With a career that spans over half a century, a lot of artists would slow down.

Joe Louis Walker is not other artists. He is Joe Louis Walker. The San Francisco-native was a member of the musician union at age 14. By 16, Walker was a well-known guitarist/blues musician around the Bay Area.

Since then, Walker has kept busy. He has played with such Blues dignitaries as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix.

And he has spent a lot of those years on the road. Consider Walker’s schedule over the last 60 days alone.

“I think in the last 45 days, we went to Beijing, China. Came home for a day, then went to Brazil. Came home for a day from the Brazilian tour, then they said that you have to come back to Brazil because they want you to play on one show. Went back to Brazil, came back for two days. Went to Poland, came back from Poland and was at home for three days. Then toured various parts of Canada, meanwhile playing shows in New York City and Wilmington, Delaware,” Walker said.

“We are back on the horse again either the day after tomorrow or tomorrow, depending whatever today is.”

Walker will play Club Cafe on August 17 in support of his Grammy-nominated “Everybody Wants A Piece.”

The Swerve Magazine spoke over the phone with Walker last week, what started out as a simple question-and-answer, quickly evolved into a rumination on the power of the spoken word and music.


The Swerve Magazine: How do you keep all the touring, dates and shows straight. As many as you’ve played in the last two months, that has to be, wow, just, wow.

Joe Louis Walker: I think you have to have a little bit of gypsy in you to do this. If you are going to do it and not have it become this gigantic albatross around your neck, you have to find a way with your down time, something positive to do. You have to find a way to eat right and to take care of your health. You have to find a way to have the energy.

People don’t know that you have been flying, two or three flights, just to get to somewhere and it has taken eight hours. You may, then, have an hour or two to take a nap or eat or shower and shave. Then go and do a show that makes it seem like you have been gearing up all year just to do that one show. You have to have a constitution to do this, but you also have to have a little bit of gypsy in you to not be so pining for being home or be worried about what is going on there.

You have to be in the moment, to me that is the trick of a true musician. You have to go and play for those amount of people and have the people feel that you have been gearing up for them. I think that the music is the thing that gives you the strength and the power to do it. It gives you the fortification to be able to give your all, so people feel like it is a special thing. I think that it is the music that transforms everybody.

SM: So you’ve been out touring over the last year in support of your latest release “Everybody Wants A Piece?”

JLW: Some of it has been the latest record, it had some serious legs to it. It really helped that we were fortunate enough to be nominated for a Grammy.

I have been involved in several other projects that are sort of high profile. One of them is the Blues Brothers new record (“The Last Shade of Blue Before Black” will be released on 10/6/2017). Then, there is my friend Walter Trout’s record, which I’m fortunate that he included me on (“We’re All in This Together” due out August 25). I’ve been involved in a lot of different projects. I’ve had different things going in multiple directions (laughs).

SM: That is busy and then to get that Grammy nomination, how did it feel to finally get some solo recognition from the academy?

JLW: It was nice to be recognized in my own name. I’ve been involved with several projects that have won Grammys. I was involved with B.B. King and “Blues Summit,” We won a Grammy on that one (Best Traditional Blues Album, 1994). One with James Cotton, God rest his soul, God rest both of their souls, called “Deep in the Blues,” we won the Grammy on that one too (Best Traditional Blues Album, 1996).

This was the first one under my own name. It is very rewarding.

SM: Living such a hectic schedule, do you have scheduled down time to rest or do you prefer to be on the road a lot?

JLW: It is like now, I played the day before yesterday. I came back and had a few days of not traveling. We are just taking care of little business things.

We just will jump back on the horse (to play the Heritage Music BluesFest in Wheeling, West Virginia). We leave a day early when you are flying in. With the state of the airlines, you never know if something is going to be canceled or if you miss a flight. Then you are scrambling in that maze of what they call the airlines. You have to be prepared for these things.

It is sometimes a practically unknown. You leave the house, and you hope that you get from point A to point B without having to go from point A to point G to point B.

SM: Speaking of getting from points A to B and the unknown, you have followed your own path.

JLW: I graduated from college when I was 35. I went back to school. I had already been a known musician. I went back to school to continue my education, I should say, in music and I have a degree in English. I had unfinished business in that context. I had already had success as a musician, maybe not the huge success.

I joined the musician union when I was 14-years old, that was 1964. When I graduated from college, it was 1985. I stopped playing secular music and was playing gospel for ten years. It was a culmination of me going back and trying to complete some things that I started earlier and got sidetracked by life. I tried to complete some personal goals that I had.

SM: You wrapped up college in 1985.

JLW: Yes, I got my degree in 1985.

SM: You also returned to playing the blues in that same year at the New Orleans Blues?

JLW: The basic thing was I was playing music for ten years, it just wasn't blues. It was all gospel music.

SM: Walking that question back a bit then, what turned you to the gospel music for ten years?

JLW: I had been performing in a lot of groups and making a living playing music. It seemed that a lot of my friends had become successful or well known. Everything that comes with success, the one thing that tests everybody is the excess.

You take a guy who was in the NBA, who a year ago was wearing his big brother’s hand-me-down sneakers and now he is making $20 million. It is great that he’s in the NBA, but that $20 million is a double-edged sword. What happens when you get big money like that, and this happened to a lot of my friends, is the excess that comes along with it. When people are your friends that weren’t really your friends before. You don’t know who your friends are. Instead of buying one car, you buy four. Instead of getting one house, you get two. Everything becomes hard to quantify. What do you really need? You don't really need that much because you have lived on that before. When you get into the excess, I grew up in the counter-culture time of “tune in and drop out,” free love, free sex, free rock and roll and all the things that came with it; the drugs and the people that were into it for other reasons.

I saw a lot of my friends dropping off, so I just choose to play gospel music for ten years, and that is what I did. When I’m a restless soul musically, and I could get back into the music scene and do it the way that I wanted to do it and make my own mark, that is when I choose to do it.

It is best to do it when you want to do it as opposed to a lot of my friends signing these long contracts that were lucrative, but they found out that the managers own the name, they didn’t own their publishing.

I have friends in groups like War, Moby Grape, Big Brother and the Holding Company, my ex-roommate Mike Bloomfield, and on and on, where the music business just literally chewed up people. The next thing you know you are deep in debt, and it turns out that the thing you loved is now the thing that you hate.

It is sad, and I’ve seen it so many times.

SM: It is easy to see why you would take a step aside.

JLW: I never considered myself one type of a musician. I consider myself an all-around musician. I’ve played gospel, soul, jazz, and blues. But just blues is my mother tone. I figured what I would do is take some of the positivity playing the gospel, the purpose that gospels have, its uplifting messages and put that into my take on my music.

If you listen to my records, you hear a lot of signing. I’ve had gospel groups on records, probably 50-percent of my records. It is just not my gospel group The Corinthians; I have everybody from The Gospel Hummingbirds to The Jordanaires, who sang with Elvis Presley. I think I did three or four songs with them over the last 10-12 years. I try to take the inspirational, uplifting thing of hope and interject, at times, in my music.

I like instrumentation. The guitar is the instrument that fuels popular music nowadays. I love hearing someone like a Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt, George Benson, Kenny Burrell or any number of great guitar players. But I like the strength of the spoken word. It is what gives people a solace in the trying times. A bullet can kill one or two people, but the spoken word lives forever. It is so inspirational.


I’m not one of those guys that want to play a song and do two verses. “My baby left/My baby left me.” Then the next verse is “My baby is coming back/My baby is coming back.” With 22 verses of a guitar solo and the last verse is “I miss my baby/I’m glad my baby is back/See you later, baby.” That is just not me. I don’t denigrate anyone that can do it and make a living off of it. But I think for me, I grew up in a generation where I listened to everyone from Curtis Mayfield when he was singing, “People Get Ready” or “If There is a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go.” I grew up with Sly Stone doing, “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” or John Lennon saying that “Woman is the ’N’ of the World.” I grew up with them showing that dichotomy in the song of things that we are trying to change. Or John singing “Give Peace a Chance,” Peter Seeger singing along with Martin Luther King “We Shall Overcome,” Jesse Colin Young (The Youngbloods) singing “Get Together," that is what I grew up on. There wasn’t a 90-minute guitar solo. There was, maybe, a guitar thing, but it was about the power of the word.

SM: And that is, and I don’t want to say a dying art form in this day and age, but the power of the word is lost on a lot of people. The spoken word can be a powerful tool.

JLW: Let’s face it, the most powerful music is the kind that uplifts. The most powerful music is the kind that can transform. The most powerful music is the kind that takes the action and puts it into words and words into action.

I think it is no mistake that every social change always had music with it. I don't care if it was the Revolutionary War or up to the Civil Rights Movement or Women’s Movement. The Staple Singers singing Martin Luther King’s favorite song, “Why Am I Treated So Bad.” Anything Bob Dylan did. Especially Peter, Paul, and Mary. People forget that Peter, Paul, and Mary were instrumental. The free concerts that we did in San Francisco. The jam bands that everybody started. You have all this convergence of music and social change. It wasn’t a bad thing. It never amazes me now that when an artist speaks up about change in the world today, they have people telling artists, “You are just getting paid to sing a song and make us happy.”

No. Art is something to make you think. It is just not there to say “What I Like About You.” It is cool. I like “What I Like About You,” but also, on the other side of that coin, there are transformation things like, “All You Need Is Love,” maybe just in a song isn’t much, but look who sang the song. John Lennon started somewhere else and ended somewhere else. If you look at that trajectory, it is life-changing. It changed his life. It changed a lot of other people’s lives. When he left here, he left a legacy of activism. Activism in a loving way. When you consider where he came from, it is Shakespearean. It really is. You think of all the people that he affected. You could draw a line from him to Stevie Wonder doing “We Can Work It Out.” Stevie Wonder worked tirelessly for a holiday for Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King is not an African-American hero. He is an American hero.

SM: Thank you for bringing that idea up as that seems to be the prevailing trend today. “Well, you are just an artist/actor do what you’re paid to do and keep your mouth shut otherwise.” That is not the way it has ever been. Art is supposed to reflect society.

JLW: Exactly, exactly.

SM: I fear that people are afraid to speak up now.

JLW: Exactly. Here is the thing, say in the early to mid-60s, when you had the younger guys coming from England and recycling American music. It is like my friend Eric Burden (of The Animals) said, they just recycled American music that Americans just threw in the trash bin. That is to say that 60-70 percent of Americans were listening to “How Much is That Doggy in the Window.” They were not listening to Muddy Waters singing “I’m a Man.” There is a reason he was singing “I’m a Man,” because he was treated less than a man. Everybody thinks it was about being virile and getting all the women. That is just part of it.

You have the young English guys coming over recycling American music, and you had people from my area, basically young hippies, people not wanting to be saddled with the mores of the past. You would go to jail if you got an abortion. Any number of things, interracial couples, being gay, having long hair. People take long hair for a given now. If you had long hair in the 60s, you would get spit on. Just ask The Rolling Stones, they will tell you. They were called everything, but a child of God. Or The Beatles. It made younger people feel like what it was like to be a minority or to be ‘the other.’ We wanted to change, along with that you take the anti-war, women’s, civil rights, gay movements, all those things were infused by music.

“The music should bring us together. It has been its role since it got here. Music knows no color. It knows no sexual preference. It knows no nationality.

It just goes from soul to soul.”


Now you have, basically, a situation where we are fighting the same battles now. You have spontaneous situations where people are rising up saying, “No, no, this can’t be right. There has got to be an alternative.” Do you want to tell me you believe that you can have a surgical nuclear strike? Isn’t that what No Nukes was for? Isn’t that what ramping down everyone from Reagan to Obama, weren’t we denuclearizing?

So, now we got somebody that thinks Japan should have nuclear weapons. It isn’t just like you can drop a nuclear bomb, and nothing is going to happen. There are consequences. There are environmental and climate consequences. We are trying to keep our world together as opposed to ripping it apart.

No matter if it is someone who feels they were wronged a century ago or someone that feels that they have to flex their muscles now. We have learned over and over again that you can clench a fist. Put your hand into a fist. Clench it. So how long you can hold your hand in a fist without getting a cramp. Now, if you open up the fist, what do you have? You have the handshake. You can hold that forever because it is an open hand. And when someone grabs your open hand, you got a handshake. What happens when you got two fists clenched? Eventually, somebody is going to hit somebody.


The people that like to hit other people, they are not boxers. Boxers don't go out and fight on the weekend. Soldiers don’t want to go to war. They know what it is about. It is only people that haven’t gone to war, who send other people’s children to war who figure that is an end to a means. It isn’t. The music speaks to that. It is hard to put negativity into music.

How many songs have we heard where it is, “Hey, I’m going to war. I’m going to kill some people this morning. Ohhh, I’m going to kill. I got a brand new gun. I’m going to throw some napalm at some children.” Who sings that? I haven’t even heard a Ted Nugget song about that. I haven’t heard a Kid Rock song about him going to war. And if they do, I would be the first one to pay their way to go to North Korea and fight.

SM: I totally agree. I agree.

JLW: The music should bring us together. It has been its role since it got here. Music knows no color. It knows no sexual preference. It knows no nationality. It just goes from soul to soul.