Charles Walker was born in Nashville July 12th, 1940
and immediately was nick named 'Wig' by his mother because of his full
head of hair as a kid. Like so many others from Charles background his
singing began in Church and school.
His professional musical journey began in his hometown with his first
recording 'Slave To Love' released in 1959 on the Nashville 'Champion'
label. He relocated to New York shortly afterwards and met record entrepreneur
Bobby Robinson who cut some demos with Charles for his 'Fury' label.
Soon afterwards, a chance meeting with the J.C Davis Band, who had played
the famed Apollo Theatre, opening for Jackie Wilson led to Charles becoming
their lead singer. During his time with the L.C Davis band he toured
the country opening for many of the greats of the era, including Jackie
Wilson, James Brown, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, and Little Willie John.
With Charles as lead singer they recorded 'Sweet Sweet Love' and 'The
Chicken Scratch' for Chess records. These cuts never become hits at
the time, but their quality has ensured that over the years they have
become highly collectable.
By 1965 Charles had split with the J.C Davis band and taking some of
the key players with him formed 'Little Charles and The Sidewinders'
who became the number one draw on the New York club scene. Through the
help of Lloyd Price the bands recorded 8 sides for Decca, but they only
received regional airplay and never charted.
The Sidewinders continued to record for more outre labels with names
like Botanic, Drum and Red Sands. At one time Charles even had his own
label, P R Gallery. If that's an odd name for a record company it's
because it was named after a New York art gallery which Charles and
his then partner Barbara owned in the eighties. The Sidewinders split
around 1971/2. A solo album recorded for Lloyd Price in the 70s remains
Throughout much of the 70s Charles music career was on hold as he threw
his efforts into his gallery, until he took a short stint as a songwriter
for Motown in 1979. He then decided to relocate to Europe, with writing
partner Barbara Perrie. Some of his earlier recordings had been reissued
in Europe that created a demand for 'live appearances '. Charles spent
most of the eighties in England and Spain with his career mostly in
once again limbo before returning to Nashville in 1993.
Although reluctantly and not in the best of personal circumstances Charles
found that he had returned to a thriving blues/soul scene was in his
home city, and work for him was plentiful, so he quickly slipped back
into the live circuit. Other legendary Nashville soul/blues recording
artists were also making comebacks and Charles would often sit in on
sessions with the likes of Earl Gaines, Roscoe Shelton, Johnny Jones,
Al Garner and Clifford Curry.
The catalyst for this scene turned out to be Texas-born Fred James,
who had launched virtually a one-man crusade to bring some of these
all-but forgotten stars back into prominence. Almost before he'd realised
Charles was back in the thick of the music business, making a record
with Fred and another guitarist Johnny Jones, who had actually played
on Charles' first 1959 recording, 'Slave To Love'.
That album found two homes, first in Europe where it was released as
'I'm Available' (Black Magic Records) and next in the USA as 'Leavin'
This Old Town' (Cannonball Records). So it was that Charles' trajectory
out of the fledgling Nashville blues scene seemed to have come full-circle,
back to the very place where he began - at the exact moment his musical
contemporaries were starting out in the blues, all over again.
Which brings us up to the current release, Number By Heart, the birth
of which began on a cold rainy day in Oxford, (not Mississippi but England).
Fred James had contacted Zane with a view to releasing a new album from
Charles Walker. I had seen Charles perform some years earlier at The
King Biscuit Blues Festival on the bank of the levee in Helena Arkansas,
and although until that day he was little known to me, I was taken by
the fact that I was watching a true soul survivor.
Fred explained that Charles was touring England I arranged to meet him
the morning after his Oxford gig. "How do you feel about making a deep
soul album Charles, you know, songs with passion and fire with a feel
of the classic era when the sounds of Memphis and Muscle Shoals ruled?"
I asked. "I like that idea, let's do it " he replied.
Why not then, return to his roots with an album that would firmly show
the same soul and emotion I had witnessed several years ago in Arkansas.
Recording started as soon as Charles returned to the States with Fred
James at the helm as producer and guitarist. Songs were selected carefully
from a clutch of new demos that Charles had worked up before his tour,
along with three choice cover cuts including Elvis Costelloís Alison
and a masterly take of the Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham classic It Tears
Me Up. With the solid contributions of all the studio players, and the
total commitment of Charles to this project Number By Heart was finished
in little over a week.
In such a short space of time its amazing to feel the satisfaction
of knowing that we have accomplished what we set out to do. It has been
said that 'soul music' as it was performed in it's heyday is on it's
way back; For Charles Walker it never went away, just had to be rediscovered
... hope you enjoy!