Hellfire is Joe Louis Walker’s first recording for Alligator Records, and a very worthy one it is.
Walker grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, where at age 16 he was the house guitarist for famed music venue, The Matrix. He played with and was friends with many of the blues greats like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Willie Dixon, and Lightnin’ Hopkins (although, according to his Amazon.com bio, Hopkins once threw him off the stage.)
In the ’60s, he also hung out with and played with Sly Stone, Bob Weir, and Jorman Korkomen, among others. Later, he spent years playing with the gospel group The Spiritual Corinthians. Thus, the influence of rock, blues, and gospel can all be heard in the immense diversity of the songs on Hellfire.
From the jump blues of “Hellfire,” with its blistering guitar solo, to the Chicago blues of “I’m On To You,” on which Walker plays a tasty harmonica, to electric blues, soul, and blues rock, there’s not a bad song on the CD. My personal favorite is probably “Too Drunk to Drive Drunk,” which is all-out blues rock and a lot of fun to listen to.
But Walker’s original songs, “I Won’t Do That,” “Soldier for Jesus,” and “Don’t Cry,” also are strong numbers. “Soldier for Jesus” and “Don’t Cry” definitely benefit from backing vocals from gospel group The Jordanaires, who also did background vocals for Elvis Presley for many years. The searing gospel fervor of these two songs make them truly special, stirring numbers.
The ’70s sound of Sly Stone and others is more evident in “Black Girls,” an enjoyable, soulful tribute to black female soul singers, and “Ride All Night” is a Stones-like rocker.
For the final song on the CD, Walker transforms Hank Snow’s great country song “I’m Movin’ On” into a electrifying blues rock number, a fitting end to this cornucopia of amazing guitar solos, soulful vocals, and different but compatible blues and rock styles.
From start to finish, this is an exciting, engrossing, enjoyable blues CD which will be a great edition to the collection of any fan of blues or blues rock.