Juke-joint bluesmen Robert "Bilbo" Walker and Anthony "Big A" Sherrod know how to rock a party. Sherrod, 29, wrote the title song to the blues documentary We Juke Up In Here, while Walker (his father-in-law) is one of the most charismatic 76-year-olds you'll ever meet.
Sherrod opens this show on guitar, with Walker handling bass. Together, they bust out energetic versions of blues favorites, such as "Crosscut Saw" and "Hoochie Coochie Man," as well as "We Juke Up In Here." (Sherrod appeared in that movie, as well as in two other films about Mississippi blues, but hasn't yet put out a debut album.)
After four songs, they switch instruments, at which point Walker plays guitar and sings lead, offering his own highly personalized interpretations of the blues standards "It Hurts Me Too" and "Cut You Loose." Walker never does a note-for-note or word-for-word cover of any song, and instead offers blistering, rough-hewn renditions of well-traveled classics that have become a bit tired in just about anyone else's hands at this point.
Walker looks younger than 76 — a wig helps him in that regard — and he has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve, including an uncanny ability to play his guitar while it looks like he's just holding it by the neck with one hand. He performs Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" (he does it as "Robert B. Goode") and even nails Berry's famous duck-walk. Walker says that he, unlike Berry, can do the duck-walk backwards, too.
The set includes Kitty Wells' country hit "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels," a song rarely performed by men, let alone blues players. Walker loves country music — and, in fact, the Mississippi native now lives in Bakersfield, Calif., which is Merle Haggard country, and an area rich with country-music history.
After an hour-long set, the audience seemed happy to stay for more songs after the bracing closer, "Hip Shakin' Mama." Walker says he usually plays for more than two hours and often more than three, but the artists had a plane to catch. They missed it anyway.
The Mississippi Blues Project is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Music Project.