A member of the Blues Hall of Fame, Joe Louis Walker’s music always has unmistakable blues elements. His latest album, Weight of the World, also brings vintage soul, funk, jazz, and even symphonic sounds inspired by a challenge from producer Eric Corne.
What spurred your approach to making Weight of the World?
Eric approached me a few years ago and said, “I’d like to do a record with you, with all original material.” Of the last 30 albums I’ve done under my own name, the first six or seven were all original, but I’ve done a lot of project albums and different things with jazz musicians and guests. It made me go back to square one and create something, get the band, come up with arrangements, do the harmony parts, and make it sound fresh. That was the real challenge.
Which track are you most proud, of guitar-wise?
I like “Hello, It’s the Blues,” because I play a nylon-string. Where a lot of people would play an electric guitar and sort of shred on the outro, I wanted to do something understated, where guitar was back and forth with the violins. It’s an orchestration, and I really liked bringing it all together the way I heard it in my mind. It’s different. If you’re expecting the song to be a lot of shred, it’s not. But I get a few notes in there (laughs).
What gear did you use on the album?
I used several amps, mostly a small Quilter and one from Italy – the DV Mark Frank Gambale model. I didn’t use a lot of pedals; auto wah for one song, and a phase/flanger on the rhythm guitar once or twice. I think I used a little boost on one. I get most of my pedals from Dunlop; I’ve been working with them for years.
The guitars I used were mostly Zemaitis – my pearl-front and my pirate guitar with three pickups and swords painted on the front. It has a push/pull pot to get more oomph. I have a semi-hollow Zemaitis that has a unique sound. You can get feedback without getting out of control. I also used an Epiphone ES-355 B.B. King, and a Strat when I went to Eric’s studio in L.A. You can hear it on “Bed of Roses.”
How did you begin playing Zemaitis guitars?
I was in L.A., doing some shows, and I contacted their rep because I wanted to get one of those metal-front guitars. They put Filter’trons in one for me and that thing sounds so good. It’s totally unique. I started looking at the wood – they use African mahogany on some of their higher-end guitars. And you’d think the metal front would affect the sound, but it doesn’t in a bad way. Even with the pearl-front, they have some crunch, and I could get a bunch of different sounds.
How does the Zemaitis compare to a Les Paul?
To me, there’s nothing that can compare to a Les Paul that’s “broke in” right. You can copy a goldtop, but nothing is going to sound like it. You can get a ’57, ’58, or ’59 copy from the Custom Shop and it may sound a little bit like it, but there’s no shortcut for wood that’s 60 years old. There’s no shortcut for the blood, sweat, and tears that went into it. I have several really good Les Pauls, and I play them in the studio once in a while. But I’m getting older now and I cannot bear that crutch (laughs) – they are heavy, man. I’ve got one from the ’70s – sunburst with the ’60s neck – and it’s so heavy it’s like “Whew!” But it sounds so good. I took it out for gigs and played one or two songs then told it, “You’re a studio guitar.”
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.