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Blues in Britain

Big Walker – Root Walking


Derrick Big Walker has had a long and varied career as a musician and actor. He was given harmonica lessons by Paul Butterfield and has performed with the likes of Lowell Fulsom, Michael Bloomfield (appearing on his album “Cruising For A Bruising”), Big Mama Thornton, Luther Tucker and Jimmy McCracklin as well as performing and recording with Eric Bibb. And, for those of you who attended, he has appeared with both Jimmy Dawkins and Zora Young at the Great British R&B Festival, Colne.

Considering his pedigree it is surprising we haven’t heard more of him, but Walker will put this right with this fine CD which is subtitled “Afro-American poems from1700-1800 put to music and original songs”.

So, to the music!

The set opens with Walker’s own “It’s A Hard”, an ambling shuffle riding a pulsing bass riff replete with declamatory vocals, warbling harp and rolling piano. “Raise A Ruckus” is a piece of 1700 folk poetry that melds North Mississippi Hill Country blues with gospel, it’s frantic rhythms fuelled by Sonny Terry styled harp. “Run Nigri Run” melds elements of Leadbelly, RL Burnside with Walker’s “field holler” styled vocals underpinned by Johnny Woods inspired harp – whilst “Slave” is permeated with a mystic Dr John feel.

I cannot praise this set highly enough – just buy it! (

Mick Rainsford


Root Walking: Americana Blues & Roots
Big Walker 2012

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Well now, this is a very interesting one. Derrick 'Big' Walker may not be a name that immediately springs to mind, but over the last forty years he's done time with the likes of Luther Tucker, Big Mama Thornton and Mike Bloomfield , but this solo CD sees him taking some Afro-American poems from 1700 - 1800 along with some of his own original songs, on a splendid set of "Americana Blues & Roots".

As well as writing and singing, Mr Walker takes care of harmonica and saxophone on this CD, and when the various elements gel, it's a really engaging release. It's a largely harp driven release, which is fine by me, as it brings to the fore his Chicago influences from the likes of Waters, Butterfield and his former emplyer Bloomfield.

He's not the most listenable of singers, so prepare yourself for a lot of gruffness, but on songs like 'Papa Guede' and 'Devils Cloth', it suits the mood perfectly. There are some songs you think you know, like 'Mystery Train' and 'Midnight Special', but these interpretations make them seem like brand new. An excellent, surprising and thoughtful release.

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Don't forget to tune into Mr H every Thursday at 8pm, Her Majestys Great British time, when you will find him Rockin' The Blues on that there internet radio.

Visit the Rockin' The Blues blues store here!


Big Walker is perhaps not the most prominent names in contemporary blues landscape. Derrick Roy Michael Walker aka Big Walker was born in 1953 in Fort Sill Lawton, Oklahoma. In '62 Walker moved with his mother to San Francisco. There he would be influenced by the music by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane.Still enjoyed Derrick harmonica lessons of Paul Butterfield and he was introduced to playing the saxophone by Bobby Forte Jukes and Nole. Not much later he would play with Lowell Fulson, Big Mama Thornton, Percy Mayfield, Sugar Pie De Santos and Jimmy McCracklin. The album 'Root Walking' is the successor of the successful 'Still Dream Walking' from 2009, where in addition to Eric Bibb also Jimmy Dawkins, Zora Young and cooperate in the investigation. "Root Walking 'is an excellent disc recorded with some spiritual and poetic 17 and 18 century traditional poems. Walker foresaw these phrases of contemporary music arrangements and which are directly opposite a lot of original work. With simple guitar, bass and drums he takes the songs very close to the juke-joints, the Deep South and Delta. Together with his diatonic and chromatic harp Walker turns every track into a true blues anthology. The disc opens with the Chicago blues tinged "It's Hard." But in 'A Race Ruckus ", the spirit of Muddy Waters really emerge. In 'Wild Black Bill' Walker with his harmonica cuts very deep into our skin pores.Slavery and hardship spirited 'Nigri Run Run', with its heavenly backing vocals, soul and gospel sound like an absolute masterpiece. With "Can not Take No Train," the fever to yet another climax. Elvis Presley also drew here not from the mustard. Like the contrast 'The Hypocrite Blues' escalating and uptempo blues. With 'Devil's Cloth "we even to New Orleans. We have actually thumbs and fingers too short for this licking. Besides excellent original material Big Walker succeeds admirably in editing ancient poetic lyrics. Musically "Root Walking 'cross our blue marrow back.   "Root Walking '... is damn good blues! You feel the spirit of the Afro-American roots music, the heat or the cotton fields and the incredible blues style. Philip Verhaeghe (5)



Rating:   / 2 


root bigwalker"Americana Blues & Roots" is the subtitle of the album, which was published by the blues harp player and saxophonist Big Walker now. Basis of the songs are African American poetry from past and present.

Big Walker - I'll give it freely to - was unknown to me. I was more surprised. when I found among his masters as diverse artists such as Paul Butterfield and Jimmy Witherspoon. And over the last decades of the harmonica and saxophone player with among other things, Mike Bloomfield, played Big Mama Thornton and Luther Tucker. With The Soul Rebels, he was traveling in Europe in the '80s and remained for some years on this side of the Atlantic. Especially in Scandinavia, he has his fan base. So it should be understood also that he has "Walking Roots," his second solo album, recorded in Stockholm, Sweden.

But the place does not really matter: Big Walker plays traditional blues in style throughout the Mississippi Delta.sometimes it geibt trips to New Orleans and Chicago also appears on the musical map. And you should never forget that the churches are as much as the cotton fields to the sources of the blues. And there are even Soul Blue sounds in songs like "slave".

But the music - played consistently at the highest level and contagious enthusiasm - only is one side of this remarkable album. It is exciting as well as Walker old poems - from nursery rhymes to ballads - links and own lyrics with the music to blues, the deep African-American traditions, breathing on the other hand is lively as the music of neo-traditionalists such as Eric Bibb (with whom he is friends) and Keb 'Mo'. I would compare "Roots Walkin 'in its approach rather with albums such as recent works by Otis Taylor, or the Heritage Blues Orchestra: Only if the Blues reserves the story in mind, he remains alive as the music. But only when the music will also look in the present and the future, it remains relevant. Highly recommended!

Big Walker – Root Walking

Blues Blast

Time: 46:04

Derrick Big Walker may not be the most prominent name featured in blues circles throughout the world. It still doesn’t stop him from winning endorsements from the likes of Blues Revue, Living Blues and Alligator label honcho Bruce Iglauer.

Having played with Luther Tucker, Big Mama Thornton, Mike Bloomfield and many others has been his bread and butter and these ingredients are the key factors in making the Root Walking CD a listenable piece of recording.

Setting old American poems from two centuries ago to music isn’t a formula most musicians follow. It’s a challenge that’s hard to pull off yet Walker can do it modernizing the material to today’s present standards.

Saxophone and harmonica are Walker’s playing cards. You can tell the man probably loves the harp as his instrument of choice as it’s the centerpiece for the majority of the songs. Nothing wrong with that as this cd bears the imprint of Chicago Delta styled blues made fashionable by Muddy Waters and resurrected by apostles Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield.

Walker’s sandpaper vocals are far from being technically perfect. Their gruffness is still suited to the material. Although this piece of work was recorded in Stockholm, Sweden it’s instantly forgettable as you would swear these tracks were laid down in some studio located in Chicago, Tennessee or New Orleans. The hoodoo strut of “Papa Guede” is the perfect precursor to the tent revival evil chanted “Devils Cloth” that cloaks itself in its darkness proudly.

Previously speaking of Muddy Waters, nowhere is that presence more felt than in opening cut “It’s Hard” which lopes along lazily until second track “Raise A Ruckus” raises the roof with Walker’s harp leading the cavalry into a lowland fling party after the battle. Even when a bit of a breather comes like in “Run Night Run,” the background vocals are the cushion for Walker to spray harmonica notes over to carry the number along an ominous edge. It’s a contrast to the uplifting cowpoke sounding “The Hypocrite Blues” that ends like a flash of light before you begin to appreciate its Western Plains atmosphere.

And in case for some listeners when things are getting a bit complacent, than “Can’t Take No Train” will pick up the slack though it’s a rewrite of the obscure chestnut “Mystery Train” made popular back in the day by Elvis Presley. Not that it will matter to fans needing a fix of that boogie fever so they can feel the effect of being in an old blues bar in Chicago with the time machine dials set somewhere in the 1950s.

After Credence Clearwater Revival covered “Midnight Special” it seemed very likely this song would fade into the ether. With the escalating interest in blues, artists have dug this song out of obscurity and have put their own personal stamp on it. Joining the ranks, Walker’s sandpaper vocals do the song justice and although it may not capture the energy level that CCR created, the tune fits in well with the others as Walker’s harp playing once again carries the song across its joyous waters.

Ending track “Slave” contemplates the hardships of the Afro-American. It’s a strange way to end an album. Then again maybe it’s not. In his press release reads the quote “Afro-American poems from 17-1800 and his own original songs.” If Derrick Walker wants to take on the role of blues historian, he certainly has earned that right. No harm could come of a musician educating the listener and taking them on a journey to where the heritage of roots music began.

Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.


BIG WALKER - Root Walking - Americana Blues & Roots

Own label BWCD002 (46:04)

It’s Hard/ Raise A Ruckus/ Wild Black Bill/ Run Nigri Run/ The Hypocrite Blues/ Can’t Take No Train/ Midnight Special/ You Got A Home In That Rock/Papa Guede/ Devil's Cloth/ Thirteenth Full Moon/ Slave

Singer, harmonica player and saxman Derrick “Big” Walker toured Britain some years back and was well-received. Born in Oklahoma in 1953, he worked with the likes of Big Mama Thornton, Percy Mayfield, Lowell Fulson and Mike Bloomfield on the west coast, and has played with numerous people since he moved to Europe in the 80s; he is now based in Scandinavia and often works with Eric Bibb. For this CD, he plays mostly harp - though there is some blasting sax too, in which he was tutored by Bobby Forte, ex-BB King - and the idea behind just under half of the numbers on this CD is that he takes old African-American poems and putsthem to music. If that sounds over-intellectual, the result is anything but... He told me, “The rappers and hip-hoppers might be surprised to find how much they have incommon with the poets and musicians of the past four centuries.”

There is a down-home blues feel to many tracks but also a strong sense of both originality and continuity. Walker opens with a Chicago flavoured original number and follows it with the first example of the “poetry” numbers, ‘Raise A Ruckus’, a little more developed than other versions you might have heard – and definitely not an over-reverent performance. Derrick dates ‘Wild Black Bill’ to the 1700s (!), but his treatment – both vocally and musically - is definitely in a Muddy Waters bragging vein, and the song has some words that relate to ‘The Dozens’. ‘Run Nigri Run’ is of course slave era – some take it to refer to Nat Turner’s slave revolt of 1832 –and ‘The Hypocrite Blues’ is also dated to the 1800s (though not under that title, I would guess). It is a pity Derrick does not give any sources for these in the otherwise excellent booklet, though he does state that he heard at least some of them as a child. These are nicely – though maybe “nicely” is not the right word –juxtaposed with Walker’s own autobiographical ‘Can’t Take No Train’. ‘Midnight Special’ is given a bluesy, jaunty, sing-along treatment and this mood continues on the spiritual ‘You Got A Home In That Rock’, interestingly leading into another original, ‘Papa Guede’, a New Orleans-ish sounding homage to the “good”counterpart of Baron Samedi in Haitian voodoo. ‘Devil’s Cloth’ mixes folk, gospel and pop, and ‘Thirteenth Full Moon’, a tough, slightly spooky, contemporary sounding blues in honour of Derrick’s former guitarist Olle Boson who died in 2009, also hints at another folk tradition. ‘Slave’ is a thoughtful, moody piece that ostensibly closes the set, but there is a hidden bonus number, probably entitled ‘She Hoodooed Me’, with Derrick’s exaggerated vocal sounding very much like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, his sax lowdown and dirty, the backing rocking, and just about every hoodoo reference you can think of included in the lyrics.

Derrick's harmonica playing is excellent throughout; his relaxed singing is even better. The backing is by local musicians – including Per “Stockholm Slim” Notini, of Magic Sam fame – and other ex-pats such as backing singer Derek January from Detroit. The results are contentious, intriguing, fun, Afro-centric, and always listenable, making for an interesting and slightly different CD from the norm that is worth checking out.

Norman Darwen


Derrick Roy Michael Walker, beter bekend als Big Walker, gaat al een poos mee, meer bepaald sinds 1953. Hij stamt van Oklahoma maar in de vroege jaren zestig trok hij met zijn ma naar San Francisco, net voor de stad eventjes, één jaargetijde lang, het centrum van de wereld was, in the summer of love. Daar werden we kort geleden nog aan herinnerd met het overlijden van Scott 'If You're Going To San Francisco' McKenzie. De jonge Derrick onderging inderdaad de revolutie die Jimi, Janis en Jefferson (Airplane dus) ontketenden, indrukken die hem zeker getekend hebben. En hij was een grote fan van de in 1967 in California opgerichte country rock band Clover. De band was lokaal populair maar wij kennen die vooral als de begeleiders van Elvis Costello op diens spraakmakende debuutplaat 'My Aim Is True'. De muziek die Big Walker zelf omarmde was echter de blues. Hij kreeg nog harmonicales van Paul Butterfield, met wie hij ten slotte ook op toneel stond en opnam.

Mettertijd speelde Big Walker bij gereputeerde bluesmensen als Lowell Fulson, Jimmy McCracklin, Big Mama Thornton. Begin jaren tachtig maakte hij deel uit van de Soul Rebels en met zijn eigen band The Black And White Blues Band toerde hij in Europa. Hij moet halverwege dat decennium zelfs in ons land geweest zijn. Hij speelde verder nog op diverse platen van Eric Bibb. Zijn eigen platenproductie is beperkt, maar 'Still Dream Walking' uit 2009 (gemaakt met o.a. Bibb, Jimmy Dawkins, Zora Young) werd erg goed ontvangen. Als hij niet op toer is, geeft Big Walker workshops over blueszang, mondharmonica, saxofoon en de geschiedenis van de blues. Met de kaap van de zestig in zicht vond hij het misschien wel tijd om met iets speciaals voor de dag te komen...

Da's precies wat 'Root Walking' doet. Dat men de man voorheen vooral voor zijn kwaliteiten als harpist en saxofonist aanzocht, mag duidelijk zijn. Zijn zang mag dan op zich niet bijzonder zijn, maar het is de stem van een man die grotendeels beleefd heeft wat hij zingt of het zich vanuit zijn eigen verleden levendig kan inbeelden. Geloofwaardig dus. Alle harpen en saxen op 'Root Walking' komen natuurlijk van Derrick zelf, de rest is in handen van bekwame lieden, mannen van 'alles op de juiste plaats en geen noot teveel als het niet moet', en de plaat krijgt een degelijke, no nonsense productie mee (door bassist Surjo Benigh en gitarist Steve Klasson, die ook in elk nummer meespelen) Anders gezegd, 'Root Walking' klinkt als haar titel. Da's uiteraard meegenomen. Maar daar schuilt nog niet het bijzondere in.

Big Walker schreef niet alleen eigen teksten, maar nam ook 'folk poetry' van lang vervlogen tijden, meer bepaald de 18e eeuw en de 19e eeuw, uiteraard toegespitst op de armen en de achtergestelden, de zwarten, de indianen (de native Americans) Hij schreef overal muziek bij. Oorspronkelijk waren die 'verzen' hard en zonder slagen om de arm, want ze werden binnen de kring van gelijkgestemden gezongen, maar om geen problemen te krijgen werden ze in de loop van de tijd 'aanvaardbaar voor een breder publiek' gemaakt, ook al omdat bepaalde ervan als verhaaltjes voor het slapengaan werden gebruikt, wat vanzelfsprekend een aangepaste taal vergt. Derrick heeft zelf nog als kind enkele daarvan opgelepeld gekregen. Beslist niet allemaal: 'Raise A Ruckus' ('Maak Amok') is niet bepaald stichtend te noemen, niet bestemd voor jeugdige oortjes. 'Wild Black Bill' en de wél stichtende gospel of '(negro) spiritual' 'You Got A Home In That Rock' hebben ook zo'n oeroude oorsprong. 'Run Nigri Run' (over een zwarte achtervolgd door de sheriff) vulde Walker aan met een handvol eigen verzen, net als 'The Hypocrite Blues', om de bezongen situatie te verduidelijken of te actualiseren. 

Een speciaal geval is 'Midnight Special' dat velen tegenwoordig vooral kennen van de versie van John Fogerty en aanzien als een zuivere 'train song'. Walker zet het op naam van Huddie Ledbetter (hij verkiest de schrijfwijze Hoodie) Da's een historische 'vergissing' die vergeeflijk en zelfs aannemelijk is. John en Alan Lomax namen het immers af van Leadbelly toen die in de Angola Prison tijd deed. Zij zetten het ten onrechte op zijn naam. Nu is het zo dat Leadbelly er drie strofen aan toe voegde, een verwijzing naar een vluchtpoging in een andere gevangenis van 1923. Leadbelly nam de song later verschillende malen op wat zijn auteurschap nog versterkte (iets gelijkaardigs is overigens gebeurd met 'zijn' 'Goodnight Irene') In feite is 'Midnight Special' een gevangenissong (zoals 'House Of The Rising Sun') die op zijn beurt verwijst naar een trein die op weg naar Houston 's avonds op een vast uur zijn licht liet schijnen in de Sugar Land gevangenis. Deze tweede oudste gevangenis van Texas sloot in 2011 haar deuren... dat had ze 102 jaar lang gedaan, maar dan om andere redenen. Ditmaal was het definitief. De gevangenen zagen dat licht als een teken van hoop voor en redding van hun zondige ziel. Dat verklaart verzen als 'Let the Midnight Special shine his light on me'.

Zijn eigen teksten plaatsen Walker min of meer in dezelfde (underdog) positie, liggen in het verlengde van het traditionele werk: het zijn gebeurtenissen die hem zelf overkwamen, zoals in 'Can't Take No Train', wat er gebeurt als je je ticket niet kan betalen. Vooral vriendelijk blijven tegen de 'conductor', hopen dat de 'horn' heelhuids blijft en toch proberen op de trein te raken... Opener 'It's Hard' heeft dan al laten verstaan dat het leven geen lachertje is. Stilistisch gaat de cd vele richtingen uit, al blijft een 'zuiders' gevoel de boventoon voeren. 'Papa Guede' heeft zelfs een duidelijk naar New Orleans verwijzende aanstekelijke ritmiek. Eens te meer is dat verbazend genoeg een eigen song. 'Devil's Cloth' kon voor hetzelfde geld eveneens een statement uit de mist der tijden zijn. Het afsluitende, ook al zelf gepende 'Slave' verwijst duidelijk naar het lot van de (dwang)arbeiders op de plantages en doet dat met de stemmenpracht die daar bij hoort... Als het lied geëindigd is, voegt de band er nog een voodoo staart aan toe. Big Walker zingt dit met heerlijk theatrale black magic in de stem, een pracht van een coda.

'Americana Blues & Roots' luidt de ondertitel van 'Root Walking' en zo is het maar net: Big walker levert niet louter een lekkere, relaxt klinkende, thematisch doorwrochte cd af. Nee, het bewuste teruggrijpen naar een verleden, van lang vóór de ontwikkeling van opnametechnieken en communatiemedia, dus in tempore non suspecto, geeft er bepaald meerwaarde aan. 'Root Walking' wekt belangstelling voor een fragmentair bewaard, maar voor de bluesliefhebber evengoed als de socioloog waardevol patrimonium. Big Walker herinnert ons allen aan het bestaan van die schat.

Antoine Légat

Rock 'n' Roll Call: Derrick "Big" Walker - Root Walking

Bill Locey
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Root Walking

Derrick "Big" Walker's latest is "Root Walking" and it's on City Hall Records, providing further proof that the blues are alive and well. This guy kicks ass and if you didn't know better, you'd think John Lee Hooker was still with us. Walker is a Sooner who came to the Bay Area back in those silly '60s where he took harmonica lessons from Mike Bloomfield, then played in Europe for decades and now, here he is. As good as Black Joe Lewis, Seasick Steve and any of the contemporary blues guys - this is not the boring cry in you beer blues by a long shot. Walker has such a smooth groove - you'll be hooked halfway through the first one, "It's Hard," and it doesn't let up. One of the year's best.