Thursday, March 08, 2007

Guess Who? Junior Walker, That's Who!

Jr. Walker & The All-Stars - These Eyes

Although Jr. Walker (born Autry Dewalt, Jr.) scored quite a few hits on Motown's Soul imprint, Walker was certainly not a "Motown man." He lacked the sophistication of Marvin Gaye or any other beneficiary of the label's in-house charm school (a veteran performer by the time he and his group hooked up with Motown, he was never even enrolled!) and his band was too raggedy to grace the company's "Snake Pit" studios (the Funk Brothers actually played on the records; the All-Stars were strictly Jr.'s road band). Until 1969, most of Walker's records stuck with Walker's awesome saxophone playing or with Walker providing shouted, rough-hewn vocals for dance records (think "Shotgun," "Do the Boomerang," and "Shake and Fingerpop"), but when Motown reluctantly released the beautiful "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" and struck pop and R&B paydirt with it, Jr. Walker the crooner emerged on subsequent records. Walker's next hit, a cover of The Guess Who's "These Eyes," is featured today. Walker's vocals were not as expressive as those on the Guess Who's original, to be sure, but they were charming in a country-funk kind of way and his sax was definitely a nice addition to the great song. The record proved that "What Does It Take" was no fluke, as it was a #3 R&B and #16 pop hit in '69.

A postscript: I saw a 1971 episode of "Soul Train" some years ago that featured Jr. and the band performing live. (In the early years of the show quite a few artists were allowed to appear live; James Brown's appearances were especially noteworthy and have appeared on a few bootleg compilations.) As I mentioned, the All-Stars only backed Jr. on the road, so to hear Walker do his hits, especially "These Eyes" (which he said he got "lots of requests's for"), with such a stripped-down, rough-hewn group was great.

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