On Stage: Blues ace Toby Walker to perform in Landsdowne, Friday

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Toby Walker

When Mike Tyson was in his prime, he would pummel his ring opponent with a barrage of short, powerful and severely damaging hooks to the midsection – never stopping until he had battered him into submission (frequently via a knockout).

COVID-19 has been brutalizing the area’s live entertainment scene with similar effectiveness.

Live entertainment is on the ropes but has not been battered into total submission – yet. There has been a series of knockdowns that reached an “eight count” but the referee has never signaled the end of the fight.

Venues of all sizes have been shuttered for months – no mega-shows at the Wells Fargo Center, no mid-size shows at the Fillmore or the Franklin Music Hall, no small shows at Kennett Flash or the Ardmore Music Hall.

The state-mandated restrictions in Pennsylvania have been relaxed somewhat over the last few weeks but hold your optimism.

On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf has announced new statewide mitigation efforts as COVID-19 cases surge in Pennsylvania — 1,000 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday alone.

Some of the new mitigation efforts are — bars and restaurants that allow indoor dining will only be able to seat up to 25% of their capacity; alcohol only can be served for on-premises consumption when in the same transaction as a meal; telework must be implemented whenever possible; indoor gatherings will be limited to 25 people (outdoor gatherings remain at a maximum of 250 people).

Oh yeah – in case you missed it. On July 1, Wolf signed 19 new bills – including HB 1379 — into law. HB 1379 repeals the Sunday Polo Act of 1935, which makes it unlawful for anyone to play polo before one o’clock on Sunday.

Enough polo news – back to music news.

It seems like live entertainment is being sent into the ring to fight Tyson with one hand tied behind its back.

Still, some venues are putting up a fight.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) is reopening on July 17 with a concert by blues ace Toby Walker.

This is the venue’s first show featuring a headline act.

This message was featured in an email about the July 17 show that was sent two weeks ago –

“Jamey’s features restaurant style seating in a professionally designed listening room, with stage-front and stage-side tables, and additional seating at the bar with video monitors for concert viewing. Jamey’s boasts a full high-end back-line with an amazing sound system and has been called “a music lover’s dream.” It is an unparalleled treat for performers and guests. We feature truly delicious and inexpensive Asian inspired, new American dining and Crooked Eye Ales on tap. The vibe is welcoming, classy and cool.

“Jamey’s is located in downtown Lansdowne, 100 feet south of Baltimore Avenue, just before the railroad bridge, on the right side. There is abundant free parking nearby.

“We follow CDC and PA guidelines for your health and safety, requiring masks to enter the venue, social distancing, and extensive disinfection measures above and beyond what is mandated so you can enjoy your visit confidently in comfort.”

The club resumed its traditional “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” last weekend – with mixed results.

This message was posted on the venue’s website –

“Well, we tried it. We reopened for our Sunday Blues Brunch, with precautions in place. While it was not terrible, it did not pass muster for the safety of our guests, artists and staff. For the most part, people tried to observe precautions, but being naturally socially gregarious creatures (who have been cooped up for too long already), it was just too much to remember for several people… and that’s all it takes to start a cluster. Folks moving around without their masks, forgetting social distancing, non-use of hand sanitizer, and leaving the toilet lid up when flushing. We’re going to shut down the Thursday and Sunday jams again for a few more weeks to keep an eye on things, and hopefully be able to try again by August. We’ll keep the show set for this Friday the 17th and work on getting it right.”

Obviously, Jamey’s is focused on getting up off the canvas and getting back in the fight.

Round Two featuring Toby Walker will take place this Friday evening starting at 8 p.m.

Walker is an award winning, roots music fingerstyle guitar virtuoso and songwriter who has toured the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Europe. Blending music from a variety of genres, Walker has his own style and has received numerous awards, including first place at the International Blues Challenge Award in Memphis, Tennessee and the NY Music Award for best instrumental CD. Walker has also been inducted into the NY Blues Hall of Fame.

The highly talented guitarist is a native of Long Island and currently a New Jersey resident. But his music DNA is rooted in the South.

Walker’s passion for blues, rags, folk, and other traditional American music inspired him to leave an apartment crammed full of recordings, books and instruments and head south to the Mississippi Delta, Virginia and the Carolinas where he tracked down some of the more obscure — but immensely talented — music makers of an earlier era.

According to Walker, “I didn’t learn the blues from YouTube, or books, or records, although the latter helped me a lot with my ear. I really learned the music, and how to play it my own way, by traveling back-and-forth to Mississippi for four years just to cut my teeth with James “Son” Thomas from Leland, Jack Owens from Bentonia, R.L. Burnside from Holly Springs, and Eugene Powell from Greenville.”

Bob Margolin, Muddy Water’s guitarist, blues writer, philosopher and producer, said this about Walker, “As a blues guitar player, I am stunned and in awe of Toby Walker’s pickin’! Not only does he master diverse blues styles but plays them with both flash and depth.”

Walker blends the styles of blues, ragtime, country, bluegrass, rock and old-time jazz into his own unique style. He is also a nationally recognized guitar instructor, having taught at Woody Mann’s Guitar Seminars, The Swanannoa Gathering, the National Guitar Workshop and Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch.

Kaukonen, famous for his guitar work with Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane, is quoted as saying this about Walker, “Flat out…you have to hear this great musician…I’m blown away.”

In addition to having taught at Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp for several years, Walker has produced hundreds of instructional videos on his own.

Also known as “Little Toby Walker,” he has recently released several instructional guitar DVDs for the world-famous company Homespun Tapes. His latest CD release, “Mileage,” has received shining reviews in the genre of traditional blues recordings.

Carnegie Hall hired him to augment and teach in its “American Roots” program aimed at honor level middle school students. This one-of-a-kind series demonstrates the history of blues music and traditions, while teaching the history of African Americans as they migrated from the South to the North.

Walker also has a presence online with his “Toby Walker Juke Joint.”

On his website underneath a picture of his “Juke Joint,” Walker wrote this message –

“That’s my Juke Joint where I’ll be streaming a live, and interactive show – Blues, Rags, Slide, and more! You can request songs from my repertoire.
Want to join me? Then here’s the key to the door:
Let yourself in, make yourself at home and become one of my followers.”

According to Walker, “I may play the blues (and other forms of roots music), but I always leave the audience HAPPY!!!”

Walker’s show at Jamey’s House of Music on July 17 will start at 8 p.m. with the kitchen slated to open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 online advance and $18 at the door.

Video link for Toby Walker — https://youtu.be/fLv6U_sRl9c.

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