by Carl Kress
For those who aren't familiar with Earl's work, he has performed around the Bay Area since the late 60's, in nightclubs, coffeehouses, and on radio and television. His syndicated cable access TV program, "Earl Oliver & Friends: Live on Location", aires in 17 communities throughout California and the Western United States and showcases countless local musicians.
This time Earl was presenting himself as his latest alter ego, the very flamboyant "Walkin' Blues Man". I didn't recognize him at first glance, since he was wearing shades and had a baseball cap jammed on his head. As he came around the corner he was in the middle of a guitar solo. His "street rig", as he calls it, consists of a small portable amplifier which is clipped onto his belt over his right hip. This effectively conceals the sound reinforcement gear so that the first impression you get is that he is walking along with a guitar in his hand (a vintage Gibson ES 125, for those of you who care about such things) and playing acoustically. As soon as he opened his mouth, I recognized him immediately. He was singing one of his signature tunes, a straight blues rendition of the 50's R&B, race record hit, "Smoky Joe's Cafe".
I was delighted when a temporary halt to the parade forced Earl to stand in one place and belt out two more tunes while he waited to start marching again. Earl aptly crashed right into his version Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues", then followed it with the soulful "My Mama Ain't Me". The crowd around me ate it up.
I caught up with Earl in the Civic Center park after the parade and found out that he has been presenting this "Walkin' Blues Man" character for over a year now at Farmers' Markets, Blues and Jazz Festivals and other outdoor events across the country in New York, Chicago, Miami Beach, Las Vegas, Atlanta, even Raleigh, North Carolina! - and, on occassion, in front of Peet's Coffee or Cody's Bookstore on 4th Street in Berkeley.
Earl likes to "make his own venues", as they say in the Busker's trade, but when he's in town you can also catch him at the Bistro at B Street and Main in beautiful downtown Hayward on the odd Wednesday night with his Jump City Trio.
In fact, Earl and Co. will be back there on January 17 with a full evening of jazz and blues.
Copyright 1993 - Orinda Post - September 20, 1993. Reprinted with permission.