Q&A with soulful blues phenom Joe Louis Walker - true powerhouse guitar virtuoso, unique singer, and prolific songwriter

"I miss the older blues guys company. I hope live music is still being played. I fear live music won't be played!"

Joe Louis Walker: Blues DNA & Culture

Walker's output spans the gamut of American Roots music, and he is regarded as one of his generation's greatest bluesmen. On February 17th (2023), Forty Below Records will release Weight of the World, the new album by award-winning Blues and Roots musician Joe Louis Walker. A Blues Hall of Fame inductee and six-time Blues Music Award winner, NPR described Walker as "a legendary boundary-pushing icon of modern blues." His 2015 release, Everyone Wants a Piece, was nominated for the Contemporary Blues Grammy. In addition, Walker dueted with B.B. King on his Grammy Award-winning Blues Summit album and played guitar on James Cotton's Grammy-winning album Deep in the Blues. Recorded with Producer Eric Corne (John Mayall, Walter Trout, Sugaray Rayford), Weight of the World showcases the depth of Walker's influences and the prowess with which he commands different genres; be it Soul, "The Weight of the World," "Is it a Matter of Time," "Don't Walk Out That Door," Gospel, "Hello, it's the Blues," Funk, "Count Your Chickens," New Orleans 2nd line, "Waking Up the Dead," Indie Blues "Root Down," Rock N Roll, "Blue Mirror," Contemporary Blues, "Bed of Roses," or Jazz, "You Got Me Whipped."   

(Joe Louis Walker, 2022 / Photo © by Mickey Deneher)

It's a compelling album that displays a master at the height of his game. They say Roots musicians age like fine wine, which certainly rings true with Walker. Weight of the World is a resounding statement and quite possibly the beginning of the most remarkable chapter of a storied career. Recorded just outside of Woodstock, NY, with musicians Scott Milici (Keys), John Medeiros Jr. (Drums), Geoff Murfitt (Bass), Eddie Jackson (Bongos), Marc Pender (Trumpet), David Ralicke (Saxophone), Eric Gorfain (Violins), Gia Ciambotti (Background Vocals) and Producer Eric Corne (Background Vocals, Guitar), who also engineered and mixed the album. Walker and Corne split writing duties on the album. Walker has recorded with Ike Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, and Steve Cropper, opened for Muddy Waters and Thelonious Monk, hung out with Jimi Hendrix, Freddie King, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and was a close friend and roommate of Mike Bloomfield. A myriad of organizations have recognized Joe for his achievements.

Interview by Michael Limnios      Special Thanks: Pati deVries / Devious Planet

How has the Blues influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Blues music in today’s age, mean many things to many people. But to me, it’s simply, my heritage and my culture.

How do you describe your songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

I leave to other people to try to deserve my music. For me it’s basically my musical DNA.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?

I feel I'm more adventurous musically. So, I'll collaborate with folks from almost any genre, as long as the music is sincere. And I believe I've kept, and always will, the feeling of the Blues in everything I do.

You've one release with 40 Below Records and Eric Carne. How did that relationship come about?

Eric Corne talked to me about music, and we connected through conversations and ideas. That progressed to our collaboration.

"I don't know, but I believe some artists have made a very good living playing Blues and become household names. Technique is more about reading what's on a paper; I feel soul is creating what's NOT on the paper." (Blues Hall of Fame inductee Joe Louis Walker / Photo © by Mickey Deneher)

Do you have any stories about the making of the "Weight of the World" album? How do you want your songs to affect people?

Yeah, it was an excellent idea of Eric (Corne) that all the songs be original; he wrote some (that I don't believe were recorded before) songs and o wrote some songs that were never released or performed before. And the band made those songs come to life. So, I would like listeners to think maybe when they hear some of these songs.

How do you describe new album "Weight of the World" (Release Date: February 17th, 2023)) songbook? 

The title track is a metaphor for the times we live in. Out here at the edge of the world / It's starting to curl / We've upset the big shareholder. Another standout track, "Hello, it's the Blues," portrays a virtual conversation between the Blues in the form of a guardian angel and the listener, I've been here all the time, in your heart and in your mind.

Why was the Blues never a part of the pop/popular music? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I don't know, but I believe some artists have made a very good living playing Blues and become household names. Technique is more about reading what's on a paper; I feel soul is creating what's NOT on the paper.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

Different things mean different things to different people. I play what's in my heart, soul, and mind. And I let the rest take care of itself.

How do you describe previous album "Blues Comin' On" sound and songbook? Are there any memories from studio which you’d like to share?

I describe BLUES COMIN ON ‘sound ... as a collaborative grouping of musicians & songs where everyone involved contributed to make a collective musical joint statement of positivity, as well as diversity ... a musical collaborative journey. The songbook touches many subjects , beginning with Gabe Jagger’ initial lyrics on “Feed The Poor”, a song hoping to bring light to help I the hungry & homeless ... all the way to songs like “ Uptown in Harlem”, celebrating the vibrant African American community.

"As with any job,… working steady & keep up with things, such as technological advances (Facebook, iTunes streaming, etc. etc.) is a challenge. I believe my music is simply a conversation between myself & the listener. Everybody hears, feels music different, so I just try to connect and hopefully tap into what and how they feel, to let them know that I might be feeling the same way, and maybe we can get through an issue together." (Joe Louis Walker on stage, Beacon - New York 2019 / Photo © by Mickey Deneher)

Why do you think that the JLW Blues (and music) continues to generate such a devoted following?

Fortunately, this being my 27th CD has allowed me to have long relationships with music listeners. And most who’ve been aware of my career know that any record I make. will be a bit different from the last record & hopefully musically adventurous!

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

The moment that changed my life when my mother bought me a guitar years ago. Some highlights have been doing two duets with B.B KING and winning the Grammy for one. The other highlight was talking with R.H. HARRIS of the Soul Stirrers years ago when I was in the Spiritual Corinthians.

What touched (emotionally) you from the Gospel Music, with The Spiritual Corinthians?

The gospel group was a good experience because they ‘d teach you how to arrange the music, they would teach you about singing and harmony singing. The experience of touring with the gospel group was great because you were around your friends. It was a positive experience.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would try to form a real musicians Union to help working musicians in times like these.

What has made you laugh from the late great bluesmen John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters?

John Lee Hooker’s witty sense of humor would make me laugh & think. Muddy Waters made ALL musicians proud to follow in his footsteps, because of the dignified way he comported himself. It was always good to be around the older of blues musicians because they would always give you some good advice and they would also come near you when you played and they would tell you: “You might wanna try this” or “you might wanna try that”. You would go and see them and of course you would get much more experience because they ‘ve been playing blues and music for so long and touring for so long and recording for so long, that they had the experience that I was trying to acquire myself.

"The moment that changed my life when my mother bought me a guitar years ago. Some highlights have been doing two duets with BB KING and winning the Grammy for one. The other highlight was talking with R.H. HARRIS of the Soul Stirrers years ago when I was in the Spiritual Corinthians." (Joe Louis Walker & John Lee Hooker in Hooker's bar Boom Boom Room in San Francisco / Photo © by Liz Hafalia)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experiences with the old blues cats?

Listen, listen listen... ask questions, take care of your business.

What is the hardest part to be a Blues musician today's? How do you want your music and songs to affect people?

As with any job,… working steady & keep up with things, such as technological advances (Facebook, iTunes streaming, etc. etc.) is a challenge. I believe my music is simply a conversation between myself & the listener. Everybody hears, feels music different, so I just try to connect and hopefully tap into what and how they feel, to let them know that I might be feeling the same way, and maybe we can get through an issue together.

Are there any memories from Viva Las Vegas (Live) which you’d like to share with us?

Yes, I remember a lot of people being very excited to be part of the experience.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your nearly six decades career?

If you don’t know something..., as somebody that does. Don’t be afraid to take chances.

What is the hardest part making a world tour?

The hardest part of touring is that sometimes it’s very hard to eat the way one eats at home. Especially if one is a vegetarian.

Are there any memories from Mike Bloomfield which you’d like to share with us?

He was one of the most talented people I know. Very talented. He could play blues, country western music, ragtime music, he could play the piano, he could play the slide guitar, he could do many-many things. He was very kind to me, very helpful with my career and very helpful in teaching me different styles of guitar playing and different tuning of guitar. He introduced me to all of people that he had known in Chicago. So, Michael Bloomfield was very instrumental in my education and he just had been very helpful to me as like an older brother. He was very helpful to be part of my education and living situation when I was young.

"Blues music in today’s age, mean many things to many people. But to me, it’s simply, my heritage and my culture. Blues means credibility." (Photo: Joe Louis Walker, spans the gamut of American Roots music, and he is regarded as one of his generation's greatest bluesmen, London UK c.1980s)

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

For me, Blues is my perpetual state of being.

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

Blues is a healer like John Lee Hooker said. Blues means credibility.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?

Not one meeting, but many! Make your music inclusive!

Are there any memories from 'Everybody Wants a Piece' (2015) your previous studio album which you’d like to share with us?

Having the dog bark on 35 years old…

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the older blues guys company. I hope live music is still being played. I fear live music won't be played!

How emotional was it for you to do a recording with the late great bluesman BB King in his “Blues Summit” album?

It was wonderful. BB King came to where I lived, when I lived in the Bay Area, in San Francisco, in Berkeley, Ca. BB King came there and he recorded “Everybody’s Had the Blues” with my band. But when I went to Memphis he had me do the live DVD at his club and we did “T-Bone Shuffle” and I did it with his band. I played a lot with BB and it was really a lot of honor.

What were the reasons that made San Francisco in the 1960s to be the center of Psychedelic Folk/Blues/Rock researches and experiments?

Adventurous young people. A lot of people were open to experimenting with new things, new lifestyles, new styles of music. They were trying to be healthy, to be better. The young people were trying to make life better for everybody. So, it was a very idealistic and good time for a while. Afterwards, a lot of people started growing up and things changed. The times changed.

"I leave to other people to try to deserve my music. For me it’s basically my musical DNA." (Blues Music Award winner Joe Louis Walker, 2022 / Photo © by Mickey Deneher)

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the late great bluesman Lightning Hopkins?

Lightnin Hopkins mystery…

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I think it made people more tolerant!!!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Africa 200 BC, so I wouldn’t have to deal with technology.

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