As one of the leading lights of the contemporary blues scene, Joe Louis Walker returns to Australia to tour on the back of the release of his latest album Hornet’s Nest. Containing twelve new songs – including nine originals – Hornet’s Nest shows JLW’s musical versatility as he steps through a range of styles including rock, blues, gospel and soul. And of course his inventive guitar chops are always on display.
JLW has a long musical pedigree. He grew up in San Francisco, where as a teenager he was a roommate of the late, great legend of the blues guitar, Mike Bloomfield. He was influenced by legendary figures like Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, while his CV has seen him playing and recording with legends of the blues scene including John Lee Hooker, BB King and Muddy Waters.
His first album Cold is the Night, was released in 1986 and since that time he has developed an eclectic style that incorporates elements from the blues, soul, gospel and rock. He is also well known to fans of blues guitar for his inventive and blistering guitar stylings. In 2013, his services to the blues were recognised when he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
This legend of the blues sat down with us and talked about the influences on his music and his latest album.
Your latest album Hornet’s Nest was released in February this year: how would you describe the album and what influences were at play when you were writing and recording it?
I’d describe the record as Joe Louis Walker music, that is influenced by so much great music that’s had a lifelong impact on me. When it was being written, the main thing we wanted the CD to convey was fun.
What were you trying to achieve with this album?
With this CD, I really want to reach out to younger listeners. A lot of folks think blues is always depressing. I wanted younger people to hear it and say they have fun listening to Blues music.
How do you think your sound has changed from your debut album Cold is the Night?
I feel my music has evolved and grown. I hope that I never become so comfortable that I stop pushing myself
Hornet’s Nest has a fairly eclectic feel that seems to cross a number of genres – is the blues as a genre still relevant today?
I feel the Blues will always be relevant because it speaks to the craziness of life and death, and everything in between. And it does it through music and lyrics.
What is your signature sound and what do you try to achieve from each performance?
My signature sound is all over the place. I try to connect with the audience and get everyone to have a good time.
You have collaborated with a number of important musicians over the years including BB King, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Branford Marsalis and Steve Cropper. How have these musicians shaped your sound? I’m fortunate to have performed with some innovative artists. They’ve all taught me to be open to musical surprises . And do this, because you love this.
Many of the great guitarists have a special name for their instrument – BB King had Lucille, Albert King had Lucy, Eric Clapton with Blackie and Stevie Ray Vaughn had Lenny. With the guitar you’re bringing to Australia, does it have a special name, and is there a back story?
This guitar is called the Joe Louis Walker Hellfire guitar, made by Jimi Cara.
You were last in Australia in 2011 so what are you most looking forward to on this trip? What can your audiences expect on the night?
I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, new friends. The shows will draw music from my 25 CDs with old and new music. And I must say it’s always a gas to see some of the Australian country. What a beautiful country.