Fred Walk’s life was never the same after first hearing “Mystery Train” by Elvis Presley when Fred was about 11 years old. But hearing Blues artists like John Lee Hooker and T-Bone Walker on the radio really set forth his musical direction. He was also inspired by B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ray Charles, Son House, and Elmore James.
He was 13 years old when he obtained his first guitar and he later played trumpet in school bands.
Walk was playing bass by the time he performed his first paid gig in eastern Iowa. He played guitar in all types of bar/lounge bands but always gravitated to the Blues, especially because it was a great vehicle for self-expression.
Walk became a member of The Prophets, a band based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa that also included singer/keyboardist Stephen Miller, also a member of the IBHOF. The band, which included saxophone, developed a potent blend of Blues, Soul and Rock, earning respect in clubs in Waterloo like the Cougar and Jimmy’s.
They expanded their fan base, performing in large mid-western cities, which led to an offer to become the house band at Mother’s Blues in the Chicago. They decided to pay tribute to their home roots and renamed themselves the Linn County Blues Band. During their stint in Chicago, they found themselves sharing the stage with Blues legends Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Junior Wells, and Howlin’ Wolf.
They were recording an album in the famous Chess studios for Dunwich Records, when they came to the attention of Mercury Records, who bought out their contract and decided they should move to San Francisco to take advantage of the music scene that was exploding there in the late ’60s. Shortening their name to simply Linn County, they went to L.A in ’68 to record Proud Flesh Soothseer, an album of almost all original tunes by the band. Experimentation was a sign of the times and the band incorporated some innovative sounds and creative instrumentation into their raw, muscular Blues-Rock.
Linn County went on a cross-country tour where they performed with Albert King in Chicago, Led Zeppelin in Detroit, and in New York at the Fillmore East with Sly & the Family Stone and Eric Burdon & the Animals. Ten Years After was the opening act when Linn County played at Steve Paul’s famous club, The Scene. Back in the Bay Area, they performed at places like the Fillmore West and the Avalon opening for bands like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Their 2nd album, Fever Shot, showcased their songwriting once again, with Walk pairing with Miller for three of their best tunes.
Their 3rd album, Till The Break of Dawn, was recorded for Mercury’s sister label, Philips. With an even more traditional Blues sound than the previous two albums, it was another case of critical acclaim but their sound wasn’t radio-friendly enough to translate into major sales.
Miller would go on to record a solo album with half of the tracks recorded with Linn County and the other half with the Elvin Bishop Band, which led to Miller leaving Linn County and joining Bishop for several years and four albums. Janis Joplin would recruit Linn County drummer, Clark Pierson, for her Full Tilt Boogie Band. Meanwhile, Walk kept Linn County going briefly before finally disbanding.
Miller would eventually reform the band back in Iowa in ’74 with current IBHOF member, Ron DeWitte on guitar. Another IBHOF member, Tom “T-Bone” Giblin, took over on keyboards after Miller joined the band, Grinderswitch.
In 2004, Fred Walk, as a founding member of Linn County, had the proud honor of being part of the ceremony that inducted the band into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Don “T-Bone” Erickson
PHOTO © JEN TAYLOR – VIVIDPIX.COM