Robert "Bilbo" Walker | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Robert "Bilbo" Walker

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ROBERT "BILBO" WALKER

In the last few years Fat Possum, the punkish upstart label from Oxford, Mississippi, has aggressively chased a reputation as the last bastion for unadorned Delta blues, with a catalog that includes R.L. Burnside, Paul "Wine" Jones, T-Model Ford, and the late Junior Kimbrough. But long before Possum boss Matthew Johnson began romanticizing the violent tempers and poor education of his artists, Jim O'Neal had already established his Rooster Blues imprint in nearby Clarksdale as a source for uncut blues with records by artists like Jelly Roll Kings and the late Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes. In 1997 he released Promised Land, the arresting debut album by Robert "Bilbo" Walker, which is as authentically underproduced as anything on Fat Possum. While Walker, now 62, has earned his living primarily as a farmer--originally in the Delta and later in Bakersfield, California--he's played music professionally since he was a teenager, and his ability to imitate the most popular blues musicians of the 50s and 60s, from Chuck Berry to J.B. Lenoir to Magic Sam to Jimmy Reed, has shaped his hodgepodge style. (In the liner notes to the album Walker claims it was the other way around in at least one case: he lived in Chicago off and on up through the early 70s, and according to his memory he wrote Magic Sam's "Everything Gonna Be Alright"--but like Magic Sam, he borrows heavily from Sam Cooke on his rendition.) And he doesn't limit himself to blues stylists: Promised Land also includes a medley of the Hank Thompson country smash "The Wild Side of Life" and Kitty Wells's answer song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," which he injects with delightfully ragged yodeling. It's been years since Walker played here, but he's making up for lost time with several area appearances. Friday, 10 PM, Chord On Blues, 106 S. First, Saint Charles; 630-513-0074. Saturday, 10 PM, the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia; 773-227-4433. Tuesday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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