Everybody Wants a Piece Interview Joe Louis Walker
JLW: Happy to chat we are at the lovely venue The Convent. Had a good English breakfast and yesterday we had a day off and got to see Stonehenge. So things always work out when plans change.
BD: Lets start at the beginning. What were your musical influences growing up on the West Coast, in San Franciso?
JLW: There has been quite a few, music is a constant influence. My first though is definitely my Father. He was from the South and grew up in the area where lots of the old blues guys came from, ploughing in the fields with Howlin’ Wolf. From a very young age the music was just there. It was a Mum and Dad thing, they listened to music on the record player and I was the kid that gravitated to music. It was definitely Mother and Father influences that set me on the trajectory as I was attuned to the music it was a form of happiness and comfort as a kid. I wondered how music came out of the record player, how you made music. Other friends played football, I wanted a guitar to figure out how they did it and made that sound. At school we had the opportunity to borrow instruments. The guitar was always in high demand and checked-out of the loan system like the favourite book in a library! My parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, so I tried out other instruments the violin, then the accordion and the Harp. I was okay on the violin I still have one at home but the guitar captured my imagination. By the age of fourteen I was playing the guitar.
BD: Blues runs deep and you have collaborated with a diverse group of first-class artists including Buddy Guy, Clarence Gatemouth Brown and Bonnie Raitt to name a few. Everyone likes to read about a good or bad experience of collaboration what are your recollections?
JLW: Wow collaboration. I have been fortunate and have collaborated with so many of the greats. The list is huge including John Lee Hooker and Herbie Hancock. I am really a student of music for my whole life learning, absorbing from the likes of Ike Turner. I was affected by BB King & Willie Dixon they shared so much learning about music and so much more. How to travel, manage pay roll taxes and conduct yourself on stage and above all simple tips like tucking shirt into underpants so it doesn’t ride up over your trousers on stage. Simple stuff but invaluable. Collaboration is the exchange of ideas and style developing your music and working together. Collaboration gives you a road map – follow the right road, not the wrong road as gospel music says.
The adversity that the old guys went through was incomprehensible but it made the blues. My Dad laughed when I was 13/14 years old at guys coming over and playing the blues and younger guys like Bo Diddley. He said about Yardbirds why white guys want to play the blues. We are trying to get away to make money it was frowned upon as this poor people music. Real Blues guys at the time were not popular. Those who really appreciated them were young English white guys they digged the blues, wanted to know the blues. For the guys who wrote the music, it wasn’t commercial. The likes of Chuck Berry would find out that his songs were number 1 all over the world, but not by you! Accepting someone else enjoying more success with your material than you, that you invented it hurts right. It is the dichotomy of the blues. Some were accepting the likes of Muddy and BB. Being bitter just eats you up inside. Better to celebrate the music that was “inclusive” speaking to the whole world. Not pure, but mixed-up, re-packaged, redone.
Music is and always will be art that speaks to the soul. Ground breakers including, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davies all spoke the language we wanted to hear. Music connects us brings us all together. Reacts to politics, relationships, life all put into music.
If you put into a room every type of musician – classical, rap, hip hop, jazz and are asked to play one song I can guarantee (laughing) yes guarantee it will be the Blues. Why? It is the Common denominator the root of modern music.
BD: Tell our readers about the inspiration of the album Everybody Wants A Piece and does the title reflect how you feel?
JWL: The title is not about me but the Hi-tech world we live in. It is the observation that in the age of the internet we look at so much and feel we should have so much, should be better. Everybody wants a bit of fame, happiness riches. Everybody Wants A Piece is a trajectory of how to get to this by trying this and that to achieve success. Being successful is a huge driver, to have mega riches, mega this and mega that through mega promotions. I know people who are fabulously famous but trapped in a gilded cage. Everybody Wants A Piece of that fame. You can also superimpose the title onto lots of things it is generic making it for a songwriter a cool thing.
On the album, the band and myself played and sung everything, no out of town backing singers or extra musicians. We played in the studio and it was recorded this was the way I grew up making records. There has been recording studio battles regarding separation with the guitarist in one booth and each person separated. I was recording twenty years ago when Scotty Moore, the recording engineer who also backed Elvis Presley in the early days; I went to look where to stand behind a screen and he said “No. Stand in the middle.” I asked what about the bleeding of guitar on drums, Scotty said the bleeds we love it. Elvis, Fats Domino all did it this way with often just one microphone in the middle of the room. Mistakes, as Miles Davis said there are no mistakes. It is just jazz if there is a mistake it makes music real. If it (recorded music) is too perfect it is not human just technical. They used a pitch blender to get a single note in a sequence perfect by isolating it if too flat or sharp. Auto-tuning takes the meaning out of singing. I like my music real and that is what we achieved in the mix of styles of Everybody Wants A Piece.
BD: Tell us a bit about the band
JWL: Played together over the years. Lenny Bradford on Bass has been with me for 7-8 years. Played with Bo Diddly, Moody Blues and many more, so brings deep bass grooves. Completing the rhythm section is drummer Byron Cage who is like a son. Then on keys on the album I had a choice of two, Phillip Young and Jimmy Smith. The band is like a rotating family we have covered a lot of space over the years. The musicians reflect the lot of variety there is in roots music. Not pure blues from the likes of Chicago /Mississippi but blues that is of my generations. Younger people growing up with wider influences rock, pop and FM radio, festivals such as Monterey when I was growing up in San Francisco. We were always discovering things. Grateful Dead lived up the road, Sly Stone. Then there were the blues guys coming out and gigs where it was a mix of styles like Jefferson Aeroplane, or James Cotton a Jazz quartet. I have been fortunate to have experienced a full dose of everything musical. All shape who I am today. I have never been a blues player, I have listened and played jazz, rock-blues. Perfect education as I listened to all styles, keep your ears, heart and mind open is how you learn. I like Peter Green as much as I like Sun Seals or George Jones almost as much as Howlin [Wolf]; John Lee Hooker as much as BB [King] and Bob Marley as much as Gil Scott-Heron and so on. I enjoy all music whether heard in Synagogue, Nashville, Mississippi it makes no difference music connects. Musicians love to meet up and discuss music across the genres.
BD: I have always been interested in the lyrics of a song. Where do you get your inspiration for your songwriting? Is it always personal?
JWL: The guitar captured my imagination. Not everyone gets the intricacy of a musician playing. Whereas the spoken word is the first to grab your attention so lyrics are vital. The first rhythm that people hear is the drums. The chords shape the mood Majors are uplifting Minors associated with not being so happy. Chuck Berry’s Back In USA and Sweet Sixteen are in Major chords and push the blues. A sad lyric will always have a minor chord. Lyrics and the voice is how we communicate the feeling, via the message of the lyrics. Vocals communicate when softly sung or really hard you don’t learn when to use which approach overnight it is by trial and error and lots of practice. You can draw the crowds in with both harsh and soft when you get it right.
Lyrics get inspiration everywhere from sayings. In the past when in England band travelled in the van, I took the train. The Rhythm of the train, click of the wheels and conversations heard were all inspiring. Some are topical, others autobiographical. Sayings for me are interesting the little things people say like ‘Lie’. Lie your pants on fire, Inspiration can be found when you pick up the paper. So much to do and say it is about keeping your eyes, ears and mind open and let the inspiration flow in. The world is rich with so much, full of communicating. If you sing about being happy or life’s tribulations 9 out of 10 people listening will have been through it too. Anyone can then relate to the lyrics you are communicating. Two trains are running, but one ain’t going in my direction. So do what you want to do take your own road.
BD: Tell Bluesdoodles readers about Blues For Peace the grass root movement you are involved with?
JWL: Started when my friend Michael Packer. Michael is the same generation lived through the 1960’s we had to march and demonstrate for women’s rights, interracial relationships, anti-Vietnam protests. Right now especially in the last ten years, there has been incredible divisions in society, they are harmful. Beheadings on the internet, blowing up buildings, music venues such as Bataclan in Paris, we have politicians who are incredibly narcissistic talking about dropping a nuclear bomb on Europe. It is so negative. So how can we counteract and not be negative? We can Do Blues for Peace. Then partnered by UNHCR by Unesco and UN with 200 countries linked playing Blues for Peace from Israel to China to Lebanon. The loudest voice the craziest acts get noticed with 24-hour news the biggest gets the most attention. Blues for Peace is part of a conversation to negate this every little bit helps. The majority of people in every country, from every religion, wants to live life peacefully get along with it. They do not go to bed worrying about gays marrying or refugees getting into their homes it is just certain segments of politicians and sections of religion. Blues for Peace is carrying on the message of John Lennon, Give Peace a Chance, Bob Dylan Blowing in The Wind, Jimi Hendrix Peace Sign etc.
BD: If you were putting together the perfect band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing?
JWL: Now that is a good question and a trick question what is a perfect band? It has been done putting together a bunch of stars and they suck as a band. A band is a group of musicians and personalities that work together. Now Muddy Waters first band that was something everybody playing its part. Put together greatest Rock n Roll band they would have to want to play collectively. In reality, they would argue about what the band should play, who takes the lead and the interpretation of the song. Yes for me it was Muddy Water’s first band that really shone.
Thank you so much, Joe Louis, for taking the time for such and in-depth conversation about music, the world, peace and so much more.
Last night of the tour 13th June The Convent catch it live in Stroud or via Netgig wherever you are
Bluesdoodles review of Everybody Wants A Piece – HERE