Saturday, September 01, 2007

Get on Down With Jr. Walker's Biggest Fan!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Some time ago Gregory Rose emailed me after seeing my post featuring Jr. Walker & The All-Stars' version of "These Eyes". In corresponding with him I came to learn that Greg is a serious fan of Jr. and the All-Stars, having acquired not only copies of Jr.'s recordings ("if Jr. blew it, I got it," he told me) but also quite a bit of memorabilia, including one of the Motown legend's saxophones. I asked him if he would like to write a bit about Jr. and help put together a mix of Jr.'s music for "Get on Down ..." and he was very happy to oblige, sending pictures and audio files to flesh things out nicely. So I present at this time the first guest blogger ever on "Get on Down ...", Gregory Rose, in his own words. Read his words, listen to the great mix that he and I put together, and just feel the love that Greg has for the man and his music, the kind of love that "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul!" is all about. The playlist for the mix appears at the end of the post.)

One can log onto just about any historical music website, and find biographical information about Junior Walker & The All-Stars, or of Junior himself: Motown recording star; several gold records; a Grammy; appearances on "SNL," "Midnight Special," "Soul Train," and David Letterman; and even a performance at Bill Clintons' Inaugural Party in 1993. But my appreciation and admiration of this great saxman started back around 1966, learning to do the "Shotgun," a dance routine my brother did.

Nobody was blowing the sax back in the era of electric guitars, and even Motown itself was not known for instrument playing stars, just the polished and well-groomed stage acts and great voices of the main Motown groups. Junior was very much his own man. Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, was always forbidding anyone from "messing" with Junior. His rough vocals, more fitting of the Stax label of Memphis, really did fit well with Motown. And although Junior had several hits in the 60's and 70's, his stage personna was not about records or recording studio sessions - it was always about the show, the performance, the stage.

I grew to love this man's music, and through the years, bought every album and 8-track released. I finally got to see him live in 1985, then again in 1988 and 1989, long after his big hits. But that didn't matter.

I had my license plate personalized with his name, JRWALKR, and I used to get lots of looks. In 1989, he came to a club in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I bought tickets to both shows. I went to the show with a photo of my car, showing my tag with his name. I thought, "if I can get someone to give him this photo, maybe I can meet him." Sure enough, a member of his party took my photo, and told me to wait and they would come get me. During intermission, I was led backstage, and there he sat, towel wrapped around his neck, resting with the band. When he saw the photo, he smiled, walked up to me with his hand out, and said, "man, that's all right - I don't even have that on my car!" And there you have it, a man that was not stuck on himself. As one of his sons told me soon after his death, his dad would often stop on the road and help some stranger who was having car trouble. After helping them, he would turn down offers of pay, say you're welcome to the person, and drive off - all the while, the stranded motorist didn't even know who had helped them.

When Junior died in 1995, I sent flowers to the funeral, along with my license plate, not for any purpose other than to let the family know how much Junior was admired and respected. I was soon contacted by one of his sons, and ever since then we have kept in touch, sharing photos, videos, music, and information. Earlier this year, I was able to purchase my most prized possession, a sax that Junior owned. Through the years, I've located rare recordings, photos, posters and other memorabilia about him. I have also visited his home in Battle Creek.

Junior's recordings not only spanned several decades, they also spanned differing styles. His early hits like "Shotgun" and "(I'm A) Roadrunner" were of the old-style R&B hits of the day. Later, more strings and orchestration were added for songs like "These Eyes" and "Gotta Hold On To This Feeling," two of my favorites, along with "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)." Later, when Motown tried to resurrect his sound in the disco era, the songwriting was not as good, but even so, Junior maintained that trademark sax sound. Junior did not have a trained voice, but it's hard to imagine any other voice melding with that sax sound. They went so well together. I truly do miss him.

Gregory Rose
Lawrenceville, Georgia


1. (I'm A) Roadrunner
2. Do The Boomerang
3. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
4. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)
5. These Eyes
6. Gotta Hold On To This Feeling
7. Do You See My Love (For Your Growing)
8. These Things Will Keep Me Loving You
9. Walk In The Night
10. Moody Junior
11. Still Water
12. Way Back Home
13. Dancin' Like They Do On Soul Train
14. I'll Go Where Your Music Takes Me (radio edit)

(Special thanks to Gregory Rose for sharing the love with me and all of you. Long live the music of Jr. Walker!)


Brian Phillips said...

Wonderful to hear all of this! Is it just me or does anyone else believe that David Sanborn was a Jr. Walker fan?

Northing said...

Early 80's - a Savannah club featured Jr. Walker and his road band. My sax-player friend Jimmy got a mob of us to go. After the show we went backstage to meet the man. Jimmy brought his horn for Walker to sign and told him "I just can't get the notes out of this horn that you can." Walker snatched the sax from him, stuck the dry mouthpiece in and bleated, squeaked and sang through it for a couple of minutes. As he handed back the horn, Walker snapped, "Boy, those sounds don't come from here..." and he smacked himself in the chest. "They come from in here." Great night, great music.

Unknown said...

A few years ago, Eric Marienthal, sax player, who has played with The Rippingtons and many others, was on Dave Koz's radio show.....during the show, Dave asked what he listened to....after he named off a couple of artists, the said "And ANYTHING by Junior Walker".......hows THAT for knowing talent?

Concerning Sanborn, there is a photo I found on the internet, when Junior met with sanborn and Mr. Clarance CLemons, just prior to being on the David Letterman show which I posted on YOUTUBE......check it out!Look for the MOODYJUNIOR contributor on Youtube under "JUNIOR WALKER"

The Stepfather of Soul said...

This dispatch in from Phil from North Yorkshire:

I saw Jr. in the UK 8 times - he was a frequent visitor here until his illness - and tho' I did not know about it at the time, I knew something was wrong as tours were cancelled on a couple of occasions. Then there was a Motown Legends tour of which Junior was a part, along with the Temptations, 4 Tops, Jimmy Ruffin and Martha Reeves, but he didn't make it (I went, and as we queued, there was a note outside saying he was ill and Edwin Starr took his place) - it was a good show but I was devastated, more so when shortly after, I returned from a holiday and my brother-in-law told me how sorry he was. I said "why, what's up," and he said they'd been playing Junior all week on the radio because he'd just died. Tragedy.

The man was so underrated except by other sax players and musicians, and Motown and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame do themselves a great disservice by not treating him in the way he should be. It's absolutely appalling that the greatest, most original sax player of his generation should be ignored. In his genre, Junior stands above any other R & B sax player and easily alongside Bird, Coltrane and Hawkins. His influence was/is immense.