Blue Notes

Rockin' Bluesman Joe Louis Walker Ignites Hellfire

While many young'uns spent their years 'twixt 12 and 20 just listening to music and attending concerts, Joe Louis Walker was a bit more proactive. At age 16, he became the house guitarist for the legendary San Francisco rock club The Matrix, he played with or opened shows for everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Lightnin' Hopkins to Thelonious Monk and Freddie King. He also became close friends with blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield.

Later, after a decade spent performing nothing but gospel music with the Spiritual Corinthians, Walker returned to his brand of blues-rock in 1986, releasing 23 albums since then. The latest, Hellfire, is his first for legendary blues label Alligator. And -- as the title would indicate -- it's full of fiery tracks.

Rocks Off spoke with Walker about the new CD, an infamous incident with Hopkins and how Texas is like a big garden for growing guitar players.

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RO: What brought you to Alligator?

JLW: Well, it's simple. We made a CD and shopped it around and they pulled the trigger on it.

RO: Was there something you wanted to do on this record that maybe you couldn't or didn't on any other?

JLW: I was able to do what I wanted. I was also trying to achieve...to bring more younger people to the blues. And a lot of times what they listen to is more intense and has more energy. So I tried to have some of that on the record.

RO: Throughout your career, you've had one foot in rock and the other in the blues. Do people sometimes try and get you to commit to one genre or the other?

JLW: It happens all the time. A lot of people want you to stay in a category. I know it doesn't matter to musicians, but it does a lot with record companies and critics, for better or for worse.

RO: In your record-company bio, it talks about a time when Lightnin' Hopkins threw you off the stage at the Matrix.

JLW: Oh, it wasn't any big deal. I used to jump up on the stage and play with people. Mike Bloomfield, too. And nine times out of ten it wasn't any problem. But Lightnin'...he was a bit more particular (laughs). I was a young guy, 17 or 18, and I got excited and did it, but he wouldn't have it. But he was cool to me. I have fond memories of him.

RO: So does the bio make a bigger thing about it than it really was?

JLW: He didn't throw me off. It was more like, "Hey, get out of here, kid!"

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero