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Red Lick Records



Early Blues Interview
Khalif 'Wailin' Walter
Guitarist, singer, bandleader and songwriter

© Copyright 2009 Khalif Wailin Walter. All Rights Reserved.

Khalif “Wailin’" Walter continues to tear up stages in Chicago & throughout Europe with his unique style of boogie Blues. This born and bred Chicagoan is a guitarist, singer, bandleader, and songwriter carrying the torch as one of the new generation of that famed Blues Mecca's musicians. He has accumulated a mountain of reviews in the U.S., Canada, and the E.U. lauding both his 2008 CD “Let Me Say That Again” and his electrifying live show. Khalif “Wailin’” Walter’s stormy guitar work and brash New Orleans style vocals, generate the band’s traditional down-home sound, reminiscent of greats like Albert King, Freddie King, and Albert Collins. Fusing contemporary style and innovative original arrangements with a firm grasp of the Chicago Blues roots and tradition, Khalif “Wailin’" Walter delivers foot-stomping Blues that burns the house to the ground.

Khalif “Wailin’ “ Walter has performed in the Chicago Blues Festival in 2001, 2003, and 2007. In 2008 he toured the EU and headlined festivals in U.K., Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Holland, Belgium, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Following completion of his studies in Jazz performance at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, he was a 4 year member of the Lonnie Brooks Blues Band and studied under the tutelage of his Uncle and mentor Blues great Carl Weathersby. Khalif has appeared on stage with such Blues giants as Grammy Winner Taj Mahal, Grammy Winner Otis Rush, The Jimmy Vaughan Band, The Buddy Guy Band, Junior Wells, Bernard Allison, Grammy nominee and W.C Handy nominee Pinetop Perkins, 2-time Grammy nominee Billy Branch, Grammy Winner Sugar Blue, Larry McCray, Curtis Salgado, Louisiana Red, and A.C. Reed.

I caught up with Khalif at The Gregson, Lancaster, on his European tour. Khalif's band featured the excellent "Boogie" Bill Roberts on Piano, John Thistlethwaite on Bass, and Boyd Tonner on Drums.

1) What are you first musical memories?

    I have always been around excellent music. My dad listened to a lot of Motown, Stax, and really cool soul music. My Grandfather and him used to listened to a lot of classic Jazz and even traded and critiqued LPs at the house. I hated it as a kid but I am sure that I absorbed a lot of it. I played Sax and Clarinet growing up so I learned a lot of Big Band and Classical music.

2) Did you always want to become a musician?

    Ironically, No. I wanted to be a pilot. I took flying lessons up until I was 17 and I even soloed. I still occasionally fly today. The Air Force and Navy rejected me as a jet fighter pilot candidate because I had a bad baseball accident as a senior in High School. I ended up having 4 knee surgeries so that plan went out the window.

3) How did you get started in music?

     I played Sax and Clarinet in school band so I learned a lot of Big Band and Classical music. I added drums later because my brother played and I  took the time to at least learn basic rudiments and how to keep a beat. I started playing guitar at 17 in High School just to meet girls really. (Just a hint that doesnt really work!!!!). Guitar has been my weapon of choice ever since.

4) What kind of material were you playing in the early days?

I started playing because I loved (and still do) Van Halen. I was and still am also a huge AC/DC fan.  

5) Who are your favorite Blues Artist (Both old and new)?

   I have so many...but there are some guys in Chicago that very few people know about that deserve more mention simply because there stories arent documented. First is Harmonica Khan, who is hands down the most soulful musician I have ever met in my life. He unfortunately passed away. Next are members of my generation of Chicago Blues players Toronzo Cannon and Russ Green. Both have had some international success. Toronzo is one of my closest friends and he continually reminds me that connecting with the people is the soul of this music. That is more important than anything else. Russ Green continues to push the boundries of experimentation forward without ever losing grip of the Chicago tradition. He always inspires me to play better and to keep searching for those elusive sounds in my head.  Albert Collins, Albert King, Freddie King, are probably the best known. 

6) Who has influenced you the most in your music?

     I think my biggest influence is Carl Weathersby my Uncle. I learned a lot from him about the real soul of Blues. He taught me to slow down and just tell a story with my playing. He helped me find the inner courage to not hide behind fast guitar licks but just have a conversation with the audience.

     Lonnie Brooks who I worked under for 4 years, taught me how to be a professional especially when it comes to being on stage. Lonnie just flat out puts on the most hellacious show you will ever see. Musically Lonnie really stressed to me the importance of being myself, finding my own musical voice and going with it. Thats easier said than done when you are young. He helped me be more confident about playing my own tunes and trusting my ear.

    Albert King whom my uncle played with for 3 years is also very influencial. I am a huge fan of Otis Rush and Albert Collins both of whom were actually kind enough to give me a few guitar lessons.  

7) What first attracted you to Blues?

       I have honestly just started to grasp that in the last 2 or 3 years. I know when I first saw a Blues band (Dion Payton and the 43rd Street band) that I dropped everything and decided thats what I want to do. I felt called to it. Music has always been a place of peace and comfort for my soul when otherwise turbulent things are going on in my life. Music is a language that facilitates communication. But for me blues is exceptionally so. Blues Music is the place where I commune with The Creator. In my soul, Blues is the place where I can meditate, it is the place where I can Pray and it is the place where I find my inner Peace. I have never fully understood what attracts me to Blues but I have always known this is where I am supposed to be.

8) What was the Best Blues Album you ever had?

   No Question Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 'Just a Closer Walk With Thee'. I cannot believe how accurately the raw intensity of that soul conversation  between 2 people was just captured on that CD.  Close second place tie goes to Albert King 'I Wanna Get Funky' and B.B. King 'Live at the Regal'.

9) What is your favorite instrument?

The Human body....I am so influenced by how the Human body can be used to communicate just about anything. Dancers can take people on emotional rollercoasters with nothing between them but pieces of fabric. Listen to the variety of sounds the body can make. Watch the different rhythm with which everyone moves.  All instruments seek to emulate something that the human body does naturally. In reality its the unspoken communication between the bodies in the room that emotionally moves everyone.

10) Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?

Yes, given what went on last year in the US with the election of a Black President Elmore James "It Hurst Me Too" has a special meaning. If you read the words the tune is actually about the Black Solidarity movement of the 50’s which Malcolm X called Pan-Africanism. It is the concept that no matter where you are in America that if you are of African-American descent that the pain of your brothers is your pain as well. Watching Barack Obama carry the hopes and dreams of thousands of African-Americans on his shoulders against the backdrop of a history of Slavery and racism that has never fully been acknowledged was at times overwhelming.

11) I believe you consider the European Circuit as home, why is this?

Well, Chicago is always going to be home because that is where I am inspired and thats where my heart feels grounded. Artistically though the EU is a much more comfortable place. I feel far more playing my original music here. In Chicago the Blues club market is driven by the commercial idea of what Blues should be and not what it actually is. It is expected to play Sweet Home Chicago, I got My Mojo Workin’, The Thrill is Gone, Mustang Sally, and any other number of Blues Standards on any given night in a club because thats what most tourist expect to see and hear. Again music is a language and people dont speak like they did 50 years ago. My Blues are not the same as Muddy Waters or Howlin Wolf who never had to deal with Crack Cocaine, street gangs, or AIDS.  

12) How healthy do you think the blues scene is in the UK compared with the US?

     This is a hard question to answer because I havent had a lot of exposure to the UK scene. When I am on tour in the UK its sort of an isolated bubble due to time constraints. I have seen some very good bands here though and I think the audiences truly support the music and as a rule are better listeners. On this tour I have been playing some new songs that no one has yet heard and they have been allowing me the artistic freedom to experiment. This will be crucial element in keeping this music alive.

13) Tell me about your band, When did you get it together?

Unfortunately I havent yet been able to come with my touring band to the UK. My touring band is Klaus Schnirring (Drums, Germany), Sascha Oeing (Bass, Germany) and Jack Prokopowitz (Keys, Poland). There are some very good musicians here that I have performed with and I do enjoy that. With my touring band the difference is that we have a history and know each other so our conversation takes place from a different starting point.

14) Tell me about the making of your CD "Let Me Say That Again“.

This was the CD that really said I can stand on my own 2 feet. The CD happened actually in 2 parts. In 2006 I badly needed a new demo as the other one I had was nearly 10 years old. I am good friends with Bernard Allison and the  members of his band. He was coming through Germany and I just asked them since they had a day off would they mind coming into the studio. At the time we just called off tunes played through them and recorded. I simply thought I was making a good demo and had not given it too much more thought. What I was not expecting was the media reaction afetrwards and the demand for a CD. In 2007 they were doing a tour I wanted to record with them but I was out touring myself. I didnt think we would be able to connect but as fate would have it I returned from Latvia on a Sunday night and I had 2 days off before leaving again. They just happend to have Monday off in their tour schedule and were only about 30 miles away. We connected and went into the studio this time with the addition of Rusty Hall on keys and Klaus Schnirring on Drums.  Rusty and I had worked together in Lonnie Brooks Band for 3 years and had always wanted to record together. This was just so much fun and literally almost all of it was done live. I wanted that sort of feel. There are a few dings here and there that I chose not to overdub. What you hear is the true live energy of the band.

15) A lot of musical styles are fads but the Blues is always with us. Why do you think that is?

      Blues has an honesty about it that you cant find in other music. Real Blues tells a story. It takes you on a journey.

16) How do you see the future of Blues Music?

    Well, in some ways I see a good future and in other ways I am concerned. I am happy to see so many new people getting involved in the art form. The internet will play a huge role in the proliferation of this music. It is great that I have an artist from as far away as South Korea who has heard and been influenced by my music and want to share videos and MP3s. It is also a source of great relief that I can now market my own music independantly and not have it filtered through some record company.

    I am encouraged that people are infusing Blues with Funk, Hip-Hop, and Rock as well. It expands the audience and in some ways the appeal of the music. Herein lies my cause for concern. I see so many people who are claiming to be Blues players without really digging into the history and understanding what this music is about and where it came from. Blues is a music of conversation, storytelling, and its a music that comes from the people and for the most part remained among the people. Some musicians forget that and just talk at the people. Its not about the technical skill but the story you tell with that technique.

17) What are your future plans/gigs/Tours/Albums?

I am so excited about the next CD at the moment. Unfortunately being a totally indy artist money to record is always the hardest part. I am hoping to return to Chicago and get in the studio to record in November. I would like the CD out next February and then a full EU tour to follow. I have already started playing some of the tunes out live to see what people think and the reaction has been phenomenal. Musically I have 2 seperate CDs written. One is a little more STAXish  R&B with horns and the other is a straight ahead Chicago gut bucket no frills Blues. I dont want to give too much away yet because I have not yet exactly figured out I am going to proceed. 

     I bought a new device so I can record all my live shows in MP3 and edit out songs that I am trying out. I will be posting tunes to my website and I am asking fans to periodically visit me and let me know what you think of the tunes. I can start to get some feedback on the tunes and maybe it will make the space between CDs seem shorter. I cant wait to see how this new feature works.

Khalif, thank you so much for your time.
Alan White  -  earlyblues.com


Postscript from Khalif:
To Alan White & Early Blues:
    I thank you so very much for taking the time to listen to my music. It is an incredible gift to have people like you keep the true soul of this music and tradition documented.

Return to Blues Interviews List

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