This part of the story is about me meeting and playing with Michael Bloomfield and takes place in Sausalito, California 1979.
Being unemployed in a place like Marin County was not easy I can tell you.
During the daytime, I would go to the stairs right in the middle of town, where you could see the park and the boats coming over the San Francisco Bay. There I’d play my horn at the same place where I saw the hippies panhandle (ask for money) in the late 60‘s. I would make enough money to get something to eat plus to put some gas in my car. I’d then drive to one of the clubs in San Francisco or Oakland at night to jam.
One warm summer day I sat playing one of the few
melodies I knew. I was a bit shy and would play with my eyes closed looking only when I heard the sound of coins landing in my sax case. This time was different. When I looked up there stood Bloomers! (That’s what his friends called him when he wasn’t around.) I quickly closed my eyes again, for a long time and I kept playing the same melody. I opened my eyes only when I believed he was gone. ``Oh no, he’s still there!`` I thought. So I closed them again and played for maybe two minutes or so, but no, he’s still there. So finally I end the tune. He walks part way up the stairs, hands me a twenty and says "Not bad." I was so ashamed I’d thought it sounded like shit. He said "Come down to the Sweet Water tonight and sit in with me." "Great! See you there" I said. This was not the first time I met Bloomers.
In fact the reason he stopped when he saw me was that recognized me from years ago 1967-70 when my friends and I would sneak back stage to as many concerts as we could. We where unstoppable. One time we were back stage at a Steve Miller Band and The Electric Flag concert . I tried to talk to Steve Miller, but he said "Piss off kid!" or something like that.
Michael waved me over and said "Have a seat." I remember he was so calm almost majestic even. I sat there and didn’t say a word. After some time he looked over at me and said "You look just like Sam Cook." I smiled, he smiled back. Then he took his guitar and walked to the stage.
My friends and I would go to the Fillmore West or Winter Land almost every weekend. There
were also a lot of free concerts in Golden Gate Park that we liked to go to. The best was the Muir Beach Tavern where there used to be bands playing. That’s where most of the real hippies went to groove in the 60’s.
I remember bands like Jefferson Airplane, The Moby Grape, Quick Silver Messenger Service, Clover, The Electric Flag, The Grateful Dead, to mention a few. So we even saw Michael on occasion and each time he would say with a smile "Sam Cook…" This time was very different. This time I wasn’t just a kid that looked like someone. I was a musician that he had heard and invited to play with him.
When I got to Sweet Water the band hade two-sax players. Ben King Perkoff who I have known for years, he was and still is my best friend, on tenor sax, and Hart Mac Knee on baritone sax. I had a blast. The next day Ron Bukovich the guitarist called me and asked if I wanted to join in the band. I said "Hell Yeah!" I know now to choose my words more carefully. Playing in that band was some kind of hell. Remember hell isn’t all-bad. But the bad was very bad. All we did was drink as much as we could, chase women and for the most part play bad. Sometimes we played pretty good and would have fun.
We did some small tours around California. On the first tour the bus broke down on the way to the first gig. So we hitchhiked, and got a ride with all our stuff! Amps, drums and everything in a big truck! We made it to the gig late but we made it…! Another time we
were on tour and should play three night’s at the same place for some politicians in Sacramento. A ten hour drive from S.F. and Michael drove home after the first night!
When it was time to play, no Bloomers! We had to play two of the three nights without him.
Michael told us he was doing this band for us and we should make something out of it. That he believed in us that’s why he made this band. He could not stand our unserious attitude, constant partying and fighting. So he went homeThis didn’t help our reputation much.
We had a European tour booked that got cancelled because we had the same agent as David Crosby. For one reason or the other Crosby didn’t show up to his part of the tour so they cancelled both bands. On some gigs things got strange when Michael refused to play the guitar. Well, he loved to play the piano. And was quiet stubborn about it. The audiences yelled "Play the guitar!" or "Super Session!" He wasn’t bad on piano but people payed to hear him play the guitar.
Things got hard under President Ronald Reagan. Living out of my car was getting old. I was in need of a real place to live. Michael said I could stay at his house for awhile…
He would stay up at night playing the piano. Friends would come over like Nick Gravanittis and Dan Hicks. Bob Dylan came by and took Michael on tour with him for a week or so. I don’t care what all the magazines or books say, I lived there for over a year and at that time he did not take heroin, coke or speed. He liked to drink wine and only sometimes, not often. He took prescription medication for insomnia and nothing more. So if you heard something else, that’s not true. There were things that happened that lead me to suspect foul play. Michael was very nice, sometimes too nice for his own good.
The last year of his life Michael spent most of his time reading and listening to music; he had a large library of books and records. More than often he would stay uppracticing the piano.
("Cruising for a Bruising")
After being in the band for about one year Michael started recording this album.
It was the first time I had recorded with someone that wasn’t unknown.
We in the horn section mostly relied on making a show. Dancing and waving our horns in unison.
So we did the same in the studio. This made our playing a bit clumsy, but energetic.
I remember Norman Dayron and Michael laughing at us often, and having a good time through the sessions. Michael had me come in the studio on a separate day to lay-down a harp track on "Snow Blind". First they played the track for me and told me some of the things they wanted to hear. I played through the track and said, "Can I try that again?" "No." said Norman thru my headset. Later Michael told me that first time is always the best. Michael and Norman both stood up and came towards me making me quite nervous. They took turns speaking. First Norman, he said, " You’re the best!" And then Michael "Yes your the best harmonica player around and you can tell people that we said so!" Well I never did until now. I guess it was hard for me to believe. He played with Paul Butterfield and Mark Adams, two of the best blues harp players ever. Mark played on Michael’s earlier albums as well. I don't think they meant I was the best technical blues harp player around. I believe they knew I felt every note I played, and instinctively knew how to fit into sound pictures and wanted me to feel confident about my abilities.
’s was the first touring band that I played with and it was pure torture. The best tour we did was as a warm-up act for Elvin Bishop.
That was the best I heard him for a long time. I know they had a competition with each other. Suddenly it was a very different Michael. It was Michael Bloomfield the legend!
We were shocked, even we sounded good? But Elvin’s band at that time was awesome! We where blown away but Michael held his own. Nothing like a little competition to put you on your toes. Strange tour for us. At every concert you would look out in the audience and what would you see? A sea of cowboy hats. (Good old boys.) And after each gig I would have to laugh at racial jokes.
Elvin was a lot of good time fun. He would jam all night and day long back stage, in the hotel, tour bus, anywhere. I remember him as very friendly generous and happy in that good old southern way.
When I moved in to Michaels house.
He gave me a gun, a small nickel-plated 38. And said "You should keep it handy…" He said, "If some people come from New York, they can spend the night but nothing more. They can get very nasty so watch yourself. You can stay here for free if you can watch over the house…"
Michael went to Europe and left me to watch over the place. After a week
there two men came from New York. I let them stay two nights. On the third day I told them they had to leave. They got nasty. They threatened me and rammed my car with theirs. And they kept coming back trying to threaten me. Oh yes, they were junkies. The worst kind of junkie, mean and up to no good. They drove all the way from N.Y. to take advantage of Michael and they weren’t going to let me get in the way. I finally had to pull out the gun on them and told them to "git." When Michel got back I told him what happened. He looked worried but not surprised.
Michael came home from Europe. Depressed and without his usual sense of humour. I stayed in my room mostly and tried to stay out of his way the best I could.
I decide to quit the band. I got a full time job poring concrete on Opera Plaza. MyChristian practice at the time was not popular with the other band members. Plus I loved Bloomers but was frustrated with the band’s attitude. Michael died two weeks after I moved out.
Meeting and playing with Big Mama Willie Mae Thornton
Luther Tucker ask me if could give him a ride to a gig in Oakland. He told me to bring some instruments just in case. On the way to the gig he asked me to stop at a liquor store. He bought two half pints of something. He got back in the car and wrapped one of the bottles tightly in its small brown paper bag. "Watch this." he said hitting the bottom of the bottle with palm of his hand. The seal of the twist top breaks. Then he drinks it down in one breath. "Dang Luther" I said.
We got to the gig. Luther says"I’ll introduce you but if you want to play you have to ask her yourself." Luther says, " Mama this boy name be’s Derrick." Mama says " yeah? And la de da." I said "Mama can I play?" Mama "I don’t know can you?" she says.
I heard laughing in the backroom coming from the band. I stuttered
"ye ye yes I’mmm not too bad, Mama". "What you play boy?" I said "S s s sax and ha harp." "Harp?" she says. "Well we don’t need no harp. I play the harp!"
I said "I know
." She said "Ok well we’ll see what you can do." Mama could sound angry, but she wasn’t. It was just her way. I had seen her play live a few times before. Once at Winterland. Janis Joplin brought her on stage and introduced Mama as the songwriter to Ball and Chain. Then they sang it together. Then I heard her play with five harp players in her band. What a great show that was. And I saw her play an outside concert around 1971. There were a lot of people smoking pot.
Mama hated pot. Her first song: Don’t Smoke That Stuff Around Me. Looking angry with all the pot smokers. And for her next number, a slow minor blues: That Evil Weed. Mama was glaring and pointing at anyone smoking anything.
I never heard these songs before or after. I suspect she made them up on the spot.
Later she was big, maybe about 230 pounds. When I met her she was about 120 pounds. Mama said "I’ll call you up. Bring my medicine to the stage when you come." Mama’s medicine was 10% milk, 90% gin in a large glass. I am not joking or exaggerating.
So Mama calls me to the stage like this "Well, come on if your coming." And says "Did you bring my medicine son?" "Yes Mama" I said. Most people in the audiences believed that she was my mama and I her henpecked son. Mama talked me through a solo on a slow blues, and I mean every note. "Now go up high, take it easy now, not that high, now go down, play it strong now, like you mad at it." The crowd loved it. Man I was in!
I was hired to play sax and some harp. And of course to bring Mama her medicine. We did about five fantastic gigs or so with that band, Mark Naftlin, Harvey Brooks, Luther Tucker and myself. I
can’t remember the drummer’s name but as I recall he was playing with Anthony Broxton, and he was great.
The touring I did with Mama later was not quite the same. Now this was a very good band but
cost a lot of money. Mama’s sister did the booking but she worked with agents like Charles Morhead or to us Moe-head. He was grumpy but fair.
Here we are backing up Soony Roads at the the San Francisco Blues- Festival
He wanted a much cheaper
all-Black band. So he hired the Eddy Ray R&B Band. Eddy was a long, good looking smooth singer guitar player. When we played in black clubs the girls would have competitions just who could scream the loudest, cry, or faint and make the biggest scene. Then a crew of the winner’s friends would carry her out of the venue.
were the trumpet player Rudy and me. Eddy Rays band was Mama’s band then. Mama hade another stroke and was confined to a wheel chair.
But she still was taking her medicine and got a new agent. The money got funny and the band sounded often bad, and I don‘t mean good. So I quit just in time to miss the worst reviews Mama received in her life.
Percy Mayfield and Mark Naftalin
Eddy Ray would get some great gigs backing the most famous blues singers. We
were hired to back up Percy Mayfield. Now I got tired of being embarrassed at shows. So when I found out nobody in the band knew Percy’s music I called someone who did. Mark Naftalin. There was a tuned piano at the club so he just had to show up and play. So he did. A good thing because he knew every song and what key it was in. Eddy, who knew none of this, left the stage in the middle of a song, and hid in the bathroom. He was totally humiliated by this music lesson he was receiving from Mark.
Now playing with Percy was special. Someone would take a solo and Percy would whisper to me "Hay Bobby, what song are we playing?" He apparently forgot what song we where playing, and thought that I was Bobby Forty, my saxophone coach at that time. He would do this several times a set.
Mark led us through the songs and the gig went well. After I get to hear from the agent
: "Don’t bring your white honky friends around no moe!!!" "I know you like them honkies." "You and your honky friend fucked up the whole show!"
Well that wasn’t true. Mark saved two shows! Mark did a lot of gigs and records with Percy after that.
I met Butter at a place called the Tree House in San Rafael, California.
Something had gone wrong with their tour so they got booked at the Tree House for that week. I used to go there often for the Prime Rib. The food was great there.
Suddenly I hear this unmistakable harp sound. It was Paul warming up. They had a sound check so we stayed for a while. He was very friendly. He asks if I wanted to sit in on the sax. "Id be happy to" I said. Paul didn’t know too many people in San Rafael, so I invited him over to my house. Paul came over every day that week and brought an acoustic guitar with him which he played constantly. I asked him for harp lessons which irritated him, but he reluctantly said yaeh.
He would play the guitar and I played the harp. I thought I sounded pretty good so I asked him what he thought. He said"
"What a bunch of shit." "What?" I asked. "Totally fucking worthless crap." "Why?" I asked. "First of all don’t try to sound like somebody else, especially me! Second, play melodies not licks. Listen to the words, there’s hints to what you should play." This changed my concept of playing music. I stopped copying after that.
I went to some of Paul’s out of town gigs. I remember a guy in his twenties coming up to him and asking him "Can you give some advice to a young upcoming harmonica player?". Paul said "Yaeh. Quit!"
Paul played and sang perfectly. From the time he put the harp to his
lips he would go in to some kind of trance. He played with a very strong vibrato. There was something about him when he sang and played. The only way I can describe it is that he was majestic, even surreal. I always wondered why he sang with one hand behind his back. I thought it was because he was just being cool. He would keep one hand behind his back to avoid feedback from his mike.
Paul liked to play with two Fender Twins hooked up together. He played loud and
there was something very matter of fact about the way he did everything he did on stage.
The Ice Man
Luther Tucker asked us if we would mind backing up Albert Collins for a seven day tour. Apparently Albert and Luther where good friends. At the first rehearsal I was warming up my harp, Albert looked over angrily and said “Stop! I thought you played the saxophone”, I said “I do but I play the blues harp to".
” I hate the harmonica",he said, "the only thing I hate more than the harmonica is harmonica players!”. “Ok let’s hear you”. After a song and short solo he said "Your ok". So I don’t know any harp players that played more than one song or so with Albert. He had a very long guitar cord and he would walk all over. Down the isle upstairs or even outside. We had a lot of fun. The horn section witch was Ben King Perkoff on tenor sax, Victor Rodriguez on baritone sax and myself on alto sax and blues harp. We would follow him around the audience as he played. Some times he would come to a table and sit down, and we would surround the table. Sometimes we would stand on chairs and fan our horns back and forth in time to the music.
We played at the North Dakota club for a night. A film crew was filming for a pilot to some movie. Anyway at one point Albert told us to leave the stage. In tempo to a fast march we field off the stage. Once gone he started a funky grove. Freddy Roulette, who was in audience, jumped up on a table and did some kind of spider dance table in time to the music truly amazing. After twenty minutes Freddy took his slide guitar and they talked back and forth.
Like this. “Hi Freddy how are you”. “Cool Albert let’s get down”. And they went on and on like this. Talking guitars. Now Albert loved to gamble so before and after every gig he would play craps with the band. He won all the money he should have paid the band exccept mine, I don’t gamble. At the end of the tour he told me.”I like you! You're pretty smart. You’re the only one who got paid!”
Albert Collins Victor Rodriguez Derrick walker Red Archibald
I knew Red since 1976. Elvin Bishop took me over to his house to get some encouragement on the harmonica. Little did I knowthat we would met up again I Europe. I went to Europe in 1983. I played with Red Archibald and the Internationals and spent time with Red on and off stage. Red was very mischievous. At the same time had a kind giving hart. He was the first person to give me a job when I came to Europe. Red Past away Dec.25 2006
He could raise hell but somehow charm everybody anyway. On stage we had to dance spin and twirl and play like we where on fire. He could play a ten minute harp solo and get a standing ovation every time. Then take ten minutes to tell some corny joke. Even though you herd the joke many times, you had to laugh. "Don't clap, throw money".
"We're not hear for the season, we're for one reason and that's a little bit of rhythm and blues just like this" or "If my dog had your face..." he would say often.
Red was one of a kind. I had to saved his life more than once or twice, and i'm not joking. I was his sax player and bodyguard when we where not playing. One night after a gig Red some of us out for some drinks.
Red started singing playing the harp and dancing on the bar. Some guys started saying we don't like Americans. So Red says to them; "If it weren’t for us you would be speaking German right now!" This got them so mad we had a fight. Not just a fight they wanted to hurt us. Red and I against nine of them, the others where two girls? Well they were no help.
Red and me, we really held our own and got away!! We had many story’s like this one.
That’s us in Amsterdam 1984, about halfe way in to a three month tour of Germany, Holland, Belgium.We did 72 dates on that tour at festivals, rock concert halls and schools...
We were very attached to each other. Joann says;"We where soul-mates...".
T.T. Fingers is a fantastic singer and slide guitar player. He was the first to teach me the street scen in Europe. You could not find a stronger performer any where. He’s one of the musicians Luther Tucker told me to look up when I got to Europe. You could never find a better teacher for the street. Or a more passionate friend. With a voice like Lou Rawls and Elmor James, and could play Hendrix solos. Most people didn’t notice he had only two fingers in until they got real close. T.T. Fingers, Red Archibald , Fro Miller and Professor Washboard set the standard for what I call professional street playing.
TT and I played the streets, small gig’s and festivals in Belgium, Holland and Sweden.
Bob Christopher, A Texas style guitarist, Peter Pango Pango Morse bass player, singer and anything else he decided to do, and Gianni Manente on drum’s. They Where Luther’s Tuckers band during the time he lived in Europe. Luther and his wife Jill Baxter told me. "Those guys need you over their!" They also told me ”your going on the torture tour”.
We formed a band called The Blue Shades .We had a house band gig at a place called the Blues Corner. Bob and I took a trip to France. That was one of the greatest times. Just the two of us on the streets of Paris. French people love blues and jazz with a passion.
They would say that we "lived the life". In Paris I met a Swedish guy name Pix (Per).
Pix invited me to Sweden for the first time and put a band together for me. And for some reason they called it the Bonkers.
After I had been in Sweden for a week or so. I met an agent Tomas Janter that booked Michael when he came to Sweden. He put us on tour. Mostly hotels and pizza restaurants. We had a big bus with beds, cold beer, lights and good soundmen…
The agent wanted me to bring the American musicians I played with in Europe to. This we did twice. The first time was magic, the second was torture.
That’s when I wrote the song “Call Me a Doctor“. TT was always sick or something and asking for a Doctor…After that I put together a new band called The Black & White Blues Band.
I took them on a three month street tour; Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain.
They were fresh and picked street playing up well, and became very popular. Three good looking Swedish boys and myself. We killed the audiences and that’s what made the band so tight. When we got back to Sweden, nobody could believe it, they left Sweden like three sweet young boys. When they got back they were harden professionals. They achieved what I like to call the awareness. (The ability to read the audience, know your surroundings and communicate).
Over the years the band members were Kalle Salomonson, Robert Halldin, Fredrik Dahlöv, Kent Bergström, Marc Gransten, Per Sjöholm (Pix,) Patrik Juslin and Kalle Drugge.
And they had to survive without a safety net. This change them greatly. They where no longer shy. Oh no, they where in your face, and loving it. We took a couple of house band gigs, and played festivals. We were a band for over 13 years.
Witch brings us about up to date.The Blue Souls has ben performing for six years now. In clubs and at festivals in Norway, Germany, Italy, Belgium,Holland and Switzerland .
This is a funny revue if you can read Norwiegan;)
The Blue Souls backing band for Zora Young & Jimmy Dawkins.
But what dose the band look like today? Jair Rohm Parker Wells, James Bradly Jr,Olle Boson and Derrick Walker
When Derrick is not on tour with the Blue Souls. He host a blues jam session at Stockholms (Wirströms Pub.)
So what was it like playing on the Streets of Europe? Well one picture is worth a thousand words. Derrick & Wild Bill Durken, Stockholm 1986.
Did we enjoy our selfs? Yes we where "Living the life";)
Do you still play on the street?
No not for over ten years now.
Did you learn something from playing on the street?
Yes we got a chance to see musicians actors, circus performers, dancers and artist of every kind, we learned a lot from watching them.
It’s something very special about playing for people just walking by. This is what folk music is all about. The people’s music not just a blues audience in a club. If you can do this well ,you can perform anywhere.
The ones who knock it have never done it. Many famous musicians have played on the Street
. Muddy Waters, Pete Seeger, Huey Lewis, Howlin Wolf, Sonny Boy Wlliamson, Sugar Blue, Sonny Terry & Brownig Mcghee, J. B. Lenoir, Son House, Woody Guthrie, Charley Patton, and Robert Johnson…
I like to see it as something I have in common with these musicians the other don’t have.
What are you doing nowadays?
I’ve been running a blues jam in Stockholm for the last six years, and
I give harmonica lessons and lectures at different schools. And touring with our band the Blue Souls. And most important raising up my five children.
This is a photo of a Cruse-Ship gig 2011 that went on for three months! With Joyce Hurly,Derek January and myself.
Why the name Big Walker ?
My stage name comes from when I was in high school. My friends called me that because I liked to play blues.
Later I took the name onboard for the Native American meaning. (One who wanders far from home).
We have Native Americans on both sides of our family and the fact that I loved Big Mama,she always called me Son...