“I’m used to playing with another person. To do something like that by myself, I was kind of nervous,” said Walter “Wolfman” Washington, sitting in a chair in his living room and talking about his new record My Future Is My Past, produced by Ben Ellman of Galactic. He smiles and continues, “Oh man, it was really a thing. I had never done something like that. I had to really discipline myself where I couldn’t really underplay and really overplay, so I had to stay really in the middle which was a trick for me. I was amazed at my own self at how it turned out.”
Now 74 years old, Walter “Wolfman” Washington has been a mainstay in the New Orleans music scene since the early 1960s. He cut his teeth backing up some of the best singers and performers in New Orleans history including Lee Dorsey, Johnny Adams, and Irma Thomas before putting together his long time band The Roadmasters, who have been burning down and burning up local and national stages since their first gigs in the 1980s. This new record confirms what fans have known for years: Walter “Wolfman Washington has soul to go along with that fire.
My Future is My Past is a different kind of record than his playing with Lee Dorsey or The Roadmasters. Washington had to take more care with these songs. He explained, “When you’re with a band, you have to really punch it out. When you’re alone, you have to pay attention to your notes and pronunciation and stuff. And then you have to put your soul into it and your feelings. Each one of the songs is a story. You can actually picture things like that happening. I had to fix my mind into each of the situations in the song.”
Songs like “Lost Mind”, ‘Save Your Love For Me’, and ‘What A Difference A Day Makes’ are subtle and heartfelt. “I always liked jazz,” he says, ‘What a Difference A Day Makes’? It’s a happy song. It’s a song about how you found someone who makes you feel different, and each day represents the way you feel, and that day you feel different. That particular song was a song I used to do when I was playing with the AFB (All Fools Band) back in the 1960s. There were a lot of jazz songs at that time in the world of real musicians. I came in on the tail end of when a lot of those musicians were going out, and I had a chance to meet most of them. It was fun to play with them. Big Joe Turner and all those cats. It was a thrill to me when I could play with them. And those were the songs they played.”
Washington has always embodied both the wildness and sophistication of New Orleans, but finally we have a set of songs that reflects the yin to Walter’s bring-the-party yang. This is the record that we all have known he has in him. This is the night after that party, or maybe just the after party. He’s been given free rein to express himself, and that’s special. Producer Ben Ellman has assembled a sympathetic group of musicians from keyboardists Jon Cleary and Ivan Neville to a versatile and sensitive rhythm section of bassist James Singleton and drummer Stanton Moore. When asked about being in the studio with these musicians, Washington’s enthusiasm comes through immediately.
“To have all those cats in there at one time, and they are playing behind me! That was one of the most thrilling things for me. While we were doing the album and what has become of it, that’s even better. That’s what happens when you have certain musicians that are qualified to do that. There aren’t but two cats that really amaze me when I saw James and Stanton. I said, ‘Man, there they are!’ I had Jon Cleary playing too, and then when I saw that David Torkanowsky is going to be there! Man!!!!”