It took Joe Louis Walker a while to establish himself as a force of his own -- nearly 20 years, to be precise -- but once he released his debut, Cold Is the Night, in 1986, he quickly became a staple in contemporary blues. Walker drew upon blues, soul, and gospel in equal measure, a combination that sounded electrifying upon his national debut, but this hybrid also allowed him to play in a variety of settings, both on-stage and on record. Such versatility gave Walker a long career, leading to a 2013 induction in the Blues Hall of Fame.
A native of San Francisco, Joe Louis Walker began playing guitar when he was eight, playing out when he was in his teens. His adolescence coincided with the rise of rock, so he began to run in psychedelic circles, playing in the house band at The Matrix and eventually striking up a friendship with Mike Bloomfield, the guitarist for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Walker roamed through the San Francisco scene, rubbing shoulders with the Grateful Dead, eventually making a journey to Chicago before returning to the Bay Area, where he roomed with Bloomfield.
Walker began to pursue interests outside of blues in 1975. He played with the Spiritual Corinthians Gospel Quartet, while also earning degrees in English and Music from San Francisco State University. Walker returned to the blues in 1985, following the Corinthians' appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. forming a band called the Bosstalkers, Walker signed to Hightone, releasing his debut Cold Is the Night in 1986.
Cold Is the Night pushed Walker's career into high gear. Hightone cranked out The Gift (1988) and Blue Soul (1989) in rapid succession, followed by two separate volumes of Live at Slims in 1991 and 1992. Walker then made the leap to the big leagues, signing with Verve for 1993's Blues Survivor. He stayed with Verve throughout the '90s, releasing a series of albums that found the guitarist dabbling in soul and jazz. Walker became a reliable figure on festival circuits as well as television during this period, and he started an alliance with Steve Cropper beginning with 1995's Blues of the Month Club. Cropper produced 1997's Great Guitars and 1998's Preacher and the President, before Walker helmed 1999's Silvertone Blues on his own.
Walker signed with Telarc in 2002 for In the Morning, the first of a series of albums for a variety of independent labels. Between 2002 and 2006, he recorded for Evidence, JSP Records, Provogue, and, once again, Hightone. In 2008, he settled at Stony Plain Music, which released Witness to the Blues that year and Between a Rock and the Blues in 2009.
In 2012, Walker signed with Alligator Records, which released Hellfire that year. Joe Louis Walker was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. The next year, he released Hornet's Nest on Alligator. Provogue put out Everybody Wants a Piece in 2015. Journeys to the Heart of the Blues, a collaboration with Bruce Katz and Giles Robson, appeared in 2018. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine