by Carl Kress
I wandered by Berkeley yesterday to check out the 5th Annual "How Berkeley Can You Be?" Parade, and was surprised and pleased to discover that among the crazy floats, art cars and naked parade goers, there was our old friend Earl Oliver!
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.
What people are saying about The Walkin' Blues Man!...
- "You were amazing. I’ve had wonderful feedback both about your singing but also - you were wonderful as an emcee. So thanks from me and the entire symphony and board."
- “Perfect dining experience!” 5 of 5 stars: The food was excellent, from the warm bread and olive oil, the minestrone soup. the excellent pasta dish, all the way through to the out of this world apple and blackberry cobbler, hot from the oven, with vanilla ice cream melting on top. The service was impeccable. They have live music every Friday and Saturday night. The night we ate there, the entertainment was a musician named Earl Oliver who played blues and country takes on some old favorites, he was wonderful. He is there the 4th Friday of every month, would highly recommend going to hear him. The ambiance was perfect, quiet enough to both hear the music and still have a conversation. I was so relaxed after my dinner I felt like I had meditated and had a massage!
- "thanks to...consummate performers, The Groovinators on Saturday!"
- "Earl, Thanks for the great fun time on Saturday. It was definitely one of the best dances so far!"
- "Earl encompasses the knowledge of music going back to when we were pounding on rocks, I mean he really has a great repertoire. A fine, fine musician."
- "Known to locals as the Walkin' Blues Man, Earl Oliver is one of San Francisco's undiscovered treasures. His old timey low down delta style is just the ticket to bring you up out of the holiday blues."
- "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.
- "He can shout the blues with the best of them, scat like Ella, or croon like Old Blues Eyes."
- "So many staff people thanked me for bringing music that was a little more vintage and overlapped with their era."
- "I again want to thank you for providing such great music for our party. A number of people commented on how much they enjoyed your music.
--Warren Kenneday, Project Read, San Francisco Public Library
- "Thank you for your participation in the Palo Alto ArtWalk. Through your efforts and enthusiasm, our most life affirming symbols: Art, Wine, Music and Food came together in community spirit."
- "Just wanted to say thanks for coming down yesterday and performing here at THE CANNERY. You were great!
Check out some of Earl's other press clippings: