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. Even though he wasn’t raised in the South, his exposure to the blues was pure and real. Walker picked up the guitar as a child, and by the time he was 16 was regularly backing touring blues artists rolling through town. Out of the house and on his own, under the wing of famed musician/pimp Fillmore Slim, Walker worked the local club scene steadily as an in-demand musician. 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. In addition to his work at The Matrix, he was a regular at Bill Graham’s famed 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. At one gig, Hopkins glared at Walker and, adding improvised lyrics to the song he was singing, ordered him off the stage for playing a sour note. Lesson learned, Walker backed Hopkins the next time he was through town and all was forgiven. Blues icon Willie Dixon told him to set his sights high. “What’s your style? You need your own sound,” Dixon preached. Walker took the advice to heart and developed his own fiery, melodic, and always unpredictable guitar attack.