American Routes Shortcuts: Luke Winslow-King

Nov 16, 2018

Luke Winslow-King
Credit American Routes

Luke Winslow-King landed in New Orleans by accident, or maybe by fate. Through a string of hard times and heartache in the Big Easy and in jail, the Michigan singer and guitarist gained a deeper understanding of the blues and discovered his voice and songcraft anew.

Luke Winslow-King: On my first tour around America, I was traveling with two gentlemen, Daniel Kahn and Seth Bernard, and we’ve become old musical partners over the years but we were on tour performing a compilation of Woody Guthrie’s songs and stories called “California to the New York Island.” It was incredible, and we found ourselves in New Orleans and my car got stolen with all the instruments in it the first day. It’s always interesting when you find yourself in that situation because always something good comes from it. I really fell in love with those days in New Orleans really and fell in love with the music and decided that I wanted to call it home.

Nick Spitzer: So you must have had a strong sense of why you wanted to come here and be part of the life, why?

LWK: Well, you know coming from Northern Michigan, you really have to look and dig really deep to find musical inspiration and cultural events happening around, and in New Orleans you just had to open your ears and walk out the door and you could find something to listen to or be involved in musically.

NS: Back up in Michigan years later, I would consider it kind of a break-in, a break-in to your life. It wasn’t anonymous thieves, it was the constabulary.

LWK: Yeah, I mean I was breaking the law, and I did get in a little bit of trouble for a very small bit of marijuana back in 2014. I ended up doing twelve days in the Kalkaska Country Jail, again one of those situations where something really bad happens to you and it ends up being the best thing in your life. But you know, that ended up being the catalyst for my divorce from Esther Rose, happened in those days when I was gone, and I ended up writing some songs that I really feel strongly about, one of them that’s on the new record Blue Mesa called “Break Down the Walls.”

NS: You’ve been surrounded by blues but you also found the blue horizon in a lot of your songs, and the road and roaming seem to figure into that.

LWK: Exactly, yeah I wrote the opening line to Blue Mesa leaving Flagstaff at about five in the morning and watching the mesas in the distance, watching them just kind of come out of the horizon and be this beautiful blue color. That was an image that I couldn’t forget. I was in the Badlands, reading about how these beautiful mountain structures used to be underwater and that’s why they’re carved in such a way, and it was just really inspiring to see that if you hold on for long enough that things will change.

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at