Listen to The Dynamites Featuring Charles Walker on MySpace...
By: Andy Tennille
Even as a young boy growing up in Nashville in the 1940s, Charles Walker knew he was a little bit different from the rest of the kids his age.
| The Dynamites Featuring Charles Walker|
"As a kid, I was always tap-dancing or singing around our house," Walker remembers. "A lot of my siblings and friends could sing too, but they never made a career out of it. I guess I was kind of the bastard child in a way."
Nicknamed "Wigg" by his mother for the inordinate amount of hair with which he was born, Walker got his start in music like so many other aspiring artists of that era – through performing in his local church.
"I grew up singing in church in the children's choir, mostly hymns and gospel music," he says. "Eventually, I started with a singing group called The Bel Aires. It didn't take long for me. I was out singing at a pretty early age."
In 1959, Walker cut his first records – Slave to Love and No Fool No More - for Nashville's Champion record label under the direction of producer Ted Jarrett with support from labelmates The Kinglets and Larry Birdsong.
"It was mostly just blues and country back then in Nashville, but I got hooked on that R&B sound from listening to people like Jackie Wilson on the radio," Walker says. "One of the reasons I left home for New York was because I just did not see any possibility of doing that kind of music in Nashville at that time."
A year after his recording debut, Walker moved to the Big Apple to pursue music full-time, recording some demos for various labels before joining the J.C. Davis Band as its new lead singer. Walker toured the country with the band for nearly five years, opening for the likes of Jackie Wilson, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and James Brown.
"James used to fire and hire me constantly," Walker recalls about The Godfather of Soul. "He always would tell me to do one or two songs before he would come on, but I would try to make a medley out of the songs and go a bit longer. Eventually, he would just walk out. My job was to warm up the audience. Sometimes, James said I was doing a little too much warming."
In 1964, Walker split from Davis to form his own group, Little Charles and the Sidewinders, comprised of many of the musicians who formed his former employer's band. The Sidewinders became one of the hottest bands in the New York, performing shows at legendary Harlem institutions such as The Apollo Theater and Small's Paradise while cutting sides for both the Chess and Decca labels.
| Charles Walker|
"If you did not meet people on tour, you would meet them at Small's," Walker says with a grin. "Everyone would be at Small's - James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Vic Mabel, Ruth Brown, Wilson Pickett, really everyone was there one night or another. Pickett and I were good friends. I did a couple of shows with him but we would hang out together a lot. He was always down at Small's when I was down there. Small's was the Mecca of the music business in New York."
The Sidewinders stayed together throughout the '60s and '70s, playing gigs in hotels, nightclubs and casinos before Walker disbanded the group in 1979 to join Motown Records as a staff writer. Walker spent the better part of the '80s in Europe, where his Sidewinders sides attracted a cult following in England's Northern Soul scene and led to some gigs and recording projects, before ultimately returning home to Nashville in 1993. Walker played the Nashville club circuit for several years before recording Leavin' This Old Town, which was nominated for a Handy Award in 2000 for Comeback Album of the Year. But it wasn't until a chance meeting with local producer Bill Elder in 2005 that Walker had met his musical match with Nashville's The Dynamites.
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