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Published: 2010/10/20
by Brian Robbins

7 Walkers’ Papa Mali Talks the Walk

BR: Had they played together before 7 Walkers?

PM: No, that’s the thing: I’d known George for a while, but he’d never met Billy before. I mean, I didn’t really know how they would gel, actually. But they got along together just great right from the very beginning, both on and offstage. They just have fun; they laugh … I don’t know … it just makes me feel good playing with them.

BR: There are a number of instrumentals throughout the album that you either wrote yourself or with the rest of the band. “Cane River Waltz”; “Mr. Okra”; “Someday You’ll See (Prelude)”; “Airline Highway” – to me, they sound like theme songs just waiting for the movies to be made that go with them.

PM: (laughs) I’ll tell you what, man – that’s a big compliment for me, because some of the stuff I enjoy listening to at home – I’m a big vinyl guy; I have thousands of thousands of vinyl records – is by Ennio Morricone and Hugo Montenegro.

BR: Really?

PM: Oh yeah – some of those old soundtracks from the ‘60s. Great stuff. So those probably influenced me to some degree. That’s cool that you caught that vibe.

I’ve always liked guitar-driven instrumental music, ever since I was really young: The Ventures, that sort of thing.

BR: Well, that sets me up nicely to ask you about your guitar solo on “Sue From Bogalusa”; you’re in and out of there in under a minute, but you get a lot done before the fade, man. Real clean, cool tone – sounds like a cross between Chuck Berry and somebody doing wild-ass Zydeco accordion riffs on the guitar.

PM: (laughs) Thanks, man. Both of those things have influenced my style a lot; growing up in Louisiana and hearing Zydeco, New Orleans funk, and R & B … and of course, Chuck Berry was everywhere. You couldn’t play guitar at my age and not have been influenced by Chuck Berry, you know?

BR: Well, I’m 52 …

PM: And I’m 53, so that’s about right, man. (laughter) I’ll tell you a story: the ’61 Stratocaster I played on “Sue From Bogalusa” used to belong to Hubert Sumlin.

BR: Cool – did you get it from him?

PM: No, that’s the deal: I bought it from a guy who told me he’d won it in a card game from Hubert Sumlin a long time ago. I’ve owned it for over 20 years and have become quite attached to it. So about 3 years ago, I had a chance to hang out with Hubert when we were on the Blues Cruise together. It was cool – I got to play with him and after the show we had a chance to hang out and swap stories, you know? I’d met him before, but we’d never really had a chance just to hang out – and I’d never told him about the guitar.

BR: (laughs) Well, if nothing else, it made a great story …

PM: Right! So, I’d been playing the guitar that day with Hubert and I was wondering if he’d noticed it, you know? He didn’t seem to, so afterwards, I walked over to him and handed my Strat to him: “Here, man – try mine.”

Hubert starts playing it and I don’t say anything. After a minute or so, he says, “Man, that’s a nice guitar.”

And then he plays a little bit more and goes, “Man that’s a real nice guitar.”

And then he looks at it real carefully and says, “Hey – where did you get this?” (laughter)

So I told him about buying it from a guy in Austin who said he’d won from Hubert in a card game. And Hubert said, “Yeah, he sure did, man.” And you know, it just kind of struck me at that moment that he really did love that guitar, you know? So I told him, “Here man – you can have it.”

BR: Oh, wow.

PM: Yeah, but then Hubert looked at me and he looked at the guitar and he said, “Naw, man – I like the way you play it.” (laughter)

BR: That’s great – like you had his blessing.

PM: Yeah – exactly. But then he says, “Eric Clapton and Keith Richards have given me so many guitars, man …” (laughter)

BR: Cool, what a great story…Let’s see, how about “King Cotton Blues”? That’s one of those classic Robert Hunter tales, isn’t it?

PM: Absolutely. That’s the first thing he wrote lyrics for and I immediately imagined it as something like “Candyman” or “Loser” – one of those great Hunter tunes that could be about almost any era. That’s the way the song felt to me right from the very beginning.

BR: Was Billy responsible for you and Hunter getting together?

PM: Yes. A lot of times people get together to play music and end up becoming friends; in this case, it was like Billy and I became friends before we decided to work together, you know? It was really nice to hang out together and everything, but then we started thinking, “Man, we should make a band.”

Bill trusted me enough to introduce me to Hunter; I guess he felt that I’d be a good collaborator with Hunter, which is a total honor. And, man – the guy is so prolific. He writes all the time; I can’t keep up with his output. I’ve got about half a dozen songs right now that I need to finish working on.

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