Mississippi born Walter was a young self-taught pianist when he set out for St.Louis in the mid-20s, but he fitted right in to the scene that had Peetie Wheatstraw or Roosevelt Sykes playing most nights. Heavily influenced by Leroy Carr and possessed of a mournful vocal tone, Walter cut his first record ‘M&O Blues’ was cut for the Victor label in 1930, and it went on to be a local hit. Walter’s best known song, ‘Sunnyland Blues’, was a nationwide hit for him in 1931, and he teamed up with guitarist Henry Townsend on many tracks as they exploited the fashion for piano/guitar duets.
Walter’s output totalled about 150 pieces recorded between 1930 and 1952, usually in duet form, but his articulate piano style also got him some session work. Walter and Henry could often be found playing St. Louis bars throughout this period, but when he played solo, Walter was sometimes billed as ‘Hooker Joe’. In 1952, Walter suffered a stroke that put an end to his career, and he turned to religion, becoming a preacher for the rest of his days.