Joe Louis Walker plays Eclectic Electric

Joe Louis Walker plays Eclectic Electric

Joe Louis Walker plays Eclectic Electric a great listen that delivers the promise of the title: it is eclectic and JLW’s mastery of the guitar (with a few stellar guests) provides the beguiling electric side.

Joe Louis Walker employs various current sources on Eclectic Electric

Here we have an artist whose first album, Cold Is The Night came out in 1986, then nigh on thirty subsequent releases (including 2020’s lovely Blues Comin’ Out) plus he has collaborated with artists including Branford Marsalis, James Cotton, Tower of Power, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Ike Turner and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown…so, if you haven’t heard of Joe Louis Walker, it’s going to cost a bob or two to catch up with this extremely talented guitarist.

JLW served his apprenticeship playing the blues in the Bay Area of San Francisco where he met Mike Bloomfield who showed him the delights of Hendrix and the Grateful Dead…however, he turned his back on the blues in 1975 when he “turned to God, singing for the next decade with a gospel group, the Spiritual Corinthians.” The blues took him back into its fold when, with the Corinthians, he performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1985…that debut album was the result of his ‘rebirth’.

Fast forward to 2021 and we have his creative, eclectic blend of gospel, jazz, funk, soul and blues linked to his electric guitar, providing the basis for his latest release, Eclectic Electric.

Starting it all off is, Uptown Girl Blues; an original, not the Billy Joel pop one with ‘blues’ tagged on. It features Jimmy Vivino on guitar who (I had to look him up to my shame) is musical director on one of the US big late night shows, ‘Conan’…not the barbarian but Conan O’Brien. The song is a lovely rolling blues with harmony vocals that beg you to join in…behind it, all the guitar phrases sparkle behind the lyrics and the slide solo is ingenious and unusual as it concentrates on the lower couple of strings initially, the second solo is picked and plays cleverly with some recognisable runs but is still original and damned good. It’s all rounded off by an equally neat piano solo while throughout it all the bass and drums are metronomic but inventive.

The next song is called Wine and is credited to Sonny West and, although I am far from certain, I assume it is the rockabilly genius that wrote Oh, Boy! and Rave On taken on by a certain bespectacled star called Buddy Holly. It features Steve Berlin (he of Los Lobos) on baritone sax who saxes away behind the accordion (or key generated accordion as no-one is credited) and it has the rockabilly feel I was expecting but with JLW doing a soulful reading of the melody and adding a few neat guitar touches. I would have said the accordion echoes Zydeco slightly but, as I’m in Somerset, that would sound like a fermented apple drink business…I’ll get my coat!)

Bad Betty opens with heralding horns and moves into a soul/funk hybrid that has blues buried deep, but made obvious in the guitar runs and a solo that is slightly fuzzed over a bass that sounds as if Glenn Hughes was guesting on the illustrious four-string. Gone and Alone changes tack and begins like a Santana record before a south seas funk enters the fray…a rather fractured song that sounds to me like two mixed together and the (key generated?) trumpets intrude a bit too much for me and there’s no guitar solo! Still a likeable romp.

Hotel California, yes that one, sees the Eagles song given a reggae feel with some very clever guitar phrasing behind the vocals and with Murali Coryell on guitar they combine to add life to the (controversy warning) blandness of the original; the guitar solos have feel, character and use the melody to build to the more recognisable phrases. Murali incidentally is a gifted guitarist with nine quality albums under his belt (Mr Senator being very tasty.)

Regal Blues features the B.B. King Blues Band (yes, BB’s band who had a great album out in 2019; check it out on Bluesdoodles) and Doyle Bramhall II on guitar; he needs no introduction, although I will say his playing with Tedeschi Trucks on the Layla Revisited album is essential listening. Anyway, on this track they give JLW the backing and virtuosity to help him shine still brighter on this classy bluesy R’n’B with a hint of BB King in the vocals and the guitar tones, especially on the superb solos…very apt bearing in mind that backing band and the fact the lyrics are about BB’s trust Lucille. An object lesson in taking blues tropes and moulding them into something fresh, honest and very good.

Make No Mistake was a song on none other than Keith Richards’ solo album from 1988, called Talk is Cheap. JLW keeps the essentials of this very good song while bending it around his quality vocals and guitar: different in style, inevitably, but due reverence is paid and it stands up very well. A much more soulful reading but still a great version.

Two Trains Running is a Muddy Waters classic from his earlier years (although he called it Still A Fool when it was released in 1951, but also became known as Two Trains as those are the words in the first verse.) Now this is the one I keep coming back to…the vocals, the chord work and the slide (they’re the only instruments) are a brilliant homage to Mr Morganfield with a freshness adding to the enjoyment…lovely! Werewolves of London was always, for me, an inexplicable song that held many messages wrapped up in a clever but ultimately unsatisfying pseudo-rock framework. The piano intro and the way the principle melody is funked up work well and, with Waddy Wachtel on guitar (he’s a predominately session musician with appearances with dozens of significant artist from Beth Hart via Robbie Williams to Keith Richard) it does work well. The guitar solos (one picked beautiful and one glistening slide) are well crafted and make it, to me at least, better than the original.

Now, don’t go screaming or hiding from the monobrow…this isn’t (mercifully) that Lady in Red. It is actually from 1971 by the band Chain Reaction and features Bette Smith on vocal who had a soul, gospel with blues-rock album out last year called, neatly, The Good, The Bad, The Bette. This one rhymes red with bed and is a quality soul/blues marriage and with a guitar solo like that you can forget the other one altogether.

All She Wants to Do is Dance, written by guitarist, producer Danny Kortchmar who has worked with many, many stars of differing genres: from Carol King to Jon Bon Jovi. This song was recorded by Don Henly on his 1984 solo album. Again, it pays due deference but the slide that’s added adds some depth to the basic rhythms….and the slide solo is inspired genius.

In summary, a quality album of varied styles and genres all shot through with quality no matter how those genres may blur.

Track listing
1. Uptown Girl Blues – Joe Louis Walker/JoJo Russo/John Lindsay Bradford – Featuring Jimmy Vivino on guitar
2. Wine –  Sonny West – Featuring Steve Berlin on baritone sax
3. Bad Betty – Joe Louis Walker
4. Gone and Alone – Joe Louis Walker
5. Hotel California –  Don Henley/Glenn Frey/Don Felder – Featuring Murali Coryell on guitar
6. Regal Blues – Joe Louis Walker/JoJo Russo – Featuring the B.B. King Blues Band and Doyle Bramhall II on guitar
7. Make No Mistake – Keith Richards/Steve Jordan
8. Two Trains Running – McKinley Morganfield
9. Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon/Waddy Wachtel/LeRoy Marinell – Featuring Waddy Wachtel on guitar
10. Lady in Red – Jimmy Barnett/Brad Sexton – Featuring Bette Smith on vocal
11. All She Wants to Do is Dance – Danny Kortchmar

Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen that delivers the promise of the title: it is eclectic and JLW’s mastery of the guitar (with a few stellar guests) provides the beguiling electric side.

Joe Louis Walker plays Eclectic Electric

Track listing: – composer – special guest:
1. Uptown Girl Blues – Joe Louis Walker/JoJo Russo/John Lindsay Bradford – Featuring Jimmy Vivino on guitar
2. Wine –  Sonny West – Featuring Steve Berlin on baritone sax
3. Bad Betty – Joe Louis Walker
Gone and Alone – Joe Louis Walker
4. Hotel California –  Don Henley/Glenn Frey/Don Felder – Featuring Murali Coryell on guitar
5. Regal Blues – Joe Louis Walker/JoJo Russo – Featuring the B.B. King Blues Band and Doyle Bramhall II on guitar
6. Make No Mistake – Keith Richards/Steve Jordan
7. Two Trains Running – McKinley Morganfield
8. Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon/Waddy Wachtel/LeRoy Marinell – Featuring Waddy Wachtel on guitar
9. Lady in Red – Jimmy Barnett/Brad Sexton – Featuring Bette Smith on vocal
10. All She Wants to Do is Dance – Danny Kortchmar

Musicians:
Joe Louis Walker: guitar, vocals
Lenny Bradford: bass
Byron Cage: drums
Juma Sultan: percussion
Phillip Young: keyboards

Album recorded at NRS Studios in Catskill, NY.
Co-produced by Joe Louis Walker and Scott Petito; engineered by Scott Petito.

(iTunes ran on to the next Joe in line; namely Mr Lynn Turner. After his stint in Rainbow he released a slew of Melodic Rock albums under the JLT name as well as Mothers Army, Sunstorm and a studio and live release with Yngwie Widdly Diddly, as well as more guest spots and tribute appearances than you can shake a stick at…some were extremely good too. Being a completist, I have them all and his Holy Man album from 2000 was one of the better ones.)

“Eclectic Electric” is out November 12th on Cleopatra Records.

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