Joe Louis Walker (#712)

An innovative guitar player circles back to his blues roots after a decades-long musical odyssey.

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Joe Louis Walker was born in San Francisco on Christmas Day 1949 and raised in a house filled with blues music. “My father and mother were really into the blues,” he recalls. “They pretty much raised me in that music. That’s all I heard.”

After picking up his first guitar at age 12 and playing music with his cousins for a few years, Walker started playing professionally at 16. And he wasn’t playing with just anybody—Walker started out with such luminaries as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Fred McDowell, and Earl Hooker.

Later, living in San Francisco with Michael Bloomfield led to opportunities to jam with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Electric Flag. Eventually, Bloomfield turned Walker on to the Chicago scene, where he soaked up Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush.

In 1975, Walker switched gears and became a member of the gospel group the Spiritual Corinthians, in which he played guitar, wrote songs, and toured for the next 10 years before returning to the blues. He signed with HighTone Records in 1986 and released five acclaimed albums over the next six years. For his efforts, he was awarded W.C. Handy Awards in 1988, ’89, and ’90 as Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year. He later moved to the Verve label and released five more recordings.

Walker and his Boss Talkers brought their Bay Area blues to the 2001 W.C. Handy Blues Festival in Henderson, KY, where this Jubilee performance was recorded.