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Joe Louis Walker at Bluesapalooza

August 3, 2012

This weekend’s Bluesapalooza is so full of top-drawer talent that it is hard to just pull a single thing out of the hat and call it THE highlight.

But concertgoers at Sam’s Woodsite on Sunday would not be far off if they gave the nod to Joe Louis Walker.

Walker, now 62, is a journeyman’s journeyman in the blues world, but he shows no sign of slowing down.

Touring in support of his new record, “Hellfire,” Walker brings an eclectic mix of musical influences to the stage, from Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones on the rock ‘n’ roll end of the spectrum to hard-core blues on the other.

His song, “Black Girls,” is a tribute to great blues-singing women, while “Too Drunk To Drive Drunk” more or less speaks for itself.

For those who have somehow managed to go through their lives without hearing Walker, listen for his stinging guitar cuts, a raspy, bluesy voice and pristine, uncluttered arrangements.

His guitar solos are fast, wiry and incisive—a combination that Rolling Stone magazine recently characterized as “ferocious.”

Walker comes from a rich San Francisco blues tradition. As a 16-year-old in a city that featured a gumbo of blues, jazz and psychedelic rock, he became a house guitarist at The Matrix.

There, he played with or opened shows for artists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Hendrix and, just for the heck of it, Thelonius Monk.

Along the way, he developed a guitar attack that was both on fire and melodic—a darned hard thing to pull off.

Walker met guitarist Michael Bloomfield in 1968 and Bloomfield pushed Walker toward rock, but Walker took a sharp turn in 1975.

For the next 10 years he played nothing but gospel music as a member of the Spiritual Corinthians.

Thus with Walker you never really know what you’re going to get, other than it will be part fire, part brimstone, part rock, part gospel and a whole lot of blues.

It all adds up to a curious kind of “Hellfire,” and Mammoth will get a big dose of it Sunday afternoon.

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