Joe Louis Walker to headline Blues Festival


By Josh Howald

Dozens of acts will take to various stages this weekend in Kincardine, but the Festival's headline act this year is certainly Blues Hall of Fame inductee Joe Louis Walker.

Walker will headline Saturday night on the main stage. And there will be no mistaking him for anyone else. His distinctive voice and unique style will stand out from the other acts, even on a card as talented as this year's lineup is.

That comes with more than 50 years of experience honing his craft on stage. He took some time Friday afternoon to speak with The Kincardine Independent from his home in upstate New York.

"I'm looking forward to coming back up to Canada," said the four-time Blues Music Award winner.

"I have a long history with Canada. I spent some time in Toronto around 1970 and lived in Vancouver in the 1960s. It is always like coming back to a second home."

It has been about 18 months since he last performed in Canada. Walker has always honed his craft right there, on stage. He has switched and combined styles and genres, but has never shied away from the stage. He performs between 200 and 260 shows each year.

"You could say I enjoy it," he laughed.

When he spoke to the Independent he had just returned home from performing two shows in Brazil and was gearing up to fly to Poland for one show on the weekend. While he roughly plans his performances, he has learned over time that it's best sometimes to let the crowd dictate his shows.

"You have to change for every audience," he said. "You can tell when people are aware of my music, I try to make it interesting. I try not to play the same sets every day, it's important to mix it up a little bit. You have to make the audience feel like they are getting their money's worth."

This year's audience in Kincardine should be getting more than fair value. After four stages of free shows in the downtown core Saturday afternoon, the Saturday night card includes Spencer MacKenzie, Dylan Wickens and the Grand Naturals, the Suzie Vinnick Band, the Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band march down Queen St. at 8 p.m. as usual, the Joel Johnson Band, the Ghost Town Blues Band and finally, Joe Louis Walker.

Walker, himself, is interested in seeing a couple of Friday night's acts - the Paul Reddick Band and Toronzo Cannon.

"I have known Paul Reddick a long time, I used to produce him," said Walker. "I'm aware of Toronzo Cannon and will be meeting him soon - he will be opening a show for me later this year. And the other acts, I may have met many of them, but don't know them personally."

You're bound to make a few contacts after a lifetime in the music business. Walker took up the guitar at 14, and was well-known in his hometown, San Franciso, as a talented performer by the age of 16. He favoured jazz and electric rock before turning to God. After a decade of singing gospel music, he returned to the blues and jazz and assembled the Boss Talkers. He was nominated for a Grammy and has performed at some of the world's biggest music festivals.

So what can Kincardine expect to get from Joe Louis Walker Saturday night?

"We will play stuff from throughout my career, some of the different things I have done for 19 or 20 years, but I will put some focus on (his latest album release, Everybody Wants A Piece)," he said.

When told of Kincardine's Scottish heritage, and specifically about the Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band, Walker seemed thrilled.

"I've played in Scotland quite a bit, from Glasgow to Edinburgh to Aberdeen," he said. "I love the bagpipes."

He is as keen on Kincardine as Kincardine is to have him."I look forward to seeing everybody, and I would like to thank everybody for inviting me to Kincardine."

For more on this weekend's schedule, don't miss this week's priint edition, avaailable in stores now!