Walter “Wolfman” Washington: Blues from New Orleans
Ahead of his India debut, the American bluesman looks back on his eventful career
Walter “Wolfman” Washington is a musician of unparalleled versatility. The American blues vocalist-guitarist’s roots might be in the blues—he’s been performing it for over half a century—but in the past three decades, he has also whipped up some wholesome funk and R&B. It can be heard best on his 1997 record, Blue Moon Risin’.
It is but only natural for Washington to glide between different styles of music effortlessly—he grew up in New Orleans within a family that breathed music. “It was all around me. My whole family was involved in music, including two of my uncles, [the veteran guitarists] Guitar Slim [Eddie Jones] and Lightnin’ Slim [Otis Verries Hicks].” His first guitar was gifted to him by his cousin, the legendary American R&B singer Ernie K-Doe, who Washington fondly remembers as an early inspiration. “He was out there playing music and bringing home money and taking care of my auntie.”
Next month, Washington will perform for the first time in India, at the Mahindra Blues Festival. “We want to share some of our special brand of New Orleans music with the people,” says the 74-year-old, who started his career as a teenager, playing with pop and R&B singer Lee Dorsey’s group. He went on to form his own band in the mid-Sixties called the All Fools Band. The group hit quite a few of the New Orleans clubs at the time and Washington remembers how the band became his second family. He says, “Each [of us] had our own brand of liquor, our own way of playing music, and our own part of the family. It was great fun!”
Washington was destined to be on stage but it wasn’t until he joined the late American blues vocalist Johnny Adams’ band in the Seventies that he gained enough self-belief as a performer. Under Adams’ benign mentorship, the young musician found his true calling. “Johnny was like my shepherd; he inspired me to be a singer and not just a guitar player. He gave me the confidence to perform in public and not be afraid,” he says.
In 1981, the musician cut a deal with a small New Orleans-based record label, Help’ Me Records, and released his debut solo album titled Rainin’ In My Life. Washington remembers the tiny but momentous triumph: “I was so proud of myself and my band. It was so exciting to be on a record label and to have something to show for our hard work.” Soon after, Washington formed The Roadmasters, his current band which has to its name several albums over a 30-year career. “We [The Roadmasters] are still together because we understand each other and communicate through our music,” says Washington.
Watch Walter “Wolfman” Washington and The Roadmasters perform “Steal Away” below: