Alligator Records‘ Hellfire, the label debut from Joe Louis Walker, is available now. The award-winning guitar slinger, passionate vocalist and gifted songwriter has been releasing groundbreaking music since 1986 and has toured — and continues to tour — worldwide. The New York Times raves, “Walker is a singer with a Cadillac of a voice. He delivers no-nonsense, gutsy blues. His guitar solos are fast, wiry and incisive, moaning with bluesy despair.” Rolling Stone simply calls him “ferocious.”
Reviews are in:
Hellfire displays influences form both the classic blues community and the psychedelic rock scene. …loud Hendrixianvirtuosity here, “Exile On Main Street”-era Stones there. Delightful, down and dirty blues.
–Los Angeles Daily News
One of the strongest albums in Walker’s canon. Hellfire blows all over the map…gutbucket blues, joyous gospel, Rolling Stones-style rock crunch, and aching R&B. Walker’s guitar playing is fine and fierce. Hellfire is a heavenly showcase for Walker’s unduly underappreciated virtues.
On Hellfire, Mr. Walker plays jump blues; slow, searing blues, Rolling Stones-style rockin’ blues; electric country blues; Chicago blues and gospel blues. His raspy, powerhouse voice is out front while his stinging guitar cuts through the uncluttered arrangements.
–Wall Street Journal
Hellfire is Walker’s most rock-oriented release. His wah-wah inflected solo on Hellfire digresses with the kind of fierce embellishments that Jimi Hendrix might’ve conjured. The slow-burn What’s it Worth spins ever wilder and wider into outer space with each solo. Walker attacks these songs like the gospel vocalist he once was. His ferocious guitar playing conveys desperation and determination in the face of some pretty heavy moral choices.
Boundary-pushing blues rocker Joe Louis Walker is a modern and legendary blues icon. [He plays] powerful, gritty, heavy blues rock. Hellfire is fierce. The album showcases Walker’s famous ability to shred. He expertly incorporates his intense, racing solos into blues, spirituals and crashing rock jams.
Walker’s discography includes 23 albums and two DVDs. He has won four Blues Music Awards, including the 2010 Album Of The Year Award forBetween A Rock And A Hard Place (Stony Plain Records), and has been nominated for 43 more. Walker’s also recorded as a guest with some of the blues world’s best-known artists, including appearances on Grammy-winning records by B.B. King and James Cotton.
Hellfire was produced by songwriter/drummer Tom Hambridge (producer of Buddy Guy’s two most recent Grammy-winning CDs, Skin Deep and Living Proof, as well as albums for Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood and others). Walker, who wrote or co-wrote seven of the CD’s eleven tracks, says it’s the hardest rocking and most deeply soulful album of his career. His blistering blues guitar playing and gospel-tinged vocals effortlessly blend throughout the album. The psychedelic overtones of the title track (a harrowing and personal tale of the struggle of good versus evil) give way to the slow, simmering and pleading What’s It Worth? and full-force rock of the Stones-y Ride All Night. Walker’s original showstopper Soldier For Jesus (featuring vocal harmonies from The Jordanaires, who also appear on Don’t Cry) fits seamlessly alongside the other selections, making perfect thematic sense in the tradition of Al Green, Marvin Gaye or Prince, who all successfully combined carnal desires and gospel devotion.
Joe Louis Walker was born in San Francisco on Christmas Day of 1949. His parents were both from the South and they brought their love of blues with them when they headed west. Joe’s dad played blues piano, and his mom played B.B. King records. Walker picked up the guitar as a child, and by the time he was 16 was regularly backing touring blues artists rolling through town. San Francisco’s music scene was quickly becoming a melting pot of blues, jazz and psychedelic rock, and Walker was right in the center of it.
As a 16-year-old, Walker was the house guitarist at San Francisco’s famed musical playground, The Matrix, where he played with or opened shows for everyone from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Jimi Hendrix to Thelonious Monk. He was also a regular at The Fillmore West. These ear-opening surroundings explain the ease with which Walker blends blues, rock, gospel, jazz and country, making it seem as if walls between the styles do not exist.The blues legends Walker accompanied shared not only musical knowledge but also their personal wisdom with the teenage up-and-comer. Fred McDowell, Ike Turner, Albert King, Freddy King, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Lightnin’ Hopkins and many others taught, fed, and chastised the youngster. Inspired by what he learned, Walker developed his own fiery, melodic, and always unpredictable guitar attack.
Walker met guitarist Michael Bloomfield in 1968 and the two became fast friends. Bloomfield helped push Walker’s blues in a more rock-fueled direction, and he became the single biggest influence on Walker’s sound. The two shared an apartment for years and remained close friends until Bloomfield’s death in 1981. From 1975 to 1985, Walker performed nothing but gospel music, playing and singing as a member of The Spiritual Corinthians. In 1986, after Walker returned to playing the blues, Hightone Records released his debut CD,Cold Is The Night. Firmly rooted in blues, gospel, R&B and rock, the album caught the attention of music fans around the country.
With each subsequent release, Walker’s audience continues to grow, as his touring schedule continues to expand. He’s played major European festivals, including Northsea Jazz Festival, Glastonbury, Notodden and Montreux, as well as festivals in Japan, Australia, Taiwan, Ireland, Turkey and Brazil. He’s appeared on national television, with performances on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, The Don Imus Show and Later With Jools Holland in the UK.
Fans and critics have been celebrating Walker for years. Blues Revue calls Walker “one of contemporary blues’ most dynamic and innovative musicians, releasing consistently exciting music. No matter what he’s singing, Walker’s approach is soulful, heartfelt and spellbinding.” Living Blues says, “His fretwork is indelibly stamped with his own trademark blend of emotional heat and impeccable precision-even at his most flamboyant, Walker sounds as if he’s playing ideas, not just notes.”
(Photo credit: Michael Weintrob | michaelweintrob.com)