Put On Your Wig Woman (Junior Walker)

As the 1950’s headed towards the 1960’s songwriter Berry Gordy was doing nicely from his connection with singer Jackie Wilson (Berry wrote “Reet Petite”, “Lonely Teardrops” & others) while having a shrewd eye on the business of music through an involvement with talent he found in his hometown Detroit. His Tamla label released its first disc in 1959, the Miracles’ “Shop Around” became its first million seller the following year & the Motown Record Corporation would soon stake a claim to be “the sound of young America”, as big an influence on the decade’s popular music as the British Beat explosion.

 

Image result for junior walker & the all-stars come seeWe all know the great stars signed to the label, Marvin, Stevie, Diana & the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations. There were plenty of other acts who benefited & contributed to the Motown sound. That driving beat of the house band, the Funk Brothers, matched to a melodic & lyrical acuity & urbanity placed African-American music firmly in the Modernist movement of the decade. Pop Art…you betcha! Junior Walker, a saxophonist, a little older than the others, never really adhered to the Hitsville formula but he & his All Stars enjoyed much success because their distinctive, individual style was pretty irresistible.

 

 

Image result for junior walker concert posterJunior Walker, born in 1931, was playing in bands in Battle Creek, Michigan, 120 miles east of Detroit, in the mid-1950s. The All Stars played both kinds of music, the Rhythm & the Blues, tenor sax playing Junior being influenced by the Jive of Louis Jordan & the Jazz of Illinois Jacquet (great name). The band signed with Harvey Fuqua, a singer turned label head, whose hits with the Moonglows, the classic “Sincerely” & the extra classic “The 10 Commandments of Love” were as good as Doo Wop got. Harvey was Berry Gordy’s brother in law & when he joined the family company he took his roster with him. The second 45 issued under the growing Motown umbrella found Junior Walker & the All Stars at the top of the R&B charts & in the Pop Top 10, a list that was pretty much all British Invasion & Tamla.

 

Image result for junior walker roadrunnerOn “Shotgun” (coming up later) the band were augmented by a Funk Brothers backline, including the peerless bassist James Jamerson. It’s a Soul Explosion, the honking sax, call & response vocal shouts & a demand that you dance urgency is the trademark of Junior Walker & the All Stars. Gritty is not the adjective most associated with Detroit at this time, these guys were, they found an audience & Motown let them do their thing. “(I’m A) Roadrunner”, the 4th Top 10 R&B 45, was written by ace team Holland-Dozier-Holland, another injection of Soul adrenaline, a super smash. King Curtis & Cannonball Adderley were masters of Soul/R&B saxophone & Junior Walker was not only just as groovy but his records were a whole lot of fun.

 

 

Image result for junior walker & the all-stars come seeThe major influence of the label on the artist was to point him towards the cupboard where they kept their back catalogue. First, in 1966, Marvin’s “How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You)” & “Money (That’s What I Want)” were Walkerfied. The following year H-D-H’s hit for the Supremes, “Come See About Me” was given a gutbucket revival, guaranteed to pack out any dancefloor anywhere. In the UK Junior Walker was a major Mod favourite. His records may not have made Top of the Pops but were played on the pirate radio stations & were essentials for any DJ in clubs (in my case youth clubs) all over the country. The ones already checked, “Shake & Fingerpop”, “Pucker Up Buttercup”, the killer “Shoot Your Shot”, it’s becoming a list & we knew them all.

 

In 1969 Walker & his producer Johnny Bristol, an ally since before Motown, changed it up & had a big success. “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”, written by Bristol, Fuqua & staffer Vernon Bullock, was recorded in 1968 for the “Home Cookin'” LP & released with some reluctance by the label. It’s slower paced, the edges are smoothed, the vocal more featured & it sold a million. Followed by a fine cover of the Guess Who’s “These Eyes” this new style kept Junior in the game, away from the golden oldie circuit in the new decade.

 

 

Image result for junior walker concert posterJunior Walker came out of the Jumping Jive R&B tradition & found his place in Soul music. He had international success with his records & the evidence is that his live shows were not to be missed. If, in June 1969, you were at the Fillmore West in San Francisco for the All Stars/Grateful Dead double bill then I am jealous. The group were regular, popular visitors to the UK & this clip (in colour!) of their 1967 gig at the Ram Jam Club, you know it, on the Brixton Rd, above Burton’s & the gas showroom, yeah you know, is just wonderful. Junior & his band, Willie Woods, guitar, James Graves, drums & Vic Thomas, organ, (bassist unknown) blow up an absolute storm. If I ever get this time machine finished then look out for me in the audience the next time you watch this lovely thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More Motown Memories

I was looking through the discography of  Tamla Motown’s UK releases…because a man loves a list…”Hitsville USA” indeed. There are so many stone dead classics, now part of our musical DNA. The Supremes, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, hit record after hit record. There are other great releases which did not make the same golden impression but were from the same Motown stable of producers, writers and musicians and are of the same high quality. Here are just three which I have been able to select with no great brain strain on my part.

The Marvelettes were early successes for the label. In 1961 the unforgettable “Please Mr Postman” (covered by the Beatles, no less) and the totally forgettable “Twistin’ Postman” were hits. By the mid-60s they had been eclipsed by other female groups but in 1967 they struck an artistic and commercial seam which brought more success. “My Baby Must be A Magician”, written and produced by Smokey Robinson, was the group’s third Top 30 record of the year. It’s a great smooth Smokey song, Melvyn Franklin off of the Temptations booms the introduction then Marv Taplin does something with a guitar that you have to be in the Magic Circle to know how it’s done.

The Internet Oracle, Wikipedia, tells us that the Marvellettes quit  in 1970. In the early 80s I saw three ladies of a certain age perform as the group in support of Graham Parker & the Rumour at the Hammersmith Palais in London. Now I have no idea if any of these songstresses were Wanda Rogers, the lead singer on “Baby” or indeed if any of them had ever even been to Inkster, Michigan. The group performed “Postman”, “Don’t Mess With Bill”, “Hunter Gets Captured by the Game”, “When You’re Young & in Love”…all the hits. No-one cared who they were and showed their appreciation of a fine act.

You do not get to see live, in colour, performances of Motown acts very often. This clip of Junior Walker & the All Stars is wild and astonishing. The signature of the “Sound of Young America” was soul with sophistication but Junior, older than the other stars, was straight gutbucket R&B. The shouting sax player hit big with “Shotgun” and the hits just kept on coming. He would Walkerize songs from the Motown catalogue and in the dancefloors of UK mod clubs were jammed when they were played. The records are not as rugged as we see him here. The British audience are open-mouthed as they get to see such a great American soul act.

It’s a treat to see the Ram Jam Club too. I have Cockney friends who never tire of telling of the time they saw Jimi Hendrix play in this Brixton dive. I frequented the same venue in the 80s when it had transformed into the “Fridge”. It was an innovative and popular hang-out but the old Mods would always crack on about the old days being better than the todays. Looking at Junior Walker and the All Stars tearing up the place they may have been right.

“I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” is the 1968 debut 45 for Syreeta Wright. Written by the team of Ashford and Simpson who’s songs were so wonderfully interpreted by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. (On this one they were assisted by Brian Holland, one of the amazing brothers). It was not a hit and Syreeta did not make too many records for a while. What she did do was fall in love and marry Stevie Wonder. They wrote hit songs together at a time when Stevie was distancing himself from Motown and feeling his way towards a more mature sound which was to pretty much take over the world. The marriage did not last but the couple worked together on 2 Syreeta solo LPs which are fine companions to Stevie’s great run of recordings in the early 70s.

I was on to Syreeta from the beginning because this fine single was released under the name Rita Wright and…that was my mother’s name ! What else could I do ?