. Showtime".
I played with Taj on the Legendary Blues Cruise at the pro Jam with Curtis Salgado. The next morning at breakfast Taj walked up to me and Lonnie Brooks while we were having breakfast. Taj said "Lonnie this boy is one Bad Mutha F%&#" which to me was one of the highest compliments I have every received.
I have enjoyed the moment being on the stage with all of them. Music is a conversation and I did just that with all of these guys. I enjoyed the conversation in that moment. I like being challenged by other players.
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever given to you?
I can’t really say. I have learned so much from a lot of people. I learned probably the most from my Uncle Carl Weathersby, and a lot from my time with Lonnie Brooks. But honestly I have learned far more about life from all of these guys than I have anything about music. The best advice given to me I have heard from more than one person. Find your own musical voice. That’s really important to me.
What has made you laugh from the late greats Junior Wells, Lonnie Brooks, Otis Rush, and AC Reed?
Lonnie Brooks was one of the funniest dudes on the planet to travel with. He used to tell stories, and jokes in the tour bus and he really loved playing pranks on us. He made us all feel like family. Showtime though he was all business and made sure every single audience got their money’s worth. The most important things I can't share publicly. Lonnie taught me so much privately about life. I really love him and I miss him.
I was out on a tour with AC Reed and I came home to an apartment that had been robbed. I went to a Chicago restaurant and Otis Rush just happened to be there. I sat down and talked with him and I told him that he was my favorite living guitar player. Among the items stolen were my signed B.B. King ticket and guitar pick, a signed Albert Collins picture & CD, and an autographed CD of Otis's. So, he immediately grabbed a menu and signed it to me. Later the band called Otis up to play. Otis got up and he said he would not play unless his good friend Khalif came up to play with him. It was my lifelong dream come true. I got up and just stood next to him in absolute shock. He sort of quietly asked, "What do you want to play son?,". I just blurted back, "You're Otis Rush. What do you want me to play?".
"I learned probably the most from my Uncle Carl Weathersby, and a lot from my time with Lonnie Brooks. But honestly I have learned far more about life from all of these guys than I have anything about music." (Photo: Khalif with Lonnie Brooks Band on stage)
What are the differences and similarities between the BLUES, JAZZ, SOUL, and ROCK feeling?
Well they all originated from one common thread and that is it's about telling your story painting your picture in the way in the way you want. Musically, it also should be a conversation between the musicians concentrated on participating in that immediate moment. This music all came from an oral tradition; guys "talking to each other" on stage through their music. I feel like Jazz comes from a different place it’s a little more cerebral. I like having the expanded vocabulary as part of my repertoire. I think Rock has a reckless abandon to it and an aggression that I sometimes need. Soul for me combines the story telling of Blues with the expanded musical vocabulary of Jazz. In the end that should all move you in some way touch you in some way.
Tell something about making your previous album "She Put The Voodoo On Me"? Which memory from recording time makes you smile?
I was incredibly happy with the CD "She Put The Voodoo On Me". On CD, I tried really hard to do a CD that sounded like what I thought was expected. I wasn't being honest though with myself musically or lyrically. I drastically changed my sound. I took a lot of time to completely strip everything down; new band, new songs, new amps, and I even built my own guitars to get to the sound I wanted. I still love to play that down home Chicago style and my heart will always have some of that in it but I need the sensuality of funk rhythms, the aggression of rock guitar leads, and the subtle cerebral control of jazz chording. That's my sound. And I wrote and arranged all of the tunes so they truly are my story. The one thing I still laugh about is that all the backing vocals and auxiliary percussion on the CD is me. I played triangle, tambourine, and cowbell. I standing in a booth with just a triangle...that was hilarious.
Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?
No. Genre is a marketing tool concept used to divide people into tribes. Blues is a language. As long as people learn the proper vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and idioms and really dig into the history and the vast library of this music to understand it in their own way, then it's cool. However, that said, every real Blues artist can feel, speak, and interpret the language with their own accent as long as they are true in their own heart to the spirit acting within the artistic movement. If you want a great example of this, go to a museum and look at French, German, Netherlands impressionist artist. Or listen to a German vs. Italian vs. Russian composed symphony.
What I absolutely do not dig are the Blues Rock guys who use the word 'BLUES' to sell records....and you know who you are. The guy on the festival who when I asked him could only name " B.B. king and all the others," as his blues influences. It is disrespectful to the audience, disrespectful the music, and damn disrespectful to the history, struggle, and culture of the many African-Americans who died broke so that this asshole could make money off their legacy. I am not having that game at all.
When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?
"I wish that African-Americans would embrace this music in its original form more. It is our history we should keep and preserve it." (Photo: The new hot Blues blood of Chicago: Sam Green, Khalif Wailin Walter, Toronzo Cannon, and Stan Skibby)
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
I think as long as someone in the world has a story to tell and can relate to the harmonic structure blues will be around. In the words of Albert King "Everybody understands the blues". I wish that African-Americans would embrace this music in its original form more. It is our history we should keep and preserve it.
How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage and what are the thumb of your sound?
In my live show, I try to just take everyone on a journey. If you like the trip you are welcome to come along and if not the train is leaving without you. What I always enjoy playing live is that I feel like it’s almost like prayer. I connect to this energy that flows through us all links us all as humans. And for a few moments at a time I am just one with that energy. It’s not me the music is just flowing through me. What I have been told by some people in the audience is that sometimes I look as if nothing in the world exists for me except me and my guitar. It sort of feels like that.
Do you believe that there is “misuse”, that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of blues?
Yeah as I said. It’s used for marketing purposes too much. Increasingly more Blues-Rock is flooding the market. Most of this music actually has very little to do with Blues except using the word "Blues" as a marketing label to sell records. The songwriting tends to be used as vehicles to show off guitar chops and don’t really try to touch connect or reach the audience in any way. It’s very egotistical musical approach.
What's the legacy of Blues todays? Do you know why the Blues is connected to the Afro American culture?
Blues is our history as African-Americans. It is a gift that we gave to the world and it continues to live in the funk and rock we listen to today and further continues to be imitated all over the world. I actually think that Blues is very much connected to and alive in African-American culture, it has just evolved. Look at the type of people that this music originated from. Young, mostly Male, African-American, Disenfranchised, under employed, suffering lack of economic opportunity, lack of inclusion in society. It started with hands as percussion and the voice as our instrument. Now look at Hip-Hop and gangsta rap. Young, Male, African-American, Disenfranchised, under employed, suffering lack of economic opportunity, lack of inclusion in society. It started with "beat boxing" and hand clapping as our percussion and the voice. Rappers are telling their story and it’s full of the struggle of daily life.
Which incident of your life you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?
Hhhhhmmmm....I can't think of one really that has to do with music. If I left this world tomorrow, I would want to be remembered as a good person first and a good father second. All the rest are not so important.
What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?
I actually think that is impossible to say at this point. In historical context we can later analyze it's actual impact so we know where the Blues stood in the culture 20-30 years ago but not present effect at this moment. Like all other art, Blues is a reflex reaction to and interaction with the culture we live in. What I take away from this as an artist and a historian is that My work can coexist as Blues as well as Howlin Wolf's or Muddy's work. My Blues is mine in this time and with the struggles of modern day.
If you want to understand the effect of the Blues in a modern-day culture in real time, don't look at the Blues; look at Hip-Hop. The evolution of this music to me is a direct extension of the Blues. Look at the origins of Hip-Hop; who made it, how it started, how it propagated, and even to some degree it's divisive nature. This music absolutely parallels the Blues. I get a lot of flack purely from a qualitative standpoint in the form of "I hate Rap & Hip-Hop but I love the Blues,". I have yet to see any actual quantitative or historically factual or contextual rebut to my argument and I absolutely refuse to back down from my stance on this. Hip-Hop is Blues in the year 2019.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
I honestly don't dwell on life's 'what-ifs? '. I really live in the present. I am extremely curious what my kids will do later in life but what is most important is that for right now I am enjoying the journey with them one day at a time.
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