By day she’s a radio host. By night she leads her band, the Black Tones. She Shreds spent 24 hours with Eva Walker as she shreds, hosts and shows us what it’s like to be a gatekeeper of music for her community.
It’s 6 pm on Friday Night. Yakima, Washington smells thick with weed, but it’s actually not, it’s just a heap of hops.
The Black Tones, Eva Walker and her twin brother Cedric, are setting up for a tough opening slot at a local Brew festival. They tune while vendors finish setting up tents. Occasionally playing as a three-piece, tonight the Black Tones are a duo. “We have so much fun playing as a two-piece because it’s us and the rest of the world watching. We are best friends and we have always done things together. As a two-piece, we still produce a pretty big sound.”
“I’m not a gear snob,” Walker states, “and I don’t have the money to be one if I wanted to. I get compliments on my sound constantly. When I tell them it’s a Line 6 (amp), their reactions are like ‘WHAAAAAAT?’ Most of my folk-blues guitar heroes played on old beat up worn out guitars and equipment because it’s what they had. My brother and I joke about how our drum kit might as well be garbage cans because it’s so worn out and parts are breaking. But it’s charming and it’s what we got right now, and we make what we have sound DAMN GOOD! We played the Paramount Theater with that gear.” says Walker.
Walker doesn’t like to hide behind a bunch of pedals. She says, “No offense to folks that use a library of them, I like to stay vulnerable. I use the natural or preset distortion on my amp or whatever amp I’m using. I don’t use distortion pedals. I use a Wah pedal and a tuner. That’s it. What you hear is what you get.”
The crowd is slow to warm, not sure what to make of the Seattle-based band, but soon Eva’s guitar style which combines classic blues with wild, Hendrix inspired fluidity moves the crowd closer to the stage. “Someone once told me ‘black people don’t play guitar’ and it made me self-conscious because there was a point I thought they were right, because of the lack of representation black rockers had/have,” says Walker. “So when I first discovered Jimi Hendrix, my freaking life changed!” That’s when she became obsessed with him, and could see herself in him. “I could see myself as the skinny awkward girl version of him. He played a cream white Strat at Woodstock, and THAT’S LITERALLY the only reason I picked out that guitar. It was the first guitar I bought with my own money when I was 17-years-old and until this day it’s what I prefer.” And she named her Ruth, her maternal grandmother’s middle name.
By the end of the set, when Eva breaks out her harmonica, an instrument she developed an affinity for by listening to the work of Muddy Water’s accompanist Little Walter, The Black Tones bring the house down.
But time to bask in the applause is short as Walker has recently taken on another musical role, that of hosting KEXP’s Audioasis, a weekly showcase of the best of Northwest music.Not only will she be on the air by this time tomorrow, she and Cedric quickly head back on the 2 hours plus drive home to support their friends Tres Leches’ sold out album release party at the Clock-Out Lounge, a new Seattle hotspot, co-owned by members of the band Pink Parts.
Her community-minded spirit is one of the many reasons she was chosen to take on this influential position. After a late night and a little sleep, by 4 pm Saturday, Walker is preparing for herself for her latest role as a critical musical gatekeeper. One who will grant exposure to a variety of local talent. When asked her personal criteria in choosing from thousands of eclectic submissions, she spoke of making a musical space for everyone.
“What I really look for when listening to others music is something that stands out, something I’ve never heard before, but also something that’s traditional– vintage sounds can be really cool. That can be an instrumental, a rap, a punk song, electronic, whatever. My stomach does this weird thing, like the drop when going down a steep hill, sometimes I get chills when I really really like something or I’m still like a statue or can’t stop moving haha. Sometimes musicianship is part of it, and sometimes honestly it’s not. People can produce some amazing things regardless of skill level. Music expression can come from anyone. I’m all about the soul of a song. You can be classically trained and still make soulless music”.
Growing up as a kid, she didn’t see a lot folks in the rock world that look like her and her brother. She says she’d show up to gigs and people would ask if we were an R&B group, or if he was going to rap. She’d reply,“No we’re a rock band!”.
“This came from both white males and females. The white girls with guitars were taken more seriously as a rock band then the black people, male or female in my experience. Why? Because of lack of representation. I want to share the music of the many communities overlooked historically and presently. If we are going to reference history as we do, we have to include black and brown history which includes males. Recently in these conversations about gender equality, we’ve excluded race. Black and brown women do not have the same history or equality as white women. And in America, you are crazy if you think it’s been a cakewalk for black and brown men in this country. I will, of course, showcase women as much as possible, but I will also showcase males of Black and Brown communities as much as possible too. As well as Trans, Non-Binary, etc. Every race, gender. Culture has baggage. I want to remember the importance of individualism as well.”
It’s 6 pm on Saturday night. Seattle, Washington smells thick with weed… because it is. And luckily for listeners worldwide, Eva Walker is ready to hit the airwaves.