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Walking the Blues

[whitespace] Joe Louis Walker
Bosstalker: Joe Louis Walker.

Joe Louis Walker lets his guitar do the talking for him at Mr. E's show

By Nicky Baxter

Just before the second set last Saturday (April 18), at Mr. E's in Berkeley, some guy, more than a little inebriated, got in my face about Joe Louis Walker. "Man, Joe has gone commercial. Used to be, you'd come and hear him, and all he'd play was the down-home blues. Now he's playing all this other stuff."

What the wannabe critic failed to notice was that "all this other stuff" is doused in the blues. True, Walker's tunes aren't the dusty, old blues of yore; rather, his blues are thoroughly modern, incorporating everything from rock to jazz. And everyone else at Mr. E's, with the above exception noted, seemed to be enjoying the hell out of it.

Walker is a virtuoso guitarist who blends fat chunks of rhythm, jazzy riffs and lightning-quick flurries. The San Franciscan is a not much into theatrics; he allowed his guitar do the showing off for him. Tunes like "Slow and Hard" were highlighted by extended solos. For folks with no idea of what the blues are all about, this one was a perfect primer.

Runner-up in that category was Walker's "Cold and Evil Nights," which featured a bracing horn arrangement. Throughout, the Bosstalkers provided stout support, alternately aggressive and low-key. San Jose's Noel Catura worked over his tenor saxophonist with characteristic gusto, honking and screeching.

Among the night's many high-points was "Mile High Club," which boasted a back-beat that swung as mightily as a Count Basie number. Trumpet player Eddie Ramirez stepped up with a solo straight out of jump-jazzville. Walker's own hornlike fretwork swung just as hard. More than any other tune, "Mile High Club" showed just how versatile Joe Louis and the Bosstalkers can be.

Not that the band was afraid of the gut-bucket stuff. "Blues of the Month," in particular, sported an evil-sounding hard-core R&B groove.

Just before we headed for the exit, I scanned the audience for my new friend. I spotted him kneeling at the lip of the stage just left of where Walker stood wailing. He didn't seem to be complaining. In fact, he was clapping like a circus seal.

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Web extra to the April 23-29, 1998 issue of Metro.

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