Joe Louis Walker first got his hands on a guitar at age 8, and he hasn't stopped playing since. The internationally acclaimed bluesman, who was well renowned for his playing skills by his teenage years, has done much during his 50 years in the music business.
He's released more than 50 albums of his own material, appeared on hundreds more with other musicians, traveled the world, and performed alongside such legends as Thelonious Monk, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. On Wednesday, Walker's travels bring him to the Rhythm Room on his current tour in support of his latest CD, Hornet's Nest.
The Valley is definitely one of his favorite places to perform.
"I've been playing Phoenix for 25-30 years and I love the crowds here," Walker says.
The 64-year-old blues guitarist will likely perform many of the songs off the 12-track album, which was produced by renowned Americana/rock multi-instrumentalist Tom Hambridge, who's also known for producing record for the likes of George Thorogood, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top.
That's fine with Walker because he digs many genres of music -- including dipping into jazz, psychedelic rock, British rock and gospel -- but sticks mostly with the blues because "that's my mother tongue."
According to Walker, the reason he tapped Hambridge to produce the CD is because he's fearless in the studio.
"Tom is willing to try new things," Walker says. "He's willing to speed up or slow down the music to see what happens."
Walker's been trying out many different things during his 50-year career, which dates back to the early '60s. While growing up in the Fillmore District in San Francisco, music was all around him and at 12, he joined his cousin's band. By age 16, Walker was a well-known performer and guitarist in the Bay Area.
In the late 1960s, he took a time out from the blues as he went on to earn a degree in music and English from San Francisco State University. During this time, he was performing with The Spiritual Corinthians Gospel Quartet. He has performed many times at the world's music festivals. He recently returned from Switzerland and Scotland. On April 30, Joe Louis Walker will be in Japan to be followed up by performances in Germany.
Last year, Walker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and nominated for four categories for the Blues Music Awards.
One of Walker's favorite blues stories is that he used to open for the legendary Mississippi Fred McDowell. Between sets, the late bluesman gave him the cryptic advice to play your best because of the "crickets" that are out there.
After two weeks, he asked somebody what McDowell meant. Turns out the blues legend meant to say "critics." After several years in the business, Walker jokes they could be synonymous.
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These days, Walker is performing, recording, and touring with the likes of Reese Wynans on piano and organ, Rob McNelley on guitar and Tommy MacDonald on bass. All three musicians contributed to Hornet's Nest. Wynans also played with the Steve Ray Vaughan band until the late guitar legend's death, while McNelley played with Bob Seeger and MacDonald performed alongside Buddy Guy and Mick Jagger.
The Muscle Shoals Horn Section also added a jazzy sound to the CD, and Walker also worked with the ensemble on a previous CD entitled Preacher and the President.
"All of them are great and it's always uplifting to work with great musicians because you know the goal is always to make the best record you can make," Walker says. "Music is like a baseball game. Sometimes you'll fall flat, but if you give 100 percent all the time the fans will know. As long as you play your best, people can't criticize your effort because they know your sincere."
Joe Louis Walker is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, April 2, at Rhythm Room.