East coaster entertainer Charles Walker talks about BB King, Luther Allison, and his blues/ soul projects

"The blues will never die because it is honest. At it’s heart, it’s not commercial or made to sell records. It’s made because it lives in everyone."

Charles Walker: The Soul of Wisconsin

Charles Walker performed as an improvisational comedian for years which shines as he expertly works the crowd. While traveling from city to city, the band entertains itself with banter and it’s no different on stage. When the music pauses, Charles and singer Porsche banter back and forth or with the audience.

Charles’ musicianship is described in Muziczine as “Particularly inventive…a musician bursting with talent. Well capable of building a melody line, his tenor sax thrusts through the mix powerfully”.  The band has opened for numerous national acts including Aaron Neville, Robert Cray, BB King, Richard Marx, Eddie Shaw, Booker T, Earth, Wind & Fire, Cameo and Bernard Allison. The ensemble has been featured on Fox News, NBC “Live in the Morning,” nationally syndicated “Discover Wisconsin” and was the featured artist on the Blues Revue (2010) and Soul Bag (2007) sampler CDs. The Charles Walker Band’s experience and spontaneity make every evening unforgettable.

Charles Walker, tenor saxophone, keyboard, songwriter & band leader, received formal jazz training at UW Eau Claire. He has played saxophone for over 18 years. His last band was Muddy Blue, who released a CD entitled Low Down Dirty Blues. He has played with such greats as Big Al from New Orleans and JJ Johnson at BBs in St. Louis. His influences are Luther Allison, Ray Charles, Louis Jordan, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Sax Gordon, Keb Mo, and John Coltrane.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?

Charles: The blues has taught me that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what color or religion you are, you can relate to the blues because we’ve all had struggles. 

What experiences in life make a GOOD BLUES MUSICIAN and SONGWRITER?

Charles: Every experience makes someone a good blues musician or songwriter. If you’re watching the birds sing, you can learn from them about beauty because the blues is beauty. You can watch children play and learn the blues because the blues is fun. If you’ve lost a parent, you can learn the blues from that because the blues is pain. The blues is like life. It is complex.

How do you describe Charles Walker sound and progress, what characterize band’s philosophy? 

Charles: We have been described as Detroit Blues because we mix r&b and soul into our music. I stopped worrying about what is and isn’t blues a couple years ago. Now, my philosophy is, if it’s got soul, play it.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?

Charles: I think my biggest influence in the blues is Luther Allison.  He played with such passion and desperation that you knew he felt every note he played. The blues isn’t about sadness alone. It’s about passion and Luther Allison embodies this.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

Charles: The best moment of my career was playing a blues festival in New Jersey and getting a standing ovation. The worst moment was firing a bass player on the road and having to find a sub bass player for the show that day.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Charles: I am living in the most interesting period in my life.  Musicians, whether they are honest or not, are often insecure about their talent. I am no exception. As the band has made a huge evolution in the past year to playing more r&b and funk, I struggle to evolve with them. Though I have studied jazz, funk and r&b are different and I struggle to have great solos in them. I continue to push myself to become a better musician.

Are there any memories from Robert Cray, which you’d like to share with us?

Charles: Robert Cray is one of the best musicians I have ever seen.  His cd’s don’t really convey how masterful he is. I mentioned before how I love Luther Allison, but after seeing Robert Cray live, he is now in my top three favorite guitarists ever. He blew me away….I remember getting shivers while hearing him play.

Tell me a few things about your meet with BB King, which memory makes you smile?

Charles: BB King is a real gentleman. He is polite and kind and his first love is the music. He will never take his eyes off of the music.

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

Charles: BB King told me “Don’t stop believing in yourself.”

What the difference and similarity between the BLUES, JAZZ, and FUNK feeling?

Charles: The similarities between the three genres is they all have solos in them. They all have African roots as well. However, Jazz is more heavily influenced by classical music with more sophisticated chords (usually). Blues is raw power and sexuality. Funk is a return to more African rhythms.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Charles: My best friend is a Turkish blues guitarist. He had a birthday jam in Milwaukee where I’m from. Some of our friends came out and he and I got to play together. It was great.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

Charles: The blues will never die because it is honest. At it’s heart, it’s not commercial or made to sell records. It’s made because it lives in everyone. It tells our stories, no matter what those stories are. We don’t put expectations on it such as it must be happy or sad or you can’t sing about this topic, it just is. My wish for the blues is that it the traditional blues will still be played while others can take the blues and continue to evolve with it.

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage and what compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?

Charles: I love to interact with the crowd. I often remind them if they don’t talk or cheer, that they aren’t in church or the library, and so they should talk, cheer and have a good time. I want to make sure that the crowd knows I know they are sitting there. The best compliment I can get is, “you’re music touched me” or “I was feeling down but your music really spoke to me and I feel great!”

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” DREAM? Happiness is……

Charles: I love to write music, read, play video games and write fiction. My dream isn’t secret. It’s to be a musician who writes meaningful music that connects with everyone. Happiness lives within us. When we seek it outside ourselves we never find it. When we can be happy and thankful right now, we can be happy forever.

Charles Walker Band - Official website

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