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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Ground Zero Blues Club, Memphis, Tennessee, October 17th 2008

I don’t think it was really Robert ‘Bilbo’ Walker’s fault. The gig, I mean, not the name. Not that he was responsible for that either, what with his daddy, Big Robert ‘Bilbo’ Walker having had it and all. So Little Junior ‘Bilbo’ grew up to be just plain ‘Bilbo’ when his daddy passed away, a name which apparently, “he hates” to this day. As perceptive readers will note, this account begs a certain question, but in case you’re wondering Mr Walker is neither diminutive, nor does he have furry feet, he’s not 111 years old (though he certainly looks a bit more than fifty), I don’t believe he’s a burglar, no-one calls him ‘ring-bearer’, “it like riddles, p’raps it does, does it?”, and the only time he disappears is when he takes a well-earned rest in between sets. He has, as his son-in-law tells the Photographer, been travelling a lot and he’s tired.

Robert Bilbo Walker
But like I say it’s not his fault. Maybe it’s the place. We’re in the Memphis manifestation of Ground Zero Blues Club, a cousin of the joint set up in Clarksdale seven years ago by, amongst others, Morgan Freeman (he’s also got a fine restaurant there – if you ever visit I thoroughly recommend the Shrimp and Grits with Onion Gravy – just perfect!). Ground Zero occupies the cavernous ground floor of an ugly modern building and has the appearance of half snooker hall, half blues club. The snooker bit is empty, the blues club half-full. This could be because, although Mr Walker is certainly the best gig of the night, most of the city is at the FedEx Stadium a few hundred yards away for an evening of ‘Memphis Madness’ with college basketball team Memphis Tigers. It’s not even a match, just a training session, and the stadium is packed to the rafters. Leaving us in the company of a largely disinterested and easily distracted audience, working their way solidly through a fistful of frozen Margaritas, burgers, deep fried onion rings and collared greens (well, that’s what the Photographer was doing anyhow).
Robert Bilbo Walker
It’s certainly not his fault, and no one could be surprised when it all gets a bit too much for Mr Walker, an impossibly tall (well, certainly for a hobbit) and rather lonely- looking figure, up there on the stage with his trademark red Stratocaster and white suit. It’s that bad boy of blues Mr. Bobby Rush – again. You see around the bar and hall there must be ten or more TV screens, and they’re on (sound down) even when Mr Walker is playing his engaging Delta take on primitive rock and roll. That’s bad enough, but when all of the males (I was only looking for the purpose of this review, Serge) and not a few of the females in the room are gradually transfixed by the mesmerising gyrations of a troupe of Mr Rush’s impossibly-shaped dancers, it gets, well, a bit too much. “You here to see Robert ‘Bilbo’ Walker or you here to see Bobby Rush? I don’t see no Bobby Rush on this stage. And if Bobby Rush wants to come here and try and play his blues with Bilbo then just let him try, ‘cos let me tell you this stage belongs to Robert ‘Bilbo’ Walker and there ain’t no Bobby Rush coming here tonight. So you give me some respect when I’m playing for y’all here. This is Robert ‘Bilbo’ Walker”. No, you can’t blame Mr Walker at all, and it’s sad to observe that his outburst only resulted in the screens being switched off for about ten minutes, such is the North American penchant for continual visual stimulation.We left about half way through the second set, by which time Mr Walker’s daughters were singing with him. They’re recording an album together in California where he now lives – “they’re not supporting me, I’m supporting them”), taking the edge off his raw Mississippi sound, best heard on his 1997 album ‘Promised land’ (with the ubiquitous Mr Sam Carr on drums). But by then we had at least witnessed his duckwalk (I hope I can do that when I’m in my seventies), and the famous one-handed guitar solo, a piece of absurd showmanship steeped in the heritage of the blues. And I have to say that given another occasion, no basketball, and no TV screens, we would rush (oops) to see him again. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: on Mr Walker's official web site.

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