Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues
Guitarist/vocalist Joe Louis Walker is a blues icon. He is one of the most productive bluesmen of the last half-century being an in demand musician since 1965. Walker has played with everyone from “Lightnin’ Hopkins to Jimi Hendrix to Thelonious Monk”. He is a Grammy Award winner with twenty-three albums, four Blues Music Awards and 52 BMA nominations.
Giles Robson “England’s new blues harmonica hero” released his third album in 2016. After jamming with Walker it was his dream to record with him in an acoustic setting. Walker liked the idea, and suggested they record as a trio with pianist Bruce Katz. Besides fronting his own band Katz has played and recorded with many artists including Ronnie Earl, Gregg Allman, and Delbert McClinton. The trio puts their own spin on eleven songs originally recorded by masters of the acoustic blues tradition. Here is the lineage of these relatively obscure selections.
Alexander “Papa” George Lightfoot was a singer and harmonica player from Natchez, Mississippi who wrote and recorded “Mean Old Train”, a single on Imperial Records in 1954; he made a comeback in 1969 but passed two years later. Walker’s vocal, Robson’s high reedy harp and Katz’ understated piano set the stage for this acoustic showcase.
Pianist Albert Luandrew better known as “Sunnyland Slim” released “It’s You Baby” on Cobra Records in 1957. Born in the Mississippi Delta he migrated to Chicago, and later recorded with members of Canned Heat; he died in 1995. Katz begins to stretch out with a solo as Robson’s harp dances ‘round. Walker’s vocal is as authentic as it gets.
“I’m A Lonely Man” is from Rice Miller a.k.a. Sonny Boy Williamson II. A wonderful 1963 performance of this song featuring his harp and vocal can be found online. This new version may be even deeper than the original.
Robert Brown a.k.a. “Washboard Sam” is credited with writing “You Got To Run Me Down”. He played with Jazz Gillum who first recorded the song in the forties. Walker plays a guitar intro while Katz sets the rhythm on his piano before soloing. “Murderer’s Home” was written and recorded by Blind Willie McTell in 1940.
“Feel Like Blowing My Horn” is the title track of pianist Roosevelt Sykes’ 1973 Delmark Records album. The song is dedicated (by the trio) to Robert Lockwood Jr. who played guitar on the recording. “Hell Ain’t But A Mile And A Quarter” is from pianist St. Louis Red Mike Bailey. It was recorded in 1938 and also recorded by Big Bill Broonzy. The original didn’t appear on record until it was included in a 1986 compilation. These feature some nice soloing from Katz.
“Poor Kelly Blues” and the piano showcase “Chicago Breakdown” were written by pianist Big Maceo Merriweather and released as singles on the Bluebird imprint in 1942 and 1946. On the later Katz is absolutely fabulous.
“A Hard Pill To Swallow” is from guitarist Son Bonds; although recorded in the thirties it appears on the 2002 compilation “Brownsville Blues”. “Real Gone Lover” written by Dave Bartholemew was recorded by Smiley Lewis in 1955. The only original tune, written by Robson and Walker, is the harp instrumental “G & J Boogie” with Robson once again nailing that high reedy sound.
On each song the trio feeds off of one another, making the songs their own. Walker states “this album is a throwback to the days of less is more. No long guitar solos, no drums or extra instrumentation. Just good honest blues played with heart and soul. I hope people enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it”. Katz adds “this was an incredibly satisfying CD to record. To be able to play deep, real blues with musicians like Joe and Giles was a truly soulful experience”. Robson concludes “each song on the album took us on a journey, both lyrically and musically to the heart of blues music. We invite you to take those journeys with us.”
It’s tradition that makes these “journeys to the heart of the blues” so inviting.