Local bluesman Little Toby Walker to perform
Garden City may be as far as you can get from Clarksdale, MS, considered by many to be the birthplace of the Delta blues. But, for one night, Little Toby Walker will be taking over the stage of the Our Times Coffeehouse to channel the spirits of blues greats like Blind Willie McTell, Blind Blake and Louisiana Red for one night. The Brentwood native will be delivering his award-winning blend of country, bluegrass, ragtime, old-time jazz and, of course, blues, at 8 p.m. on Feb. 16. An accomplished guitarist who has received myriad honors, including being the First Place recipient of the International Blues Challenge Award in Memphis, Walker’s love of the blues was cultivated while attending Sonderling High School. While his peers were listening to everything from Kool & the Gang to Led Zeppelin and other groups that evolved into the classic rock genre, he dabbled in everything from bluegrass great Doc Watson and the Grateful Dead to jazz legend Charlie Christian and folk icon Pete Seeger. But it was an article about country blues guitarist Roy Bookbinder that led him down the blues path.
“I remember reading this story in Guitar Player magazine about how Roy Bookbinder traveled in a camper and played all over the place and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” he recalled. Inspired by heroes like Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac, the then-now high school grad hit the road for a three-month cross-country hitchhiking jaunt. And while he eventually landed a full-time stint working in the post office for 17 years, Walker honed his craft heading down South and studying at the feet of obscure blues masters like Etta Baker, R.L. Burnside and Othar Turner. It was only a matter of time before the blues aficionado would eventually leave the civil service life, which eventually happened in 2004.
“Since I was 17 or 18 years old, I always considered myself a musician first,” Walker said. “To me, the post office was just a way for me to keep playing music. I look now at what I would be doing had I not left my job and I look at the things I’ve accomplished since then and there really is no comparison.”
In the decade-plus, the passionate finger-picker has been written up in a number of prestigious publications including The New York Times, Downbeat and the London Sunday Times and been invited onto bills with the likes of John Hammond, Taj Mahal and Jorma Kaukonen. He’s also found a sideline as a guitar teacher, not only going into schools to introduce middle schoolers to the blues, courtesy of Carnegie Hall’s American Roots Program, but landing instructional gigs at Woody Mann’s Acoustic Sessions. He also offers DVD tutorials on his website, when he’s not touring up and down the East Coast and periodically jumping across the pond. As is the life of a traveling musician, there’s uncertainty about where the next gig might be. But there’s also the freedom of the road, a reality Walker wouldn’t have any other way.
“I travel around in my van and play all over the place,” Walker said. “[And while] you’re always a little worried whether you’re always going to be earning your money, that little bit of worry keeps you on your toes and will enable you to always earn the money. It’s a bit of a paradox, but it feel liberating.”
Little Toby Walker will be performing on Feb. 16 at Our Times Coffeehouse located at 38 Old Country Rd. in Garden City. Doors open at 7:15 p.m. that evening for ticket sales. The suggested donations are $20 adults and $15 students with ID; no pre-sales are available. Our Times Coffeehouse is in the Ethical Humanist Society building on Old Country Road, two miles west of Meadowbrook Parkway next to the blue water tower.