Born in 1937 near Lake Charles, Louisiana in the small town of Welsh, Phillip Walker’s earliest musical influences came via the Cajun and Creole rhythms he heard as a youngster. But by the time his family moved down I-10 to Port Arthur, Texas after the war, the blues was making an impression on young Phillip as well. A second cousin of Gatemouth Brown, and a huge admirer of T-Bone Walker (almost a requirement for young guitarists in Texas at the time), Phillip began making a name for himself on the vibrant local music scene by the time he was still in his teens. He recalls his first recording session backing Memphis pianist Roscoe Gordon in 1952; the following year, the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier (who incidentally gave the young fledgling Walker his first bona fide guitar), recruited the guitarist and took him on the road and into the studio over the next few years. So before he was even old enough to buy a beer in most of the joints he played, Phillip Walker was already a seasoned and road-tested veteran.
By the late ‘50s Walker was out on the road with his own band. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1959, he cut his first record as a bandleader, the storming "Hello My Darling," for Elko Records. He augmented steady work in Los Angeles clubs with touring between Los Angeles, Texas, and Chicago, and recorded a handful of singles for various labels in the 1960s. Walker also did occasional session work (including backing Chicago bluesmen Johnny Shines and Eddie Taylor for the Advent label in 1969), and with the help of long-time supporter and producer Bruce Bromberg, he cut an excellent LP for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy label in the early 1970s (later reissued on HighTone). Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Walker’s musical career continued to pick up steam, with numerous recording projects, tours of the U.S. and abroad, and increasing attention from the ‘blues media’ worldwide. So when longtime fan and Delta Groove head Randy Chortkoff came knocking, Phillip was ready.
For his Delta Groove debut, “Going Back Home,” the plan was to revisit Walker’s roots, and record some of the songs he heard directly from his early influences, such as fellow Texas and Louisiana musicians Frankie Lee Sims, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lonesome Sundown and others. At the same time, they came up with a handful of strong originals in the same vein, and the results are a mix as down-home and funky as possum stew. Walker is joined by an all-star crew of sympathetic and experienced sidemen who know just what to do, and just when to do it. Veteran drummer Richard Innes teams up with bassist Jeff Turmes to provide one of the toughest blues rhythm sections this side of 1954 (the multi-talented Turmes also contributes sax on the low-down Frankie Lee Sims cover “Walkin’ with Frankie”). Rusty Zinn is the perfect six-string counter-balance to Phillip’s guitar, playing with sensitivity and drive behind Walker’s warm vocals, and adding seamless counterpoint and rhythmic propulsion behind the leader’s stinging and melodic solos. And when the two guitarists trade solos, as on the pumping shuffle, “Lay You Down,” sparks of the best kind fly. Add harp master Al Blake and pianist Fred Kaplan of the Hollywood Blue Flames for a few numbers, plus piano ace Rob Rio, and you end up with one of the best recordings of Phillip Walker’s long and illustrious career. “Going Back Home” was awarded Best Album of 2007 in the New Recordings/Contemporary Blues category by the Living Blues Awards Critics’ Poll, and Walker additionally received a Blues Music Award nomination by the Blues Foundation in 2008 for Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year.
Phillip Walker died of apparent heart failure at 4:30am, early Thursday morning, July 22, 2010. He was 73 years old. Label CEO Randy Chortkoff shared some of his fond remembrances of working with Phillip at the time by stating, “Phillip was a consummate gentleman and it was an absolute pleasure working with him over the years. It was a pleasure producing his last album ‘Going Back Home.’ We chose the music on that album based on Phillip’s musical tastes and background. He especially enjoyed doing the Champion Jack Dupree song ‘Bad Blood.’ It later became a standard in his live repertoire, in addition to one I wrote for him, ‘Lay You Down.’ He was definitely a one of a kind. He will be missed.”