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NEW KIDS IN TOWN

Blues With A Gospel Tint

January 25, 1987|DON SNOWDEN

Band: Joe Louis Walker & the Boss Talkers.

Personnel: Walker, guitar and vocals; Kevin Zuffi, keyboards; Henry Oden, bass; Steve Griffith, drums.

History: Joe Louis Walker, 37, like Robert Cray, is a contemporary blues artist uncovered by Hightone Records. The San Francisco native took up guitar in his early teens and gravitated toward the blues side of the psychedelic rock scene in the mid-'60s. He struck up friendships with such transplanted Chicagoans as the late guitarist Mike Bloomfield and organist Barry Goldberg. Walker played in club bands during the late '60s and worked with Fred McDowell, Earl Hooker, Freddy King and Muddy Waters. He joined a number of unsuccessful groups during the '70s, and by decade's end had soured on the blues world and joined an Oakland gospel group called the Corinthians. A visit to the 1984 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with the Corinthians rekindled Walker's enthusiasm for the blues. He toured Europe with the Mississippi Delta Blues Band in 1985 and formed the Boss Talkers later that year. The quartet worked steadily in Northern California before Walker's first album, "Cold Is the Night," was released by Hightone late last year.

Sound: Walker's modern blues style echoes Robert Cray in its mixture of blues, soul and funk influences and spiky, stinging guitar sound. But he's not a Cray clone--the predominantly up-tempo material on "Dark Is the Night" hews closer to traditional 12-bar models than Cray's moody, 3 a.m. blues. Walker's rough, convincing singing betrays his gospel experience while the Boss Talkers provide canny, understated support. The well-crafted songs on the album--particularly "Drivin' High," which deserves to be a late-night rock radio anthem with its high-stepping guitar riff--bode well for Walker's first local appearances as a front man.

Shows: The Palomino, Friday; Belly Up (Solana Beach), Saturday.

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