Multi talented Big Walker talks about Butterfield, Bloomfield, poetry and his experience on the blues road

"Blues, Jazz, Folk music... This is my heritage, part of my soul, my life, my best friend and my biggest ambition is to influence people, even the world, in a positive way with it."

Derrick Big Walker: Roots Walking

Born in 1953 Fort Sill Lawton, Oklahoma, where his father, Golden Glove Boxer, Roy C Walker was stationed. In 1962 Derrick moved to San Francisco with his mother, who worked in a Community Theater, where Big also acted in several children's productions. In San Francisco during this time the new music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane etc, influenced him and his music.

He was also a big fan of Clover who had great influence on Derrick's decision to become a musician. Derrick Walker, took some harmonica lessons from Paul Butterfield, he helped teach Derrick to sound like himself and play melodies, "not just licks". Bobby Forte - Villa Nova Dupré who played with BB King during the 60's and 70’s and Nole Juks who play with Jimmy Witherspoon gave him saxophone lessons. Derrick played with The Eddie Ray Rhythm And Blues Band, and the Luther Tucker Band backing artists such as Lowell Fulson, Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton, Sonny Roads, Jimmy McCracklin, Jimmy Dawkins, Zora Young and Sugar Pie De Santos. Derrick played with Michael Bloomfield and he was on his LP recording "Cruising for a Bruising". Derrick began playing with a band called the Soul Rebels  (1981), who were working for Bill Graham as a warm up band in Bill's nightclubs. The Soul Rebels were considered San Francisco's most popular band at the time. Derrick went to Europe in 1983, playing Saxophone on the streets, small clubs and festivals with Red Archibald. 1985 forming his own band playing the streets and culbs in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany and Spain. Touring with Big Walker and his The Black & White Blues Band.  Derrick has undertaken several tours of Norway and Denmark, and regular club appearances in Sweden, with his new band the Blue Souls. He appeared often with folk blues artist Eric Bibb and played on several of Eric's CDs, and recorded gospel with Cyndee Peters on "Songs from the Heart". Derrick (Big) Walker plays tenor and alto saxophone plus the ten hole diatonic and chromatic harmonica, sings and wrights his own songs.


Interview by Michael Limnios


Big Walker, what made you fall in love with the blues music & who were your first idols?

My aunt Evelyn Wooden and my uncle John. When I was a small child aunt Evelyn use to sing for me at night, John gave me my first harp and made some effort to teach me how to play it.
Some of the first records I heard were Led Belly and John Lee Hooker. In my early teens I started to listen to Ray Charles, Lambert Hendricks and Ross, King Pleasure, Dinah Washington and Nat King Cole. Mostly because that was what my parents listen to. When I was 13 I went to buy my own LP's. The first three were Sonny Boy Williamson's Bummer Road, Little Walter's Hate to see you go and an LP by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee Folk songs, I believe. Also Muddy Waters and Big Mama Thornton, who later became my onstage surrogate mother. I felt like this is my music.
When I heard Paul Butterfield's East West album it was a big wow! I thought how do you do that? I thought he was the coolest. So I would in no particular order, with the exception of Paul Butterfield, say all the above.

 

How do you describe your music philosophy about the blues?

Sonny Boy once said “I don't write songs I just tell the news”
As far as my song writing goes that's what I believe. With that said I can still express abstract concepts, and use metaphor.
Blues music or what people want to believe is the blues made into music has lost a-lot along the way. What I'm trying to say in a few words is, classifying music does not always work out for the best for anyone except for the major record companies.
Once what was called black records included New-Orleans Jazz, Blues, R&B/Rhythm and Blues, Black Folklore that resembles what we think of as being country music.
I had to ask myself.  Was the music of Led Belly blues or country? Was the music of Bessie Smith jazz or blues? Why did they call one of Billie Holliday's LP's Lady sings the blues?
Most people has not heard the album with Miles Davies and John Lee Hooker playing the blues. Miles said in his autobiography “if you can't play the blues you have no business playing jazz”. My point is all the music genre that I mentioned has the same root, in fact I would even widen it to include reggae, Jamaican/Haitian and Brazilian music... All sheering the same root, music made by slaves, and blended with European music making different high breads but still retaining the root, Africa.
The blues in music can be found in the melody, the lyrics or mood...

 

Blues poetry and music can these two arts confront the “prison” of the spirit and mind?

What blues and poetry have always offered the reader or listener is a path to relief from a reality often forced upon that person or people. The storyteller uses metaphors to sometimes say what he or she cannot or dare not say normally. This gives the writer an outlet for his pent-up emotions and a way of influencing his or her environment sometimes even history. “Blues is a Healer” (John Lee Hooker)

 

 

What experiences in life make a good blues folk poet and what characterize the philosophy of blues folk poetry?

If you live and write about it and it's true. It will be interesting to someone. The poet/artist is a reflexion of the world around him/her and the world within him/her. Everyone has pain as-well as times of joy. The rich and the poor, everyone. The ability to express beauty and it's correlatives is the defining quality of all artist.

However this is not what make him or her an artist, you have to love it and be willing to suffer for arts sake. Giving your time, social life, money and life experiences, even what some people call soul. There is not one type of experience that makes an artist. It just has to be truly from your heart and soul. That's not as easy as it sounds. First you have to find your heart and soul. To do that you have to find out what heart and soul is.

Most people spend there life not knowing why they should, or just how powerful they truly are. It's nothing you get and then you have it.

It's like trying to grab water with your hands, not realizing you don't have to hold on to it, there is lots of water all around you.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
It's a hard one to pin down; it's been a lot of ups and downs.


What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?
Blues, Jazz, Folk music... This is my heritage, part of my soul, my life, my best friend and my biggest ambition is to influence people, even the world, in a positive way with it.


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD bluesman?
I hope that the fact that I do my best to look after all my kids and work hard doesn’t make me one of the bad ones anyway.

 

 

Why did you think that the blues folk poetry continued to generate such a devoted following?

People can relate to it. It reminds them that they are not alone in their suffering or there joy...

 

You had pretty interesting project with Afro-American poems from 1700 - 1800. What is the “feeling” you miss from this era?

I don't miss the 1700-1800's at I didn't live then but I do miss the 60-70's ...

 

How did you first meet Paul Butterfield?

I first met Paul at a hotel restaurant called The Treehouse. They had some kind of mixup with their tour and their managers manage to get them booked there for a week before continuing their regular tour. One day I and my good friend, saxophonist Ben King Perkoff, went there for dinner (they had the best prime-ribb you could ever find). Suddenly I hear this whaling harmonica and I instantly knew it had to be Paul. After their soundcheck I invited them to my house and we were good friends ever since. When I told him that Ben Perkoff and I was playing in the Michael Bloomfield band it seemed he felt the responsibility to coach me on my harmonica. That week was full of tough love and I'll share with you one of the stories. Paul dropped by my house one day with his guitar, he told me this is how he worked out new material. We jammed for some hours and I was trying my best to play Butterfield licks. Suddenly he stopped and told me that what I was doing was terrible, I asked him why, he said “First of all don't try to sound like somebody else, especially me! Second, don't play licks play melodies. Third, listen to the lyrics that will give you the key to what you should play during your solo”. I do my best never to forget what he taught me that day.


Do you remember anything funny or interesting from the Soul Rebels?
In the Soul Rebels we were the warm up-act for bands like The Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, The Beat, The Kids and so on. One night at a Ramones concert I was backstage and I was really in the mood to party. To my total chock and amazement The Ramones were totally sober; they were drinking coca-cola and mineral water. I just thought that's funny considering all the rumors about them being wild.


Tell me a few things about your meet & work with Mike Bloomfield, what kind of a guy was?
Michael was a very kindhearted person who did his best to encourage me. He found me when I was playing on the streets in Sausalito, CA. We had some funny experiences on tour. One was when we were driving to Chico, CA, and the tour bus broke down. Michael gets out and puts out his thumb and gets us a ride with a big semi-truck with all of our equipment. So he manages to get us to the gig in time.
Another interesting story is Michael loved to play the piano, but of course the audience always wanted to hear his guitar playing. The more they would shout out “play the guitar!” or “supersession!” the more stubborn he would be. Sometimes he would play nothing but the piano all night.
I was Michael's last room maid before he passed away. It always surprises me to hear and read stories about him being on drugs. Michael liked to drink wine and he had some prescription medicine for his insomnia. That was it.


Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from The Eddie Ray Rhythm And Blues Band?
There are too many, but I share one funny one. Eddie Ray played the guitar and sang. And o'boy could he sing! We often played in black clubs and parties in Oakland. When Eddie would start to sing a slow blues, the women in the audience would have scream and faint contest. And these could be very dramatic! I'll take the opportunity to plug my book, there's a lot of stories that I'm saving for it.


You have played with many musicians, which are mentioned to be a legend. It must be hard, but which 3 gigs have been the biggest experiences for you?
Luther Tucker, Michael Bloomfield and Big Mama Thornton. In 1967 my mother took me to see Jimi Hendrix, that was a big experience!

 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Sugar Pie De Santos?

Sugar Pie would make us dance on the stage. Well not really dance she would tell us to turn around a shake our butt to the music and she would scrutinize and tell jokes. She was very funny and everyone loved her shows.

 

I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience with Eric Bibb

Eric had a band called The New Blues, always incredible musicians, that’s where he developed a lot of his style.


You have traveling all around the Europe. Is there any similarity between the US blues & the European local scenes?
I think in Europe they tend to specialize more than back home.

 

Do you remember anything funny or interesting as a street musician?
Some of the best blues I've played or ever heard was played on the street. I tell a lot about this in my book.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
That some of the men and women, who have spent their lives playing the Blues, living the Blues don't have to die with the Blues.

 

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

Leadbelly.

 

What is the relation between music, poetry and activism?

A good example of music, poetry, and activism is the protest songs of the 60's. Many folk, soul, rock and blues musicians wrote antiwar songs. This had a profound effect in uniting the American people against the Vietnam War. The Union song, worker or work song, sung by farm workers, miners and factory workers all over the world not just in the U.S.A, say's a-lot about the need of poetry art and music.

It's all about empowerment not just financially but spiritually as-well.

Music, art and poetry are the most expressive, influential and powerful tools man/woman possesses. Together with science and religion, make us whole and sets us apart from the other creators on our planet.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Don't get to sidetracked trying to sound like someone else.


From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarity between harp and sax?
The saxophone is not as limiting as the harmonica. But the harmonica is perfect for playing the Blues.


Any final comments?
Thank you and our new CD Root Walking will be released June 19th and made available in the US and Canada by Cityhall Records
Any one wanting harmonica lessons are welcome to drop by our website
Lots of backing tracks and videos everything is free except the two CD releases Still Dream Walking and Root Walking.

OK, I have a question for you and anyone reading this!

What would todays music sound like if slavery never happened?

 


Big Walker Blues Music Productions


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