Joe Lewis Walker
Blues Hall Of Fame Inductee, Joe Lewis Walker is set to release a new album titled Eclectic Electric on November 11. He will also be playing the Music Box Supper Club on November 13.
We had the chance to do a Zoom call with Joe to discuss his upcoming album, how he managed the last year and a half and his eagerness to get back out on the road.
GD: You seemed to have kept yourself busy during the quarantine by writing and recording your new album. How has the past year and a half gone for you?
JLW: Sorta like everyone else. Most musicians were the last groupings that were able to start opening up. As you can see, everything has been pushed back, cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled and rescheduled. So it's been a lot of that, but with that being said, I’m just glad I have a new record that’s being released and I’m glad to have a few gigs coming in.
GD: I've been listening to this record and you have quite an eclectic mix of songs on your album that range from traditional blues, to more rockin’ blues to even a zydeco flavored tune. I really like the mix! What made you go in that direction this time?
JLW: Well, this is my thirtieth album since 1985 when I came back to playing the blues. I quit from ‘75-’85. I figured I’d do something different this time. I asked a lot of my friends, a lot of musicians and record label people, my wife, my kids, my grandkids… what do you hear me doing? They said, “we like what you do.” My one friend said “I really like your version of “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” Why did you do that? I said because my friend, Nick Lowe asked me to do it. They asked why did I do different versions of other songs. And they said “why don’t you give us a mixture of some of your own stuff and some of the older stuff that you’ve done?” So that’s the primary reason for doing an Eclectic Electric.
GD: Well, I think it’s awesome. I have to say, one of my favorite tunes on the record is “Uptown Girl Blues.” I love that blues shuffle and that was a song that you co-wrote. How did that come about?
JLW: Me and Joe Joe Rousso, my songwriting partner had done a version of this. We didn’t think we captured the groove. When John Bradford, the bass player and I were playing on it, messing around at sound check. We caught ahold of a groove and I said, “this should be the perfect groove for ‘Uptown Girl Blues.’ So that’s how that mixture came about.
GD: On “Regal Blues,” you feature the B.B. King Blues Band and Doyle Bramhall II on guitar. Were you in the studio with those guys or did you work remotely with them?
JLW: I sent them the song and they recorded their version of it. Then they said, ‘Joe, can you sing on our version of it?’ I said you got a singer, you have two singers! They said well we want you to sing on it. I said ‘Ok, cool.’ Because I never really done it the way I wanted to do it. So they laid their version down and I sang over top of it because that was during the pandemic. So they have a version of it on their record and I have a version on my record, but Baby Doyle is on my record. We played together somewhere, and I asked him if he would play on it and he said yeah. I love him for it because I’ve known him since he was about fifteen. So I’ve known Baby Doyle a long time.
GD: Have you played with B.B. King’s Blues band in the past?
JLW: Yes, I have. I played with them when they were with B.B. and I played with them when they weren’t. B.B. is no longer with us.
GD: Of course. Now, you also recorded two songs that have been sung by Don Henley, “Hotel California” and “All She Wants To Do Is Dance.” Was that a conscious choice to pick two of his songs?
JLW: I don’t mind doing songs by other people, but I like to have some sort of connection to the artist if I can. With ‘All She Wants To Do Is Dance’ Danny Kortchmar is a friend of mine, he’s in the same band as Waddy (Wachtel), and they are both in The Immediate Family (band) and he was going to play on this song but their band got busy so Danny said to go ahead and knock it out. The only outlier was ‘Hotel California.’ That was a situation where I wanted to take an iconic song that had nothing to do with the blues industry, nothing to do with anything except being a great song, and turn it up on its head. So I was able to reggae, bluesy, funky type of thing that we did with it. It just so happened that Henley was the lead singer on both of them. I like the way he sings, because his singing isn’t so much pop. When you listen to Don Henley sing, it’s really roots stuff. Even when he was hitting all of those high notes, that comes out of soul music. He’s got that thing like Levon Helm, he’s got that soulful thing that you dont hear from ‘pop singers’. Guys like Levon and Michael McDonald and Henley it’s just natural. That’s what they do. If you have Michael McDonald sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” you aren’t going to understand half of it, but you’re gonna feel good!
The other outlier was “Make No Mistake” an Expensive Winos song which Waddy also played on this also. I did ask Keith (Richards), I said hey man, I wanna do this song. Keith said, (in a Keith Richards voice) “Joe, just make it your own.” That’s the end of that story. (laughs)
GD: That’s a great song. Not a lot of people know it, but I know the X-Pensive Winos and when I saw it on there, I was like man that’s a great tune to cover.
JLW: It’s a beautiful song.
GD: Of course you had to pay your respects to Muddy Waters. How did you choose “Two Trains Running?”
JLW: I’ve done a lot of Muddy Waters songs that have been on compilations. I’ve always liked Muddy and I’m fairly aware that certain songs are totally unique to Muddy Waters and certain songs, they’ve just been done to death. I’m not gonna do “I’ve Got My Mojo Workin’” and I’m not gonna do “I Just Want To Make Love To You” it’s been done to death! “Two Trains Running” isn’t even a song. The name of the song is “Still A Fool.” But what Muddy is saying while he’s playing is all about two trains running. Anybody who’s done that song from The Blues Project in the sixties to me, now. It’s always been a deep, deep song. When you hear Muddy Waters playing it and Little Walter playing guitar with him on that song. It reminds me of when I was a kid and my dad’s friends would come over on a Saturday or Sunday when they had a day off and rolling their pant legs up, three or four guys from Mississippi playing that style of music. I looked at them and thought it was some kind of magic, how do you do that? It seems simple, but when you get songs with that much meaning and that depth to the content in the song. Because it meant something. It wasn’t, first verse “I lost my baby” then 900 different guitar solos than the out-verse “I found my baby.” If you listen to all that stuff, from Muddy Waters, to Howlin’ Wolf to B.B. King, to Robert Johnson. There were no eighteen bar guitar solos. There were zero, because it was all about the song. That carried over to younger people who got the blues and rock and roll. Like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, you don’t hear twenty guitar passes. You can go see The Stones now and you aren’t going to hear it, very rarely. You’re going to hear songs and the guitar is the vehicle to accentuate the song. Not the other way around.
GD: Do you have a favorite track on the record?
JLW: Nah, I couldn’t say that. I have a more autobiographical song on the record which is “Gone and Alone.” When I was living in France, I had some African musicians playing on that track. I kept that track until it was the right time to release it. I had African musicians, French musicians and then I brought it home and have American musicians playing on that track.
GD: Like I said this record is a good mix of original songs as well as some cover songs where you put your own stamp on them. I really enjoyed it!
JLW: Thank you.
GD: Do you have any plans to go out and play live?
JLW: I just finished six or seven dates opening up for George Thorogood here on the east coast. We got a couple little gigs coming up (in the middle of October). Then I start a little tour in Pittsburgh on November 13, then we’re going to Cleveland and Minneapolis and Milwaukee, Chicago and parts of Michigan. Go to my website joelewiswalker.com and it has all the dates.
GD: That’s great, I’m Cleveland based and I didn’t see that date coming up. I believe the last time you played here, you played at The Music Box.
JLW: Yes, we are playing there in November.
GD: Joe, I wish you nothing but the best with this album and I hope to see you soon. Safe travels out on the road and I hope to see you when you come to Cleveland.
JLW: We’ll be there in about a month. I sure appreciate everything, thank you!
Be sure to check out Joe Lewis Walker's new album Eclectic Electric when it drops on November 11.
You can see Joe at the Music Box Supper Club on November 13. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.
If you would like to watch the Zoom interview, just click the link below!