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Joe Louis Walker at the Magic Bag, 5 Things To Know
By dint of attrition, Joe Louis Walker has found himself one of the elder statesmen of the blues.
The 67-year-old guitar, singer and songwriter certainly has the credentials to back it up. Born and raised in San Francisco, he started playing at the age of eight and became an active part of the city's thriving blues scene as a teen. He even lived with the late Mike Bloomfield for a time. He began releasing albums with his band the Bosstalkers during the mid-80s and has continued ever since; his latest, "Everybody Wants a Piece," dropped during 2015 -- and is nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album -- and another is on the way.
Along the way Walker also shared Grammy Awards with B.B. King for his "Blues Summit" album and James Cotton for his "Deep In the Blues" album, and he helped present King with his Kennedy Center Honor. He's won several Blues Music Awards, and in 2013 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Although he's younger than others who enjoy the status, Walker says he's happy to be considered a blues elder statesman at this juncture of his career. "Y'know if you look at all the people I'm against (for the Grammy), I've been making records the longest out of all of them," he says by phone from his current home in upstate New York. "I'm not blowing my horn, but when you look at it, there's been so much stuff I've done that it's formidable, to be quite honest. You look at it on paper and, 'Jesus Christ, this guy has been everywhere!" I've made records with Branford Marsalis, Peter Green, James Lockwood. It's like, "Damn, where wasn't this guy?!'" That's been my motto; I want to be everywhere Louis Armstrong went. I want to do everything B.B. King and Buddy Guy did."
After sharing in other artists' Grammy-winning projects Walker is not surprisingly stoked to be nominated himself for "Everybody Wants a Piece." "It's unexpected," he says. "I never expect to win awards; When I do win them I'm sort of surprised -- like the Blues Music Awards, when I won for Contemporary Artist (in 2016) I really wasn't expecting it. And i sure wasn't expecting the Grammy nod -- although, to be honest, I think I was nominated for a career and not just one record. It just shows you keep your nose to the grindstone and stuff happens. That's what makes it gratifying. So it should be exciting."
Walker is no stranger to awards of course -- particularly the Blues Music Awards, where he ranks as the most-nominated artist of all time. "That's a double-edged sword," he notes. "People say, 'You've been nominated so many times, how come you've only won five times?!'" (laughs)
Walker is "about seven, eight tracks" into his next album and suspects he'll have another 10 by the time he's ready to hit the studio in earnest. "I like to let the music take me in a direction instead of me going in the direction and writing music for it," he says. "Some of what I've got now is more soul-driven, vocal driven. The guys who play with me all sing and do background (vocals) and stuff, so it lends itself to that. And we all come out of the gospel world, so that's part of it, too. We'll just cut more tracks and see which direction it takes."
Walker says that, like his forebears, he plans on staying active and producing new music for many more years to come. "I'm a restless spirit when it comes to music," he explains. "I play all kinds of stuff. I'm known for the blues; I could say blues is my mother tongue, so to speak. But if you look at the people I've recorded with and been associated with, it runs across the canvas of musical genres. I've played with everybody from Herbie Hancock to Dr. John and Johnnie Johnson. I feel like if there's one thing I've done it's expand. Willie Dixon once told me, 'I found your style, Joe. It's all over the place -- that's your style. Just do what you do." I always took that to heart."
The 23rd Annual Anti-Freeze Blues Festival
Friday and Saturday, Jan. 6-7. Doors open at 8 p.m.
Lurrie Bell, Jonny Rhoades and Jeff Grand & the Grandmasters on Friday; Joe Luuis Walker, Jim McCarty & Mystery Train, Tosha Owens and Brett Lucas on Saturday.
The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.
Tickets are $25 each show. Some proceeds go to the Detroit Blues Society.
Call 248-544-3030 or visit themagicbag.com.
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