blues

This month Jim Clark ex­am­ines a player that’s a ver­i­ta­ble en­cy­clo­pe­dia of blues his­tory, vo­cal and gui­tar styles - the mighty Joe Louis Walker!

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

Jim Clark looks at the elec­tric gui­tar ap­proach of blues singer-song­writer Joe Louis Walker.

Joe Louis Walker is the real deal; a gen­uine liv­ing leg­end of the blues. We’ve all read about Clap­ton, Beck, Green etc, cut­ting their teeth as teenagers, painstak­ingly lift­ing licks by the blues greats, at­tempt­ing to cap­ture the essence of the blues from vinyl. By con­trast our artist this month has it writ­ten in his DNA; he was born into it, for­tu­nate enough to live and breathe the mu­sic his whole life, and de­vel­op­ing a deep sub­con­scious un­der­stand­ing.

Grow­ing up in San Fran­cisco in the 50s, Joe Louis Walker was sur­rounded by blues and gospel mu­sic on a daily ba­sis, as a re­sult of a highly mu­si­cal fam­ily - he took up the gui­tar aged just 8. It’s no won­der then that, by the early part of his teens, he was tread­ing the boards nightly as part of the Bay Area blues scene af­ter spend­ing sev­eral years im­mersed in the mu­sic of T-Bone Walker, BB King and Amos Mil­burn. By the time he was 19 he would re­ceive fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion on­stage with leg­ends such as Jimi Hen­drix, John Lee Hooker and Th­elo­nius Monk.

Dur­ing this pe­riod he struck up a close friend­ship with blues gi­ant Mike Bloom­field, who was his room­mate for sev­eral years and a piv­otal fig­ure in his mu­si­cal growth. Bloom­field’s tragic death af­fected Joe deeply and sparked a com­plete change of life­style. He took time away from the mu­sic scene and en­rolled at col­lege, where he gained de­grees in English and Mu­sic, and broad­en­ing his un­der­stand­ing of har­mony.

In 1985, fronting a new band called The Bosstalk­ers, he re­turned to the blues scene, go­ing on to re­lease five al­bums for the Hightone la­bel be­fore be­ing signed to Polygram and putting out an­other six.

Joe’s play­ing is steeped in blues tra­di­tion rang­ing from the early jazz-blues stylings of T-Bone Walker, to wail­ing over­driven Hen­drix py­rotech­nics. What sets him aside from many oth­ers who may sim­ply churn out pre-learned licks lifted from their he­roes, is his in­nate un­der­stand­ing of mu­sic as a lan­guage, demon­strated by the strong sense of con­ti­nu­ity al­ways present in his lead work.

When lis­ten­ing to Joe solo, you hear tremen­dous mu­si­cal clar­ity in his phrases. He of­ten uses sim­ple melodic mo­tifs nu­mer­ous times within a cho­rus, adding har­monic and rhyth­mic dec­o­ra­tion, but with­out ever sound­ing bor­ing or repet­i­tive. He changes his pick­ing hand place­ment to vary the at­tack and dy­nam­ics many times within a sin­gle solo.

His rhyth­mic phras­ing dis­plays a keen use of space, as well as so­phis­ti­cated, dis­placed rep­e­ti­tious fig­ures; har­mon­i­cally he al­ways man­ages to tar­get the un­der­ly­ing chords while sound­ing un­in­hib­ited and ex­pres­sive; never con­trived or ster­ile.

Our two solo stud­ies show con­trast­ing facets of Joe’s style. The first is in the T-Bone vein, where you can see how a sim­ple idea can be de­vel­oped on a cho­rus while main­tain­ing the in­tegrity of the har­mony. Sec­ondly, we have a more fiery Hen­drix vibe; this ably demon­strates Joe’s use of space, rhyth­mic phras­ing and ex­pres­sion.

When nab­bing ideas by your favourite play­ers (which we all do), try not to just learn a lick in isolation; also aim to get to grips with the con­text within which it is used. Where is it placed in a solo? What hap­pens be­fore and af­ter it? Why? What’s the re­la­tion­ship? Is it rhyth­mic or har­monic? Is it an open­ing state­ment or bet­ter suited to the cli­max? What chord is it out­lin­ing? And so on… You get the pic­ture? This may seem a lit­tle ‘trainspot­ter­ish’, but the fact is, in­ter­pret­ing mu­sic like this is cru­cial if you are to gain fuller un­der­stand­ing of it as a lan­guage and art form - as all the greats clearly do.

Joe Louis Walker is the real deal; a gen­uine liv­ing leg­end of the blues.

Joe Louis Walker: so­phis­ti­cated to fiery, he has it all

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