Blues singer-songwriter-guitarist Joe Louis Walker has used the pandemic downtime to finish a new album and continue honing his craft, while waiting patiently for touring to return to somewhat normal. He does have some limited-capacity live shows coming up, though, including ones at The Falcon Outdoor Stage in Marlboro, N.Y., May 7; and the Sellersville Theatre in Sellersville, Pa., May 8.
He is ecstatic to be performing at these venues but realizes things could change in a minute’s time. Let’s say he’s cautiously optimistic.
His new album is still untitled and is due out toward the end of summer or early fall. Much like he did on 2020’s Blues Comin’ On, Joe employed his Rolodex — oops, I mean contact list — to contribute to its recording.
“Most of the time, it’s people that I know,” he said. “On Blues Comin’ On, I have not only Dion and Eric (Gales), who I’ve known since I was about 15, but I also have Keb’ Mo’; John Sebastian; Carla Cooke, who is Sam Cooke’s daughter, on two of the tracks; David Bromberg; Jorma Kaukonen. Albert Lee is on one song. There’s quite a few friends on that record.
“When I choose people to be on my records, it’s usually someone I know, somebody that I have worked with, somebody that (A&R representative John) Lappen may have recommended, be it a female singer or a different guitar player. He’ll send me two or three things and I’ll listen.”
Regarding the upcoming album, he says: “I’m thinking of calling it Electric Eclectic because it’s pretty eclectic. It’s got different things because people ask, ‘What would you sound like doing this one? I wonder what you’d sound like if you did that song.’ So, I did a few songs that people asked me to do and I have some new original material on there; we’re hoping that people enjoy it. Waddy (Wachtel) is on the record, of course, and I did Waddy’s song, ‘Werewolves of London,’ and I did it really, really funky.
“I have a great young lady named Betty Miller from Harlem and she sang a track with me. She’s on the Wolf record label; she is a great singer. John Lappen listens to all of these up-and-coming artists and I told him I needed a female singer for a song called ‘Lady in Red,’ which was a song that a friend of mine had wrote in the 1960s and we recorded it in 1970. I think it was when I was living in California. I wanted to do it as more of a guitar-driven song with the woman and the man going back and forth. So I Googled her and listened to some of the things that she’s doing and she sounds great. Definitely an up-and-comer.”
Also during the pandemic, he said, “I’ve worked on quite a few other people’s records that were released. I was on Dion’s record (Blues With Friends) and there are some that haven’t been released yet. I was trying to keep busy musically … (and) keep my chops up when there wasn’t that much to do; I’d go downstairs and play a little bit in my basement. I’d play a little guitar, little bit of piano, little harmonica. Music is such an organic thing, which most of the time you do with other people (laughs). That’s the joy of it. I know a lot of musicians who are friends of mine who say they go down and play twice, three times a week, but it’s not the same.”
“What we do is inspirational. You can if you want to, but people will notice immediately if you think you’re gonna just dial it in. This really is give-and-take with the people that you are playing for. A group is like a ball team: You go into a different town and you grab each other and try and lift each other up. Somebody may have a cold that night and maybe they can’t sing their part and you make compensation for it, and that’s the stuff that brings groups together. And to be honest, that’s how you find different things: That’s how you find your sound, in a way. You make a mistake or something is missing and it comes out in what we are doing.
“It’s like if you are a singer: What is it about the voice? The voice is a muscle and if you don’t exercise that muscle and just go out and start singing the way you would normally sing, you’re going to blow your voice out. You’ve got to work your way up. One of the things that I do when I’m at home is try to get down and force myself to sing. Believe me, I know for a fact that everybody who sings for a living, the hardest thing they have to do is to get in and try to sort of make it seem like they are singing in the same type of situation as if they were singing for an audience of people. It is really hard to take that and sing for nobody as if you were singing for 1,000 people. There’s no substitute for that (laughs). … So, you’ve really got to visualize and get in there, depending on what kind of music you’re singing and what your voice is.
“But it’s like when you play guitar, your arm is the muscle … If you’ve not shredded in about a month and a half, you might get a cramp and that could be pretty embarrassing, but it can happen to the best of us. So I can totally relate to getting back up on the horse, but the horse has still been galloping every day and going on, and you ain’t! You have to get used to how you’re gonna gallop and how you’re gonna try and lead the horse. It’s something that you just can’t dial in. It’s physical and mental.”
In addition to the shows he has scheduled for this month, “I’ve got some other gigs in June and some coming up in July,” he said. “But the only thing about gigs in the COVID Era is that if a municipality has an outbreak then everything changes. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s two minutes before the show. If there is something going on, then everything has to adhere to CDC guidelines. A lot of shows have been pushed back three, four, five times because there were outbreaks in different areas. It’s hard to make concrete plans, but as we go on, it seems to be going hopefully in the right direction where we can get some live music back.”
So, what is on the tune menu for the upcoming shows? Any new songs from the next album?
“We’ll probably play a song or two off the new album but we’ll be doing some songs off of my previous albums; I’ve got 30,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll definitely be doing some off of Blues Comin’ On. We like (the title track) and we do a pretty good version of that song, (and) different things that we have been working on. Everybody is just chompin’ at the bit to play and perform for people, so it should be a good night.”
For more information, visit joelouiswalker.com.
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