Joe Louis Walker is one of the few remaining artists that is a true link to the bluesmen of the past and also an advocate for the new generation of blues musicians and vocalists. His new record is called Eclectic Electric and he recently took some time to talk about it.
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On when he recorded the record – Well, some of these tracks were done three, four, or five years ago. The beginning of the tracks, just some of the ideas and some of the stuff. So a track like “Make No Mistake, which was an old X-Pensive Wino’s song, I had talked to the songwriter of that song about recording it in 2013 when we were in Australia, and once I got the okay from Keith (Richards) and Steve Jordan, pretty much, then I started working on that song. I fast-forward to when the pandemic and all that stuff. Actually, that song was supposed to be on Blues Coming On, because that Blues Coming On is the record with a lot of guests, there’s a guest on every track. I make that record specifically to do that. This record has a few of my friends on here, but it wasn’t the gist of this record to have a lot of guests, although that’s the way I turned out. I got friends on and that’s cool. When you have things like that, it’s organic, it’s natural, but to answer your question, some of the songs we had to wait to where we could all be in a studio together, like “Werewolves of London”, “California”, “Dance”, on those songs because I wanted us all to be in the studio together. Mostly all the track people were in the studio together, but when it came to guests, there’s no way that I could have been in the studio with Waddy (Wachtel), there’s no way I could have been in the studio with Baby Doyle (Bramhall, II). We couldn’t even fly at that time. But we did get the music in there and everything, so I say the majority of this record was all of us in a room together, especially me in the band. 1:10
On if he always writes or just for a specific project – Actually, I do both. If there’s an idea in my mind, what I do is real high tech, I’ll get on voicemail and I’ll do a demo. If it sounds pretty good, just me playing guitar on the demo and I can get a feeling of some energy coming off, then I might keep dibbling and dabbling with that idea or keep dibbling and dabbling with my idea of an arrangement of another song and then if it sticks with me, cool, I’m feeling like, “Ok, there’s something here”. But I don’t necessarily have to have a project to write songs, because I have a lot of people that I work with sometimes, and I spend a lot of time at home with the guitar in my hand. Somebody said, “If I’m going to hold a guitar in my hand, why not write a song sometimes”. There’s no rhyme or reason with me. 4:00
On coming up with the unique arrangements on the album’s cover songs – With “Make No Mistake”, I had to flip it around. When I talked to Keith about it, I’ve done four or five of his songs, and he always says the same thing, “Make it your own”. That’s what they did when they covered songs coming up. If you expected a note for note cover of them doing the song, you weren’t gonna get it, and as it should be, you should put yourself into it. So that’s what I did. That’s what I did with all these songs. With “Make No Mistake”, I had to take the chorus, which doesn’t come in until later in the song, I put the chorus at the beginning of the song, just to flip it on its head because it’s a great guitar lick. It ain’t very complicated, but when you put it all together, he puts a lot of thought into his music, I was able to do that. With “Werewolves (of London)” it was a no-brainer. It was just like, “Let’s just make it funky, as funky as we can make it”. The guys came and said, “Man, check this out”. So when they did that I said, “Oh man, I can put my vocal on top of this”, and when we do the background, it would be a different thing. So we were. When I got Waddy to put the loud on it, when Waddy plays guitar we call it “the loud”, I was like, “Oh okay, we got two different things meeting in the middle”. We got the funky stuff that I’m playing on the guitar, the background singers, and the bass, it’s funky. It’s like James, Brown meets Warren Zevon in a way, or the Isley Brothers meet Warren Zevon with the background, and then you put Waddy in there and then you get the loud, you get the slide guitar, you get the rocking. So when mixed together, it’s the same with (Danny) Kortchmar’s song. Kootch was gonna play on the song, but then the pandemic just started, you could even buy a plane ticket and know whether you’re gonna take off or not, so that it just didn’t work, but he’s there in spirit. The outlier was “Hotel California” because I wanted an iconic song. I wanted everybody to just look at it and say, “Oh my God”. I got a connection with that song, I’m from California, I’m from San Francisco. I know a lot of the places he’s talking about. It’s like the average person sees a record that says Joshua Tree, it may mean something else than it means for guys like us from California. We know that number one, it’s one of the greatest national forests in the world, but people do go there and they do all kinds of crazy stuff. So we know, it means something. So I said, “Well, you know what, let’s just leave Hotel California, give it a little bit of a reggae lilt with a whole lot of soul”. It’s known as a guitar extravaganza, I don’t wanna do that. I can’t do that no better than Joe Walsh, I can’t do it. We’ll touch on it a little bit. That’s why I brought Murali (Coryell) in because Murali plays most of that Joe Walsh stuff, I play the legato guitar, bending notes, and stuff, so it’s a foil. Murali’s just a great musician. So I think the big thing when I played for my friends and everybody, everybody said, “Now we can sort of concentrate on the lyrics because we were always waiting for the guitars to come in”. I said, “Well, yeah, because it’s just like a little movie. It’s sort of like a little seedy move. It’s total Southern California seedy kind of stuff. You walk into a hotel, some guys looking at you saying, “You can check-in, but you sure as hell ain’t checking out”. You ain’t checking out the way you checked in. We all been in that hotel, that was the old Chateau Marmont. So that was the gist for the cover songs. 5:32
On his relationship with BB King – BB was just a special person. So much has been said about BB. But far as me personally, he always had a way of popping up in my life when I really needed some support in more ways than one. I was fortunate enough to get to know him very well from the ’80s to the ’90s, to the 2000s. I got a picture in every decade since the ’80s. When I came back to playing blues from gospel, he was kind enough to let me open up for him. He knew me from when I lived with a guy named Mike Bloomfield in the 1960s. He knew me from there because Michael was talking about me, he knew me and he knew about me. He never forgot anything. BB would pull me to the side and work with me, “Joe, make sure your diction is spot on. One thing I like about your music is I can understand every word you say. Work on your diction along with your intonation when you’re singing. Do your best, don’t get discouraged because you’re friends are having big hit records and you’re not”. He says, “When I was playing, you were there for the Filmore Auditorium, and you were there with Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, James Cotton, and all those guys were playing there, and BB King was not playing there”. We all wondered why the king of the blues, one of the kings on the blues isn’t playing. Mike Bloomfield convinced Bill Graham to hire BB there and the rest is history. BB had been playing there years before when it was African-American-owned. I know ’cause I went to junior high school a half a block from there and so I remember the Filmore when it was our community playhouse. We used to have our battle of the bands there and then when the hippies came and Bill Graham game came, things sort of changed and morphed into something else. I was there for that, and that was cool. But BB was always kind to me. I’ll give you one story about BB King that just transcended. I don’t know if you remember the earthquake in 1989, nobody could forget it because it was during the World Series. I was at home in San Francisco then, and it just so happened that the house that I was leasing was leased from the city planner. So this guy was a smart guy, he literally had metal rods going through that whole house, so when the earthquake hit, my place just (shook) once or twice, that was it. So I was in heaven but I’m thinking, “Oh man, my mom’s down there, my sister’s over there, there’s a fire down there and they’ve just taken over the Marina”, all the traffic lights out, so people are scrambling, buildings are leaning over, it was pretty scary. But to make a long story short, the telephone lines weren’t working. The next morning after the earthquake, my phone rings. I know the phones are out, but evidently, some phones at work, I picked up the phone, the operator says, “Mister Walker? This is Australia calling, can you hold for a minute?” “Joe, son, it’s me BB. I want you to call Carlos Santana, go check on so and so. Oh, how you doing?”. I’m like, “You mean to tell me you called me all the way from Australia to see how I’m doing?” He said, “Yeah, but I gotta tell you something, I called a lot of people, you’re one of the few I was able to reach”, and I said, “It’s probably because I’m living in a house that was made by the city planner”. He says, “Well, now you’re my city planner, I want you to get in touch (with everyone)”. So I had to call all these people. But of course, I couldn’t reach them. But that’s the kind of person he is. I’ve been around a lot of people that are known in the business, and when you’ve done interviews, you know when someone is putting on their best behavor, but he was like that with everybody all the time. It really was not lost on me that it could not have been anybody else for him to do what he did, (for example), to do the collaboration with U2, I couldn’t have been Muddy Waters, as much as I love Muddy Waters. It couldn’t have been Howling Wolf. Howling Wolf did a great thing with the Rolling Stones and that was great. I love to tell everybody, as far as I’m concerned, what BB King did for me and all the blues guys like me, Buddy Guy, Kenny Neal, Billy Branch, Christone “Kingfish”, what he did for us (was) he took us from the out house to the pent house. In other words, he did for us with Muhammad Ali, did for African-American boxers. He made it so that we could have some sort of upward mobility. When you hear a BB King song was “The Thrill is Gone”, you can understand every freaking lyric. Even though he was hard time Mississippi, he didn’t talk like that, and you didn’t act like that. That crossed every genre. I’ve been on shows where the band was me and Herbie Hancock, Dwayne Shorter, Bono, Edge, standing right there, all of us were there because of BB. All of us giving credit to him, playing with him, and we all just look at each other and say, “This guy affects every freaking one of us”. It gets emotional when you really start thinking about how many people have done that. Not a whole lot. 10:46
On Mike Bloomfield and English bands- It’s like a quasar. It burned real bright. It wasn’t like Michael got to be a worse musician, in fact, you got to be a better musician, and he got to be a pretty good singer too. But Michael never did buy into the music industry. I think the the best wording for Michael’s philosophy was on a t-shirt that Hunter S. Thompson put out. The t-shirt said this, “The hallways of the music business are lined with thieves, murderers and pimps, and then there’s the downside”. I know for a fact that that was Michael’s experience as he saw it happening to the people that he respected, as he saw it when he would just play not so great and people going mad, people putting a contract for $100,00 and he said “For what? I was just tuning up, I wasn’t even playing”. He just didn’t like the hype. Michael sort of backed away from it, even when he didn’t wanna do it. They got an album called Supersession, he didn’t know it was going to be let out, that’s why he’s not on side B. He went home. When Al Kooper told him and it’s gonna be a real record, he was like, “Hey man, I thought we were just coming in and jamming”. Michael left, it just so happens Stephen Stills was next door, Kooper got him to finish the record. But I’ll be honest, I like Stephen Stills with Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Buffalo Springfield, but I couldn’t tell you anything he played on the second side of the record, I don’t think anybody can. Bloomfield just ate it up on the first side of the record. He was like that. If you want to get an idea of how a great a musician he really was and just how he flew without a net, there’s the first Paul Butterfield blues album, which turned 40 the other day. There’s a son at the end of the first side called “Mellow Down Easy”, where he just flat out takes off. I tell all guitar players, “Don’t try this at home. ’cause you can’t do it”. No pedals, number one, no bum notes because he resolves whatever he’s going to do. That was just a little capsule of what he was gonna do with the next record, East West, where he’s experimenting a big part of the record, and that was the big hit. I just always felt like some people that are new in this business, I just thought they were too good for the business, and that was Michael and Jimi Hendrix. I just hope they were nice guys in the world, of course, they weren’t a little walk in the park, they have to be adamant, because they were the first in what they did, they really were. What came out first, the Blues Breakers record in England, featuring another guitar player or the Butterfield first record. I’m pretty sure the Butterfield first record came, but all those guys, they had mentors in Chicago, Michael’s mentor was Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield’s mentor was Junior Wells editions, Elvin Bishop’s mentor was Little Smokey Smothers, the English guys, most of them learn their blues off of a record. Most of them did until they started coming over, like The Stones came over and they cut 12 X 5, which had their number one biggest hit, the Bobby Womack song “It’s All Over Now”. They cut that a Chess Studios where Muddy Waters is cutting “Manish Boy”, where Bo Diddly cut “I’m a Man”, where Howling Wolf cut the first “Little Red Rooster”. I always said all the English guys I know are really smart. They came over and they weren’t in competition with the Americans, I’ve never heard of English guys say, “Who’s the King of Rock and Roll?”, they don’t get caught up in that. It’s a rabbit hole. They came over to say, “Hey, we just love the music and we want to be a part of it”. That goes for the Beatles down to anybody you know. So when they come over, a lot of the blues guys like that because like Muddy said, “It took my boys from England to show the American people who I am”, because we all know that The Stones brought blues back to the United States. We all know that the Beatles brough Chuck Berry back. It wasn’t the Beach Boys, it was the Beatles and the Stones, and Gerry & the Pacemakers doing “Maybeline” and on and on. That was the right of passage for those guys. They didn’t get caught up in who was the King of Rock and Roll, they didn’t get caught up in any of the racial stuff, most of them, they don’t get it caught up, any of that because the music spoke to them because they didn’t have a silver spoon. I don’t think any of those guys were rich, I don’t think any of those guys had the best equipment. They were just happy to be over, come over and drink at the fountain, so to speak. 18:49
On playing with up-and-coming blues musicians – I’m glad that a lot of people who are a little bit younger than myself, that they can feel that essence of the blues. They can express their self in it. What they don’t have to do, you don’t have to try to play exactly like someone else. You don’t have to fit into that one, four, five progression all the time, you can stretch it out, you can put a little bit of jazz in it, a little funk in it, a little reggae, you can do things with it because that’s what all the great guys did anyway in the genre. So I’m proud people like Christone and Vanessa Collier, and Murali Coryell and Eliza Neals, and all those young people that I know really stretch it out a little bit. They’ve lived through the music business just morphing 360 degrees, the Somalian pirates might as well run the music business now. It makes Hunter S. Thompson’s saying look like church on Sunday. You better do this because you love it, and all those young people love it, and I think more power to them. If I could ever help I’m usually there. 25:42