Saturday, 28 December 2019

Jr. Walker & The All Stars

"I never will forget playing a saxophone riff with Junior Walker. It was a great thing. And I always loved that" - Bill Clinton

Shotgun (1965)

This was the debut album for Motown saxophonist Jr. Walker (born Autry Dewait) and his excellent band. Or so you might think. However, on many of Walker's Motown recordings, The All Stars are not used - Motown session musicians are. 

Either way, they can play, and the album, a mixture of instrumentals, semi-instrumentals and vocal tracks is a pretty intoxicating, explosive piece of work. First of all, I have to say that the sound quality is superb, particularly considering it dates from 1965 - a full, thumping and bassy backing behind Walker's trademark wailing saxophone. It was on of the first really credible Motown Albums and it bristles with unbridled enthusiasm from beginning to end. It is full of infectious rhythm and a general joie de vivre that makes it irresistible. The saxophone, the bass, the organ, the drums, the vocals - all combine superbly  to provide a wonderful, addictive cornucopia of sixties Motown heaven. 

Cleo's Mood and Cleo's Back are funky, jazz-influenced instrumental workouts. Who Cleo was is not known. Hot Cha has seductive Latin rhythmic influences that no doubt contributed to the "cha" (as in cha cha cha) of the title (check out Walker's extended solo too), while Monkey Jump and the superbly bopping Tune Up are upbeat stomps. 
The lively Do The Boomerang requests that we all do whatever dance the boomerang was. There are vocals on this, handled by Willie Woods as opposed to Walker. Full song vocals can be found on the unsurprisingly rat-a-tat saxophone-organ-drum funky attack of Shotgun, the now iconic saxophone-driven joy of (I'm A) Road Runner and the "my woman done gone left me" bluesy angst of Ain't That The TruthShake And Fingerpop is also a poppy, good-time vocal track that sees Walker telling his lady to "put on your wig, woman, we're goin' out to shake and fingerpop...". That line has always amused me. A truly screaming saxophone introduces the pounding beat of Shoot Your Shot, together with a grinding, soulful vocal invocation to shoot your shot. Tally Ho! has an exaggerated upper-class English vocal intro and, like all the tracks, features some marvellous free-flowing, expressive saxophone. You really can't go wrong with any of these tracks. 
This album is virtually like a "greatest hits" of Jr. Walker's mid-sixties output. Indeed, all the tracks are of such a high standard, and so appealing, that it could almost function as a "Greatest Hits, Part One". Just listen to Shotgun once more. It cooks - to boiling point

Soul Session (1966)

When I listen to this album, my initial reaction is that the material is older and far more raw than that which appeared on the previous year's Shotgun, the group's debut offering. I would be right, because this is a collection of early, all instrumental workouts of from Walker and his All Stars, with no replacement Motown session musicians involved. Without wishing to sound unfair on The All Stars, I have to say that the Motown musicians' sound is probably better, fuller. The sound on Shotgun is slightly superior to this album, both in production and delivery and the vocals add something more to the overall more expansive feel of that album. There is still some fine material on here, though, all the same. Just as their Motown counterparts could play, so could The All Stars. 

There is a rock 'n' roll style beat to the opening Good Rockin', a sort of Shakin' All Over groove. Walker's wailing saxophone soars all over it as well. It is a good track. Hewbie Steps Out features some sublime jazzy guitar soloing. Shake Everything is a sax-driven, lively toe-tapper, with a few sights hints of The Champs' Tequila in places. Everybody Get Together is packed full of rhythm and excellent, crystal-clear percussion.Mark Anthony (Speaks) (an odd title) is a more laid-back, jazzy groove with some superb Walker saxophone. US rocks, big time, in a rock 'n' roll-swing way, the saxophone merrily driving it along. Moonlight In Vermont finds Walker going all late night jazz on a track that sounds far more beginning of the sixties than 1966. Decidedly is a bit lo-fi, compared to some of the others, but it chugs along pleasantly enough, sounding very much like a backing track, however. Eight Hour Drag is a nice piece of the blues and is one of the album's best cuts. The lively Brainwasher was a double "A" side single but Cleo's Mood was the one that got played, probably correctly. Three Four Three has some soulful sax throughout, while Satan's Blues is one of those that often appears on Jr. Walker compilations. That does not surprise me, it is the album's longest track at over four minutes, and it is an impressive slow-burning, atmospheric blues. The best track on the album finishes it. Jr. Walker & The All Stars were at their best, though, when they interspersed vocal cuts with the instrumental ones. They would do just that on their next offering.

Road Runner (1966)

This was, in effect, Jr. Walker & The All Stars' second album (the previous one was a collection of earlier instrumentals). This one saw them return to the attractive mix of killer vocal tracks and very enjoyable instrumentals. 

As often happened on early Motown Albums, the group's big hit from their debut Shotgun album, the irrepressible (I'm A) Road Runner was included again. It was probably not surprising because it was an absolute 24-carat nugget of a song, with its booming bass, funky guitar foundation, squealing sax, pounding Motown tambourine and gritty soul vocal. Any all-time Motown classic playlist should include it. Could it be bettered, though? Amazingly, probably yes - on the very next track - How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). Of course, Marvin Gaye had a huge hit with it the previous year, but Walker's was an equally big smash, and benefitted from a grittier, more raw-edged approach in comparison to Gaye's smoother, slicker version.

Incidentally, The All Stars featured as the backing on this album, apart from the legendary Motown session man James Jameson on bass. The catchy, poppy Pucker Up Buttercup was also a single. Walker's take on Barrett Strong's Money (That's What I Want) is jazzily lively with tagged-on enthusiastic audience noises. Four corkers have begun this album. Now it is time for mainly instrumentals. The instrumental Last Call has a classic blues-soul riff but suffers from a bit of a scratchy, hissy sound. Despite that, it still has real beaty oomph to it. Anyway You Wannta sees Junior going a bit James Brown on a solid piece of mostly instrumental funk pop, which a few Brown-esque vocal exhortations. 
Baby You Know You Ain't Right is a stopping vocal track with more Brown-styled vocals and a bit of a Papa's Got A Brand New Bag feel. The instrumental Ame' Cherie features some fine Booker T-style organ and muscular drumming. Walker's sax on Twist Lackawanna is at virtuous level, great stuff, as is the rest of the backing. San-Ho-Zay continues the sax-laden instrumental groove, again superbly. Mutiny has a great, rhythmic sound to it that you simply can't keep still to. So, some great vocal tracks started the album and similar quality instrumentals ended it. Check out Jamerson's bass solo on MutinyThe sound is a little bit rough-edged on this album, in places, but it is in nice, separated stereo, with warm bass and for 1966, has its good points.

Home Cookin' (1969)

We are entering the finest phase of Jr. Walker & The All Stars' career here, the 1969-1972 period, despite (I'm A) Road Runner. It yielded some excellent hit singles and some truly underrated albums too. Furthermore, the sound quality was improving by the year. The sound is great on this album - stereo and full of killer bass, just as I like it.

Come See About Me is a deliciously bassy take on the Diana Ross & The Supremes number. I presume it is James Jamerson on bass. Either way, it is big, deep rumbling boom of a bass line. Up next is a timeless classic Jr. Walker hit, the peerless What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) - overflowing with gorgeous sax, great vocals and great hooks throughout. It is an undisputed top notch Motown number. Home Cookin' is another solid, vocal funk-pop number in a James Brown style and once again treating us to a magnificent, rubber band bass. After three fine vocal cuts some sweet saxophone is to be found on the upbeat, but sumptuously smooth Sweet Soul. It is an apt title. 

Vocal soul is back, though, on the fast funk of
Hip City (Pt. 1). Again it is delivered in a James Brown fashion, and even namecheck him at one point. (Pt. 2) of the same song continues the instrumental vibe, with occasional vocals. To be honest, it should have just been one track, but I guess it was separated to form a "A" and "B" side of a single. Sweet Daddy Deacon is a fun, rhythmic groover in a sort of Here Come The Judge style. Once more, the saxophone is mind-glowingly good. Fanny Mae is a blues stomper also covered by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes on their 1976 I Don't Want To Go Home album. The Things I Do For You is a great vocal track with a grinding blues/soul sound. Check that funky organ and excellent percussion. The album ends with the bassy, lively Baby Ain't You Shame - another impressive vocal number. Apart from Sweet Soul, all this album had vocals, which was a bit of a diversification.

A Gasssssss (1970)

This was an album when Jr. Walker & The All Stars became more of a soul group as opposed to (an admittedly hot) Motown pop-funk outfit. Walker's trademark saxophone was still there, but there was something more polished, more gospelly, more soulful about the material this time out, as we moved into the seventies. The emphasis, once again, is more on vocal tracks, there being only two instrumentals on the album.

Do You See My Love (For You Growing) is a fine slice of uplifting soul with a slightly different sound to that we had become used to, with female backing vocals and a more slow and soulful lead vocal. Jr. Walker's saxophone is still instantly recognisable when it squeals in, however. The sombre but strangely inspiring Laura Nyro song And When I Die is glorious - full of gospel vocals and sentiments. Stevie Wonder's I Was Made To Love Her is given the sax-drenched Walker treatment, highly effectively too. The vocals actually become more of an accompaniment for the saxophone. Carry Your Own Load is an effervescent serving of gospel-influenced inspirational soul. It is totally catchy from beginning to end. The forthrightly-titled Shut Up, Don't Interrupt Me is another corker of a cut that cooks and crackles with soul throughout.

It was time for an instrumental now, however, with the magnificent funky, jazzy, upbeat vibes of Groove And More. Walker's saxophone soars on this one. The group's cover of Neil Diamond's Holly Holy brings out the gospel essence of the song beautifully. Its dramatic rising chorus is perfect for the backing vocalists. All of the group do a great job on this. They turn it into a real tour de force. Honey Come Back is a slower pace, perfect piece of gospelly soul. The effervescent Riding High On Love is typical early seventies Motown fare - upbeat and poppy. All Motown acts from the mid-sixties onwards, it seemed, had to cover a Beatles track somewhere along the line, and Walker's group duly did so on here with a spirited version of Hey Jude. Once more, the gospel potential of the song is fully realised. I actually quite like it. Iconic songs like this are not easy to cover. 
At A Saturday Matinee you would expect to be a Saturday Night At The Movies-style pop song, but it is a lively, saxophone-driven instrumental. Some funky wah-wah guitar arrives right at the very end, but just as it does, the track ends, unfortunately. Overall, this had been Jr. Walker's most polished and slick-sounding album thus far, one that was packed full of soul.

Rainbow Funk (1971)

The soulful quality continues unabated, this time with more added funk, on another excellent offering. It begins with an instrumental version of the hit single Way Back Home (the vocal version would appear on the next album). It just sounds great - the saxophone and the general vibe is just sublime. I am running out of superlatives in writing these reviews! Up next is another stone cold Jr. Walker corker in the stonking sax-laden soul/pop of Take Me Girl I'm Ready - the first Jr. Walker single I ever bought. It is a wonderful tune. Classic Motown. However, it doesn't always make "best of" Motown lists and it should make every single one.

The group's cover of Traffic's Feelin' Alright is bluesy and funky, as you would expect. There really isn't much that they can't cope with. This was 1971 and it was the beginning of the era of funky "message" protest songs from artists like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth. Walker and his mates get in on the thing with the delicious piano, drums and sax groove of Right On Brothers And Sisters. The song carries a message of racial harmony consistent which much of the period's soul output. Teach Them To Pray is, not surprisingly, a spirit-lifting, euphoric gospelly number, full of rousing backing vocals.

What was I saying about
Beatles covers? Here comes another one, George Harrison's Something, done mainly instrumentally at the beginning, with Walker's sumptuous sax sweeping over some female backing vocals until half way through when we get some funkier rhythms and an equally funky vocal. Listen to that crystal clear, razor sharp percussion too. 
The album's funkiest moment is on a great cover of The Temptations' Psychedelic Shack. The nice thing about Motown acts covering each other's material was that they never let you down - there were so many great covers that further enhanced the original track. You can listen to the same song done by two or three different artists and enjoy all the versions.

Just revel in that deep bass intro to Pieces Of A Man and then Jr.'s sax comes blowing in, followed by a seriously gritty true soul vocal. Solid stuff indeed. This is seriously quality soul music. These Things Will Keep Me Loving You is soulfully energising. It has also been covered by Diana Ross and The Velvelettes. The later is a Northern Soul favourite and more of a stomper than Walker's more soulful version. Ross's version is closer to Walker's and is most appealing too. A classic example of multi-artist covers. The sound was superb on this album too. Wonderful and warm and in killer seventies stereo. This was a criminally underrated, little-mentioned album. I read a review recently that praised Jr. Walker's work, but added that he was not Marvin or Aretha. Well, you know what, he was up there with them. Yes sir

Moody Jr. (1971)

Now, on this next album we get the marvellous vocal version of Way Back Home, with Jr. sounding like a revivalist preacher addressing a congregation as he waxes lyrical about the old days home in the South. I Don’t Want To Do Wrong is a smoky, late night slice of sweet soul. The track, however, is basically an instrumental with layered backing vocals but somehow you don’t really notice. It works anyway. The same vibe continues on the catchy Bristol’s Way, which has Walker going at it unbridled on his saxophone over more repeated backing vocals. It is a bit like Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra - extended backing vocals enhancing an instrumental tune.

Don’t Blame The Children sees Walker back on gritty, funky vocals as we return to a social message song. Me And My Family is an evocative, slow and nostalgic “we had it bad” look back at poorer days growing up. It goes without saying that the saxophone is immense. 
Groove Thang is a couple of minutes of Blaxploitation-style sax-driven funk. Still Water Medley takes the melody from The Four TopsStill Water and gives Walker carte blanche to produce some fantastic saxophone. Never Can Say Goodbye is done in the soulful Isaac Hayes style, but obviously centreing on Walker’s saxophone. Again, the backing singers take the vocal duties. 

Walk In The Night
, a beautiful, catchy instrumental was a huge hit, and deservedly so. Once again, it is a successful partnership of saxophone and backing singers. That really is the essence of this album.

After two albums which saw Walker singing on the greater percentage of the songs, this one was a return to a higher amount of instrumentals, with the backing vocalists handling most of the vocals, leaving Walker free to roam free on his saxophone. After a soul album in A Gassss, followed by more of a funk album in Rainbow Funk, we now had one very much concentrating on instrumental skills. The album ends with the salivatingly sexy, bassy and intoxicating free-form funk of Moody Junior. This had been a run of three really impressive albums. Once more, it really should have been given far more credit than it ever got at the time or indeed retrospectively

Peace And Understanding Is Hard To Find (1973)

After nearly two years since releasing an album, by 1973, unfortunately, all of a sudden Jr. Walker's best days seemed to have passed, commercially at least, something that was mirrored in the fortunes of the Motown label too. The previous four albums had all been really impressive and had yielded several hits. Not so for this one, but that doesn't mean that it was not a good album. The fact that it was his poorest-selling album to date does it a disservice.

I Ain't Going Nowhere is a stomping, finger-poppin' number with a loose poppy, jazzy feel to it. I Don't Need No Reason is a fine piece of typically 1973 soul and the same can be said of the more upbeat, Philly Soul-influenced Willie Hutch song It's Alright, Do What You Gotta DoWalker's cover of Carole King's It's Too Late is as sumptuous as you would expect it to be - the song always had a groovy, syncopated rhythm and his version exploits that, with some excellent percussion.

Soul Clappin' is an infectious instrumental that renders one's feet impossible to keep still. Walker was still the master of his saxophone and you also get a mini-drum solo on here too. Johnny Nash's reggae crossover hit I Can See Clearly Now is covered minus vocals and is pleasant enough, but you get the impression that Walker had gone a bit easy listening here, despite the track's melodic appeal. It would have sounded great in the sixties but as struggling for relevance in 1973. That was a shame but it was just the way things go.

Gimme That Beat (Pts 1 & 2)
is a return to the gritty James Brown-inflenced down 'n' dirty funk of Hip City from 1969's Home Cookin'. Walker's vocal is once more very Brown. Country Boy is a typically funk-soul Walker song about the old times in the South livin' on cornbread. Yes. he's been here before, on Way Back Home, but they are always evocative songs. 
Peace And Understanding (Is Hard To Find) is a shuffling, lively and funky closer with a bit of a contemporary message. It ends a bit to soon, though. As with all these albums, particularly as we moved through the seventies, the sound quality is really good.

Jr. Walker & The All-Stars (1973)

The album begins with four instrumental covers which show off Walker’s virtuosity, but are lacking slightly in ebullience, soul and funk.

Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life is covered instrumentally, with the instantly recognisable Walker sax dealing effortlessly with the sumptuous melody. The harmonica solo sounds suspiciously like Wonder himself, although I am not able to find out whether it is indeed him (the cover above suggests that it is). The next track is also a Stevie Wonder song,  All In Love Is Fair. Once again it is covered instrumentally, with another harmonica solo featuring. It has a laid-back jazzy vibe. Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is given an initial funky non-vocal work out. It then almost goes bossa nova in its rhythm in places and by the end it is full-on late night jazz. 

Next up for the laid-back saxophone treatment is Paul McCartney’s My Love, a hit from the time. Eddie Kendricks’ gritty, brassy funker Boogie Down gets the pulse going and we get vocals for the first time too. This is the first truly earthy cooker on the album. Good as the rest of it has been in its implementation, it has sounded a tad wine-bar in its relaxed “background” ambience.

I Ain’t That Easy To Loose is another vocal number, and is full of slow-burning sax-laden soul. It is also an excellent cut. More funk arrives in the strains of Dancin’ Like They Do On Soul Train. Some seriously funky clavinet introduces the vocal funk of Break Down And Sing. It has the sort of sound David Bowie would utilise on his Young Americans album the following year. Aretha Franklin’s Until You Come Back To Me ends the album on a deliciously romantic instrumental groove. Some sweet backing vocals join in towards the end. Lush. As with the previous album, this is a pleasant listen but it has probably gained more retrospective listeners than it did at the time of release, when it surely struggled to be relevant. Now, it sounds exactly what it is - quality seventies soul.

Hot Shot (1976)

This was Jr. Walker's final album. It had been a great eleven years of saxophonous glory and all his albums had offered something enjoyable for soul fans, as detailed in the above reviews. This one was no different. The quality, as it always had been, was high. It was Walker's most "late night" smooth soul sounding of all his albums. The ambience is slick, polished and romantic throughout with some doses of pop/soul in there too. As it is the mid-seventies, funk is never too far away either. Overall, though, it is very much a soul album from the period and if you didn't know, you would be hard pressed to identify it as a Jr. Walker album, despite the saxophone.

I'm So Glad is a lively piece of mid-seventies-style soul, with a bit of a Philly-Harold Melvin-O'Jays feel to it. It is upbeat, poppy and soulful but also quite funky at the same time. It's a good one. Why Can't We Be Lovers is a semi-instrumental in the Walk In The Night style, with just a few vocals here and there. You Ain't No Ordinary Woman is a energetic slice of soul with more Teddy Pendergrass-Harold Melvin-Joe Tex-esque earthy vocals. The same soul-pop vibe continues on the infectious Just Can't Get Enough which is just suck a typically mid-seventies catchy soul song. I love it. Walker has moved with the times and it sounds nothing like his sixties material, not at all.

Love (Keep Us Together) features some sumptuous saxophone and the female vocalists taking the lead on a slower, sensual groover. There is some good stuff on this album, actually. There is a funky feel all over it too. The vocalists feature again on the slow soul of I Need You Here Right Now. The track also includes some nice wah-wah funky guitar backing. Probe Your Mind is a saxophone-driven slow burning instrumental backed by some nice slow funk. Don't Lose What You Got (Trying To Get Back What You Had) is a cool, smooth instrumental while Hot Shot has Walker using his gruff, throaty, James Brown-esque vocal for the last time. That was the end of his great recording career. Thanks for some seriously good music.

Related posts :-
Stevie Wonder
Marvin Gaye
The Temptations


  1. What Does it Take is my all-time favorite top Motown single. It's like the most typical Motown record and the most different at the same time. Like it's got all the things you want to hear in a Motown record plus something else. It's my favorite one. I'll show ya.

  2. Some good tracks on your list as always.

    I've recently reviewed Eddie Kendricks by the way. Keep On Truckin' is a corker.

    I've always loved Indiana Wants Me - one of Motown's oddest singles (along with Charlene's I've Never Been To Me).

  3. Yeah that was weird that Motown had something like Charlene. Another weird one was the one by Lesley "It's My Party" Gore.

  4. Oh yes, The Road I Walk - a country-ish gospelly ballad. I have the 'Complete Motown Singles' CD 14 box set series and there is some strange stuff on those.