Sunday, January 21, 2018

Joe Louis Walker - 100 Club, London, 16 January 2018

Seeing Joe Louis Walker play live means having a good time.  Simple as that.  Hotshot blues rock guitarists abound, but few of them bring the sense of playfulness to electric blues that Walker displays.  Schooled in church music, he still includes a big chunk of gospel in his live set, and makes it such a pleasure that I could almost be persuaded to get religion myself.  Almost.
And so it is from the off at this busy 100 Club gig as part of London Blues Week.  Opening with ‘I’m Not Messin’ Around’, he and his band lock into a big groove, founded on vibrant drumming from Byron Cage, that slams the FUN into funky.
Joe Louis Walker - ain't messin' around
A slow blues instrumental follows, but one imbued with mischief, as Walker sets out teasing with controlled feedback that eventually melts into pizzicato picking before heading back the other way, while guest ivories man Stevie Watts gets to launch the first of several big organ solos.
‘Don’t Let Go’ is the first of the gospel outings, featuring vocal harmonies that he reveals were originally delivered by the Jordanaires when he recorded it on Hornet’s Nest.  But ‘Wade In The Water’ swings on another level entirely.  Lenny Bradford – a man of a thousand facial expressions, most of them variations on a big grin – contributes nimbly subterranean bass runs as he, Walker and Cage gear up for some blindingly funky interplay underneath another Watts solo.  The way they chop up the rhythm and turn it inside out, in total synch, is something to behold.
‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, recorded for the 2002 Beatles tribute The Blues White Album, is delivered with absolute conviction, before ‘In The Morning’ transports gospel into the realms of sunrise soul.  Conjuring up a season of warmth and mellow fruitfulness, it shifts with ease into a hi tempo ending.
After some squealing slide on ‘Soldier For Jesus’ the delicate opening of ‘Black And Blue’ ushers in quiet little flurries of notes from Walker, building towards a big finish.  Giles Robson pops up to guest on harp and lend extra wailing to the chugging boogie of ‘Young Girl Blues’, and then it’s time for the riotous set closer that is ‘Too Drunk To Drive Drunk’.  Chuck Berry-like in feel to the point that at one point Bradford sets off on a duck walk, and with Stevie Watts giving it some rock’n’roll piano into the bargain, it features an interlude that breezily flings in riffs from ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ and ‘Daytripper’, and probably more besides, to bring the house down.
With the crowd baying for an encore as the band mosey offstage, Walker stays put and
Lenny Bradford - "Whaddya mean, man of a thousand faces?"
straps his mother-of-pearl decorated guitar back on to deliver ‘Where Jesus Leads Me I Will Follow’ on his own, before welcoming his compadres back for a final outing.  Introduced with a funny story about working with Peter Green, it’s Mac’s ‘One Sunny Day’, covered on latest album Everybody Wants A Piece.  With Bradford giving it large on the song’s big bass figure, Walker wrenches plenty of torque from the descending guitar riff, and delivers a jaw-dropping solo for good measure.
Joe Louis Walker is an electric blues delight, and here’s hoping he gets back to these shores soon.  When he does, get your ass along to see him, and have yourself a damn good time.
The cheerfully unassuming King Size Slim is deserving of a mention for his solo support slot, consisting entirely of unamplified tri-cone resonator guitar and vocals – and some thunderous foot stomping when required.  With a frequent twinkle in his eye he manages to weave some Sarf coast rapping into acoustic Delta blues, and engages the audience to assist him in re-tuning his guitar through “the collective consciousness of thought” – the best line I’ve heard on the subject since Jimbo Mathus declared “Fuck it – tuning is a decadent Western concept anyway”.
But amid the laughs Slim also produces stirring guitar and nice dynamics on the catch ‘Love Divine’, and constructs a tuneful singalong on ‘May We Find A Way Out Of The Storm’.  He may not actually be King Size, but Slim still manages to make an entertaining mark.

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