This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site which was abandoned for its current site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is number seventeen in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my collection, that I believe have significant musical value and are being post reviewed under the banner of “Cream of The Crate”.
Album #17 is the first of many R&B albums I will review. Junior Walker and The All Stars released Roadrunner in 1966. It was originally released on the Soul label (Soul 703) by the Motown Record Company.
It was in fact the second album released by Walker – the first being Shotgun, in 1965.
“Junior got his ‘Walker’ stage name after his family had moved north to South Bend, Indiana. He claimed the kids started calling him ‘Walker’ because he used to walk to school and everywhere else in South Bend and also because his stepfather’s last name was Walker.” [Jr. Walker & The All Stars – MRRL Hall of Fame]
It was an absolute line ball over which of these two albums I could review, both are fantastic and both are loaded with great tracks.
Roadrunner is among my favourite trax. Written by the great team, Holland, Dozier, Holland, this version has a great arrangement, fantastically sexy sax and it has what today would be called, a ‘wicked’ bass line.
If you are ever seeking a great party track, you can’t go passed Money. Written by Barry Gordy Jnr, it has more cover versions than I can count. When comes to an arrangement with a soul and swing, this is THE version!
Recorded in a party like atmosphere, it is yet another track where if you don’t move your feet they are either nailed to the floor, or you are dead!
The final track that I present from this album, is Twist Lackawana.
An all instrumental it is another toe tapping, head shaking, body rolling, jiving and grooving track. Each instrument has moment in the track and the only thing missing was Junior introducing the players. When Junior cries out, “Don’t Stop!”, we can but agree.
Junior Walker is a supreme R&B sax player! In fact in an era where saxophone was beginning to loose its appeal in contemporary music, the wailing sax of Junior Walker reminded all of us that were devotees of R&B music, that its sound was an integral part of the style of R&B that Walker played so well.
So why is the music so good?
Well as I have already indicated, Walker is a ‘Master’ of the saxophone and his ability to adapt the music of others in order to feature his sax playing is quite remarkable.
His band, the All Stars, are exactly that; Stars! Tight, precise and yet able to sit in a groove and support the man, they make it both easy listening (no, not in the classic “Easy Listening” style we were fed on ‘radio bland’) but the type that just is so inviting its irresistible.
At the same time, the band provides a class support to Walker and thus we can appreciate the ‘drive’ and the ‘soul’ that great R&B generates. Guitarist Willie Woods plays what has been described as ‘Gritty Guitar’ and is ably supported by the ‘booming bass’ of James Jamerson.
It really is a great example of how the saxophone, when in the hands of an innovative and talented player, can be featured so well and really become a focal point of the music. This was something that rarely happened in music post the ‘Swing’ / Big band era boom!
Junior Walker and The All Stars
- James Graves – drums
- Vic Thomas – keyboards
- Junior Walker – saxophone, vocals
- Willie Woods – guitar
- James Jamerson – bass
The album has some really, really great tracks. Apart from Roadrunner, my favourites are, How Sweet It Is, Pucker Up Buttercup and Last Call.
I think too many listeners ears, particularly younger ears, the music could sound dated. To me it’s honest to god brilliant Tamla Motown music although it always has suggested to me to have a touch of the ‘Memphis’ sound about the arrangements.
The the fact that he remand popular right up to Walkers death his an indication of his relevance.
He had a total of 16 albums released not including ‘best of albums, anthologies and greatest hits! In a plethora of singles he never had a number one on the pop charts, but had two #1’s on the R charts.
The first was in fact his first release – Shotgun , and the second was the 1969 release What does it take to win your love.
- “(I’m a) Road Runner” (Dozier, Holland, Holland) – 2:49
- “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” (Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Edward Holland, Jr.) – 3:04
- “Pucker Up Buttercup” (John Bristol, Danny Coggins, Fuqua) – 3:18
- “Money (That’s What I Want)” (Janie Bradford, Berry Gordy) – 4:34
- “Last Call” (Frank Bryant, Autry DeWalt II, Lawrence Horn) – 2:23
- “Anyway You Wannta” (Harvey Fuqua, Gwen Gordy) – 2:41
- “Baby You Know You Ain’t Right” (Autry DeWalt II, Lawrence Horn) – 2:34
- “Amé Cherie (Soul Darling)” (James Graves, Horn, Victor Thomas, Willie Woods) – 4:13
- “Twist Lackawanna” (DeWalt, Ronald White) – 2:19
- “San-Ho-Zay” (Freddie King Sonny Thompson) – 3:00
- “Mutiny” (Henry Cosby) – 3:55
Since its initial release on vinyl it has been reissued on vinyl again. Naturally it is available on CD.
The album is variously advertised between $13.00 and $85.00, and one can rightly assume the price difference reflects the quality of the vinyl and, whether it is a reissue or original. Interestingly, the CD seems to be very hard to locate, I found one copy for $15.00.
Sadly Walker passed away on November 23, 1995 in Battle Creek, Michigan. He died of cancer at the age of 64.
He was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation that year. Junior Walker is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, in Battle Creek, Michigan, under a marker inscribed with both his birth name of Autry DeWalt Mixon, Jr., and his stage name.
Jr. Walker & The All Stars were voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2007.
It really is a great album and so representative of the style of music in this genre in this era.
A must for any serious collector.
I located a three great clips of Jr.Walker with the All Stars that give a great idea of his playing live.
How Sweet It Is
Pucker Up Buttercup
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
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