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Happy Birthday, Junior Walker

This post was all ready to go yesterday morning. It wasn’t a good day to highlight a song called “Shotgun,” however, so this birthday post for Junior Walker is a day late.

Walker was born Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr. in Blytheville, Arkansas and grew up in South Bend, Indiana. He was born on June 14, 1931 and died in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1995.

The Wikipedia profile does its usual exemplary job of tracing Walker’s roots. His big hit was “Shotgun,”  with writing credit going to Berry Gordy Jr. and Lawrence Horn. I wasn’t aware that songs, as well as peojunior_walkerple, are inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But apparently they are – and “Shotgun” is in. It also is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, according to Classic Motown. Wikipedia notes another interesting bit of trivia about the song: Jimi Hendrix played it live with the All Stars. He no doubt took the sax part. The great video of the song above is from “Hullabaloo” in 1966.

The version of “Shotgun” above is from an episode of “Hollabaloo” aired in 1966, according to the notes at YouTube. Television shows of that era seem dated, naturally. But the set-piece combined dance/music routines performed on multilevel sets convey a sense of excitement. It stacks up well against today’s approach, which generally is just to show the performers.

The Independent’s obit of Walker describes the genesis of “Shotgun.” Walker, like many African-American musicians of that era, moved to Detroit. He was playing a gig in Brenton Harbor and saw two teenagers doing a dance that they called the shotgun. He wrote the song that night in his motel room. It’s funny how a small moment in time — two kids doing an interesting dance at a concert or people partying on a boat in Paris — can be turned into something that lives forever. Gordy approved the song for recording, which likely accounts for the co-writing credit.

Michigan Rock & Roll Legends puts Junior Walker in the proper time and place: “Walker was a bit of an anachronism when he started recording at Motown in 1964. Instead of the slick, highly commercial soul that was Motown’s trademark, Walker’s wailing sax harkened back to the early days of R&B and echoed some of his early inspirations such as Louis Jordan, Big Jay McNeely, and King Curtis.” The shotgun sound at the beginning of the song was made by kicking an amp, according to Songfacts. Click here or on the image for more on Junior Walker & the All Stars.
“Shotgun” started on the R&B charts and eventually crossed over, reaching number four on Billboard’s Top 100. It sold more than a million copies.

The piece says that Walker’s style was influenced by Earl Bostic, who played sax with Lionel Hampton. The piece says that Bostic was an early proponent of the combining jazz and rhythm and blues. Wikipedia also says that Louis Jordan and Illinois Jacquet influenced Walker’s style.

Other noteworthy songs by Junior Walker & the All Stars are “(I’m a) Roadrunner” and “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)?” Walker was featured on “Urgent” by Foreigner, though that shouldn’t be held against him. He also recorded the song himself.

Below is “Way Back Home,” which was released in 1971. The frank acknowledgement of the racial elements of his youth is interesting and refreshing.

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David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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