Joe Louis Walker, the mighty modern electric and acoustic blues guitarist and singer, appears this weekend at Warmdaddy's in South Philly.
"You know, I like to think of myself as a chameleon," Walker says. "When I picked up the guitar as a kid, I picked it up to be a guitar player - not a blues guitar player."
Walker, born in San Francisco, started playing in churches starting at age 8. "Church was where me and my cousins gigged, where we had to play everything from Junior Walker and the All-Stars to sacred songs to the blues," he says. "The hippies came to my neighborhood, so I got a little of that, too. It was the whole combination of things there."
In 1968, he met up with Chicago guitarist Mike Bloomfield and became his roommate, confidant, and drinking partner. "His sound was one worth emulating," Walker says. Of Bloomfield's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he says, "It was long overdue, that honor."
Bloomfield's death in 1981 shook Walker, who "got off the treadmill," leaving the music scene. In the following years, he freed himself from drugs and drinking. He attended San Francisco State University and got a degree in music and English. "Education was a wonderful thing," he says. "Still is, as I'm never without a book."
He performed holy songs with the Spiritual Corinthians Gospel Quartet in the Bay Area. "There are a lot of negative forces out there," says Walker. "I watched it happen to so many good ones. I played gospel music exclusively for a time, and that became part of my diet. I love jazz, soul, and R&B and play jazz, soul, and R&B. Then there's rock. I do it all."
By 1985, Walker decided to return to the music life. He began to make records that prove him adept, fluid, and fierce on both acoustic guitar and electric. He's an emotional player and vocalist who reinvents the blues with each record. That includes 1986's Cold is the Night, the 1998 sociopolitical classic Preacher and the President, and the soon-to-drop Everybody Wants a Piece.
That new album has raw, righteous songs such as "Black & Blue," a mix of roadhouse blues, deep funk, and raging, ringing, harmonious rock.
"Hey, man, I put on John Lennon records in the morning and Muddy Waters records at night," Walker says with a laugh. "That's who I am and what my music is."