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. 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.
Prior to joining Alligator Records in 2012, Walker had released 23 albums and toured the world virtually non-stop. He has garnered four Blues Music Awards (and has been nominated a whopping 52 times) and holds an international reputation as one of the blues’ most prolific and talented stars. He’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.