New Orleans guitarist Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington dies at 79

New Orleans guitarist Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington dies at 79
Obit Walter Washington

Gerald Herbert / AP

Blues guitarist and singer Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington performs with the Joe Krown Trio at the Louisiana Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans on April 29, 2011.

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans music legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington, a cornerstone of the city’s music nightlife for decades, has died of cancer, just days after turning 79.

Washington died Dec. 22 at Passages Hospice, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.

Funeral services are scheduled for January 4th at 2:00 PM at Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home. A benefit concert to help with medical and funeral expenses is planned for January 8 at Tipitina’s Music Hall.

Washington and his band, the Roadmasters, blended blues, R&B, funk and soul, punctuating the songs with his signature growl, the newspaper reported. In director Michael Murphy’s 2005 New Orleans music documentary Make It Funky!, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards bows to Washington in tribute to his guitar style and tone, the paper reported.

Washington began his career backing New Orleans music legends Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey and Johnny Adams, who eventually became a mentor and close friend.

“Johnny taught me a lot,” Washington recalled in 1999. “He’d say, ‘If you want to sing high notes, you’ve got to pay attention to how you go up there. Take your time. Don’t rush yourself. Once you get used to going up there, it will be easy.’ He also played the guitar. He would show me how to hit the notes and how to run from one note to another and pay attention to why that note fit there. He was like a father. I could talk to him about anything.”

Washington backed Adams on several Rounder Records albums before releasing his first album with the Roadmasters, Leader of the Pack, on the Hep’Me label in 1981. He moved to Rounder for 1986’s Wolf Tracks and “Out of the” Dark” and “Wolf at the door”. The 1991 album “Sada” was named for his first daughter.

He traveled abroad and occasionally toured domestically, but the nightclubs of New Orleans were his heart and soul. He was one of the first musicians to play in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina via generator shows at the Maple Leaf.

After more than 10 years without a new album, Washington returned with 2018’s My Future Is My Past. The album reunited him with Thomas for a duet on Adams’ old song “Even Now” and earned Washington some of the best acclaim of his career.

Recently, he completed another set of eight blues-tinged songs produced by galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman. Washington’s manager, Adam Shipley, is currently shopping the finished album to record labels, the newspaper reported.

“For the last six or seven years, Walter got the recognition he deserved,” Shipley said. “He put out some great music and had a great life.”

A devoted smoker and drinker with a colorful personal life, Washington bounced back from numerous health challenges over the years. However, his March diagnosis of tonsil cancer was surprising.

Although he underwent chemotherapy and radiation, he continued to perform, including this year’s French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

“Nobody could tell what he was going through,” said his wife, Michelle Washington. “He was a soldier to the end. He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. He led an amazing life. He touched a lot of people and brought them a lot of joy.”

In addition to his wife, survivors include two daughters, Sada and Mamadou Washington, and a son, Brian Anderson.

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