NEW ORLEANS (CelebrityAccess) – New Orleans singer and guitarist Walter “Wolfman” Washington, a staple of NOLA blues, funk, R&B, and soul, passed away Thursday at Passages Hospice of tonsil cancer. He had just turned 79 on December 20.
Born in NOLA in 1943, Washington began singing in the church choir at New Home Missionary Baptist before teaching himself guitar. Early in his career, he backed several notable names such as Johnny “The Tan Canary” Adams, Lee Dorsey and Irma Thomas – touring with Adams for nearly two decades. During his time with Adams, he also performed every Saturday night for eight years at Dorothy’s Medallion Lounge, where the show began at 3 am.
According to NOLA.com, “he reportedly earned his ‘Wolfman’ nickname as a young guitarist prone to challenging other guitarists, a practice known as ‘wolfing.'”
He formed his long-running band The Roadmasters in the mid-1970s; drummer Wilbert “Junkyard Dog” Arnold, bassist Jack Cruz and saxophonist Tom Fitzpatrick served as his classic lineup. They had a weekly Saturday night show at NOLA’s Maple Leaf Bar and played regularly at Benny’s Blues Bar. Washington was one of the first to play live music after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, playing via a generator at the Maple Leaf.
The NOLA legend released his debut LP, Rainin’ In My Life, in 1981, before moving to Rounder. His most recent record, My Future Is My Past, was released on Anti and produced by Galactic’s Ben Ellman. Galactic drummer Stanton Moore, bassist James Singleton and keyboardist David Torkanowsky served as the record’s backing band, with Jon Cleary as a special guest.
In 2019, Washington reigned as King of the Krewe du Vieux parade, riding alongside longtime girlfriend Michelle Bushey, whom he married at Tipitina’s in 2021.
In March 2022, the bluesman was diagnosed with tonsil cancer. Despite undergoing chemotherapy, he performed at the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival this year. His last performance was at the Bogalusa Blues Festival in September.
Nobody could tell what he was going through,” Michelle Washington said. “He was a trooper to the end. He didn’t want people feeling 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.
Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home on Canal Street is in charge of arrangements. Visitation is on January 4 from 8 am to noon, followed by a funeral service at 2 pm.
A benefit concert to help with medical and funeral expenses is planned for January 8 at Tipitina’s.