Rhythm and blues. A screaming tenor saxophone and a heavy backbeat. Rhythm and blues. Hip shaking, hard shouting songs. Rhythm and blues. What we used to do in back rooms, juke joints or in a hole in the wall somewhere well off the beaten path. Rhythm and blues. Small groups of black men (and a female singer or two) setting standards for what it meant to shake and finger-pop. Rhythm and blues. Something so Negroidal there was never any hope of R&B crossing over to anything. One foot in the gutter, the other kicking the slop jar.

Then came Motown. Gordy doing his darnedest to clean up the unscrubble funk of rhythm and blues. Old smooth ass Motown with its façade of sophistication. Except for one act that was for real. Everybody else got gussied up eventually. Not Autry DeWalt (Mixon)—no documentation exists to say for sure whether Mixon was a birth name or something added a little later after being born in Blythesville, Arkansas on June 14, 1931. Autry, who was called Junior, grew up in South Bend, Indiana and moved to Battle Creek, Michigan in the fifties.

Starting with a band called the Jumping Jacks and moving on to The Stix Nix, a band he eventually took over and in the best tradition of Negro bravado, renamed his group “The Allstars”! In 1965 Walker hit it big with “Shotgun” (#4 pop/#1 R&B). After “Shotgun” there were a string of hits, none of which were totally in the Motown mode. For one thing they were loud, wild and raucous as a Saturday night at a Mississippi Delta throwdown. For another it was instrumental music with the leader howling out catchy phrases.
jr walker 01.jpg
Junior Walker with his wailing Louis Jordan/Illinois Jacquet inspired saxophone riffs, screeches, honks, flutter-tongue notes, and funky intonation was closer to Stax in temperament than to Motown. There’s something about the rawness of Walker that arouses me (and a bunch of other peoples). All the songs on this set are taken from a 2-CD set called The Ultimate Collection.

By the way “What Does It Take” is my favorite even though “Shotgun” is the classic. It occurs to me that some of the youngsters in our audience may not be familiar with Junior Walker. All I got to say to you is: Enjoy!

—Kalamu ya Salaam

          Something we can both agree on         

Alright! Now here's something we can both agree on. I listened to these Jr. Walker songs today while I was running and they gave me an extra burst of energy that I needed when I was starting to fall off. Kalamu describes this music just right, so I won't get into that. One quick anecdote though.

There's a new Clarence Thomas biography out. (I know, I know. Stick with me.) I heard an interview with the authors and one thing they mentioned really stuck with me. They related a story in which Thomas said that he wished he was a independent store owner like one of his grandfathers had been, rather than a Supreme Court Justice. That really struck the authors because, as they said, Thomas has reached the pinnacle of his profession. He's one of the most powerful men in American history: there's no where else to go. Not that I got the impression that Thomas would actually give up his legal career to run a little corner store. The point was, Thomas had a sort of nostalgic fondness and abiding respect for what he probably thinks of as "honest work." Rolling the sleeves up and getting one's hands dirty and all.

What's the point? The point is, I have a nostalgic fondness for music like Jr. Walker's. I think of it as "honest" music. No tricks, no games. Very little in the way of metaphors or poetic devices. Just a bunch of cats who know how to play in the pocket and groove hard for the dancers. What you see is what you get. The songs are invariably short and to the point. (At least on record. I bet on stage, Walker and his "Allstars" could play all damned night if the dancers kept dancing.)

Anyway, I have no idea why I thought of Clarence Thomas when I was listening to Jr. Walker's music. Maybe it's because the authors humanized him for me a little and in response I almost felt bad for calling him a snake a couple of weeks back. Almost.

OK, enough about Clarence Thomas. Back to the music.... 

—Mtume ya Salaam


          What!??! A Snake???       

Mtume, I and all my snake friends are deeply offended that you put snakes in the same low-life category as Thom-ass Clarence (to quote Baraka's nomenclature for Clarence Thomas). You owe snakes an apology. ;->)

—Kalamu ya Salaam


This entry was posted on Sunday, April 22nd, 2007 at 2:28 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “JUNIOR WALKER / “Shotgun””

sue ross Says:
April 22nd, 2007 at 9:15 am

Almost 30 years ago, when I was back in college, I took a class from the then poet, playwright and free-jazz drummer Stanley Crouch called Contemporary Black Arts. The Crouch of the late sixties was a fellow traveler in the West Coast Black Arts Movement along with Jayne Cortez, Quincy Troupe, Black Arthur Blythe & the Watts Poets. I have to credit Stanley for introducing impressionable young 16-20 year olds to listening to our fathers’ music – jazz – in a whole new way. Through the lenses of Baraka & Cortez, we listened to the full spectrum of black music and especially America’s only original classical music – jazz from King Oliver & Pops to Coltrane, Coleman and beyond. When we talked about the historical great saxophonists, Crouch maintained that the greatest contemporary sax men were Pharoah Sanders and Junior Walker! And we listened to the cross-genre similarities in their approach to the instrument. junior Walker remains one of my favorites – one who reached back through funk to field hollas to Africa and back again, all within the context of Motown’s 3-4 minute records! The ultimate party jam. We often wondered what would have happened if Pharoah and Junior ever got together for a late night jam session!

          the arkansas connection         

could it be? both walker and sanders are from arkansas!

on a more serious note: i have heard what pharoad sounds like playing pop but i have not heard  walker playing jazz, particularly coltrane-influenced jazz. sanders even recorded a marvin gaye tune (it’s much more of a curiosity than a revelation).

my deeper point is don’t skip the saxophonist who preceded both sanders and walker. those bar walkers. honkers & hollerers. and please don’t sleep on illinois jacquet, he of the high note wail.

on a more divine note: you ever hear willis gator tail jackson?

and now to the meta-connections: at some point, people are going to realize and publicly recognize the immense influence that black music has had worldwide, not just in terms of musical culture but also in terms of artistic expression and in terms of providing insight into the perrenial questions confronting all of us: who am i? what is the world? is there a god (and if there is, who or what is god)?

for the answers—listen!


Larry Brown Says:
June 23rd, 2010 at 8:53 am

I’m Larry Brown & I’m Proud & Blessed to be able to say I knew Jr Walker personally. At this writing (6/23/10), I’m 58 yrs old. I will be 59 on 6/28/10. Jr was born on 6/14/31. I met him when I was about 16 yrs old if my memory serves me right.

1st saw him live, playing at the Cheetah Club in New York City and the next night he was playing at a Newark, N.J. nightclub, where I convinced the owner of the club to let me meet him.

I had just bought my Selmer Mark VI Tenor Sax & barely knew a couple of scales. When I met Jr backstage, he was so nice to me. I told him I was his biggest fan and he chuckled & smiled. I told him I had a Selmer Mark VI Tenor Sax also. He asked if I lived close by. I responded Yes. He said go home & get your horn & come back show me what you know.

I told him I was just learning to play & trying to learn my scales. He said, Man, go get that horn. I ran home, got my sax, came back & he watched me put it together. With him watching, I honked out the C scale somewhat brokenly. He just smiled, he didn’t laugh at me. He adjusted my fingers on the keys, instructed me on how to correctly hold the sax & how to breath properly & how to hold the mouthpiece between my lips.

I did the scales a few more times. He then showed me how to finger a few of the notes to “Cleo’s Mood”. I was totally blown away. Here I was, getting a sax lesson from the Great Master Sax Player, Jr “Shotgun” Walker. Jr was just an Amazing Person. Later in life, I became an insurance agent and Jr allowed me to insure the touring bus that he owned. After his Passing, his son Charles, gifted me his 1963 selmer Mark VI Tenor saxophone. I wish that I could blow that sax just like him. he is truly missed, but thank God, he left behind Great music for us all.

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