For Joe Louis Walker A Change HAS Come, In concert this Friday at Cohoes Music Hall
“Sam Cooke can do “Blowin’ in the Wind” (but) Dylan can’t do ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’” Joe Louis Walker
Think about that statement for a moment. Then, think about all the white rockers of the last 70-some years who have co-opted African American music. My dear friend Dennis McNally, The Grateful Dead historian for more than two decades and author of Long Strange Trip, once told me if there were no African American music makers, there would be two American pop songs and both would be boring. Joe Louis Walker who plays the Cohoes Music Hall on Friday is an African American bluesman who is anything but boring.
On his next album Eclectic Electric to be released on Cleopatra Records November 9th he covers Muddy Waters’ “Two Trains Running” along with Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” and “Make No Mistake” by Keith Richards and drummer Steve Jordan who appears on the cut and is currently touring with the Stones. There are four originals including “Gone and Alone” with guest guitarist Jimmy Vivino ripping it up behind lyrics about all Walker’s relatives he’s lost. “I tell my children before I’m gone, stay strong.”
Walker shrugs off the idea that a veteran bluesman like himself doing The Eagles is an anomaly. “The Stones did (Willie Dixon’s) “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” and the Beatles did “You Really Got A Hold on Me and “Roll Over Beethoven.” Musicians have no problem with that. Some of the best songs are remakes. What are the Beatles doing the Everly Brothers for? Because they did it their way!”
Born in San Francisco on Christmas day, 1949, Walker’s been doing it his way practically from the moment he left the womb. One of five children, he left home at 16 and became the roommate to Mike Bloomfield who 40 years after his death is regarded as THE white blues guitarist who pushed the envelope of post-war electric blues as The Paul Butterfield Band’s lead guitarist.
“People think that when I met Mike Bloomfield that’s when I started playing guitar,” says Walker today. “(but) I was already known. Michael came to me and heard me play like I heard him play. I just didn’t play in the bigger places like he did. I played the Fillmore Auditorium before the hippies got there, but I was already known. Michael was around young brothers like me a lot. What was bizarre was I had seen Michael a couple of nights before at the Fillmore Auditorium with the Butterfield band, so he blew my mind.
“Here is the good thing about American music,” Walker explains. “Michael was under the wing of Muddy Waters. There’s pictures of Michael with Sunnyland Slim who loved Michael. Michael was validated by those guys (Sunnyland Slim, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.) I was validated by Michael. It wasn’t lost on Michael when I opened up for Muddy. All those guys, they knew what they were doing. They were accepted by guys like Eric Clapton. but I love to say when all those English guys came over, first Muddy and them thought they were the police. Once they found they weren’t the police, usually those guys like the Stones booked the studios. Good move! You knew everything was gonna be taken care of.”
In the 53 years since Walker moved in with Bloomfield, he’s been nominated 52 times for Blues Music Awards, four times a winner. He’s played with John Lee Hooker, J.J. Malone, Buddy Miles, Otis Rush, Thelonious Monk, The Soul Stirrers, Willie Dixon, Charlie Musselwhite, Steve Miller, Nick Lowe, John Mayall, Earl Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix. He’s recorded countless albums with labels as varied as Polygram, HighTone, Provogue, Evidence Music, JSP, Stony Plain, Verve/Gitanes, and Alligator.
“I’m not Memphis Slim from Mississppi although I went back to Mississippi. My dad’s from there. I’m not from Chicago. I’m a product of a Mexican American neighborhood of the Fillmore District (of San Francisco.) I was there when the hippies came. I was there when the hippies left. I’m not blowing my horn, but I’ve played with everybody from Bobby Weir to Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ramsey Louis to Ronnie Wood to Mississippi Fred McDowel to you fuckin’ name it.
In that time, he’s discovered one thing: “There’s only two kinds of music, good and bad. There’s only two kinds of people, good and bad. And all brothers ain’t brothers.
“I wasn’t born in Mississippi. I was born in San Francisco the youngest of the litter of five, not including my father’s nine other children and mother’s others from her first husband. My daddy sent me back to Mississippi when I was 13. My grandmother would take me back to Little Rock, Arkansas. They were preparing me and giving me an idea of what the world was like. It wasn’t as rough as it was for them because they did leave the (south). Both families did.
“My grandmother and all got to California, and when I got older, my dad made sure that I did go down south. My grandmother made sure that I did go to Little Rock, Arkansas when I was nine years old. That was part of my education. When I did go back and see for myself, I got a handle on why my father, left. My father said it is a good place to be FROM!”
Walker earned a degree in music and English from San Francisco State University. While in school he performed regularly with The Spiritual Corinthians Gospel Quartet. “If you play gospel music coming up through the ranks, you get that instilled in you that you’re singing for a higher power. Your grandmother could be listening to you. She’s in heaven, but you better sing this song, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Bluesman Murali Coryell, familiar to local fans for his many appearances through the auspices of the Northeast Blues Society, will be in Walker’s band for this performance. The son of jazz great Larry Coryell, Murali does one of the best versions of “A Change Is Gonna Come” I’ve ever heard. And he just happens to be white.
“I’ve known Murali for 35 years, maybe longer than that,” says Walker. “I knew Larry before that. I’ve played all over the world with him. I was talking to him before I talked to you.”
Joe Louis Walker may not be as famous as Buddy Guy or Joe Bonamassa, but you owe it yourself to see this guy.
Misty Blue opens the show, Friday (October 8th) at 8 p.m. at the Cohoes Music Hall at 58 Remsen St. in Cohoes.