Blues singer Bobby Walker to play 2 nights at Tugboat
July 16, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Bobby Walker's gritty voice sings a vintage tale of American roots music, musty like the air of a New Orleans jazz club, with a bit of Colorado country twang.
"There's that quote from Miles Davis, 'If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn,'" he said. "That's what all artists look for — finding your own identity and running with it. When I open my mouth, it sounds like me."
At 56, blues singer, guitarist and percussionist Bobby Walker has been performing for almost 40 years, staying true to his authentic blues roots.
"Everything about me is antiquated," he said, "and I'm OK with that."
Walker will play at 9:30 p.m. today and Saturday at Tugboat Grill & Pub. Tickets are $5 at the door.
Tugboat booking agent and sound engineer Todd Leestma said Walker played there in winter, and the venue is looking forward to his return.
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"Expect some great guitar work, some great blues work," Leestma said. "It's one of the best blues bands in the state."
Born and raised in Detroit, Walker has lived in San Francisco, Dallas, and on and off in Colorado since the 1960s.
Walker is based out of Grand Junction and plays gigs across the Western states and at national festivals.
He plays everything from solo shows on his drum kit and harmonica to gigs with a full four-piece blues band, which he'll have with him this weekend.
He still plays the drums professionally as a percussionist for hire, and he tours with Mississippi artist Eden Brent.
Living the life of a musician was never a choice for Walker. He began playing drums at age 14 and earned a bachelor's degree in music performance from Mesa State College.
"I put myself through college playing music," he said. "I wanted to be a full-time musician, so I got my degree, and that's what I did. I knew it early on, and that's about all I've ever done."
In almost 40 years on the road, he's played with Miles Davis' guitarist and opened for Merle Haggard, one of the highlights of his career.
But as his music career went up, he saw the business aspect of the music scene start to head in a different direction.
He recorded his first of six albums when vinyl was the only option. But he watched as LPs transformed into 8-tracks, which gave way to tapes and CDs, and then the tangible album dissolved into cyberspace.
Now, he said, it's simple for any high-schooler with a MySpace account to upload songs and bombard listeners with more music than they can handle.
Walker made his musical way down a different path. Nose to grindstone, calloused fingers to guitars and drumsticks, he played his way to where he stands today.
"I grew up in a time when honky-tonks and drinking and all that stuff was going on," he said. "In the '70s and '80s, people partied, and we weren't afraid to go out of our houses.
"I look at young people now, and it's like, there's no way you can go out and play five or six nights a week and cut your teeth playing in clubs."
The raw power of the country and blues of his day came not from overproduction or record label gloss. It was the presence of the person, the voice and the instrument on stage that drew him in.
"I'll never watch 'American Idol' or anything like that until someone like the Rolling Stones are on it," he said. "And they wouldn't even win. See, in this business, it's about smarts and cool. It's about how you carry yourself. It's not about being the most polished."
He said vocal power comes from the person behind the voice and the emotionality and individuality. And when that vocal part is combined with others, it's the most powerful instrument there is.
"Nothing can touch it," he said. "You can be the fanciest guitar player in the world, and it won't come that easy. You hit an audience with a four- or five-part harmony, and their jaws just drop."
He said he is proud of where his career landed him, although he could have quit a happy man after sharing the stage with Haggard.
Still, he'll continue to slug forward, independent of where the industry goes.
"But I try not to put too heavy expectations on myself," he said. That's for younger people to fantasize and dream and all that stuff. I'm just a gig at a time for 40 years. Show me to the bandstand, and I know what to do.”
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