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Willie Walker

From Soul Express 2/2004


Among rootsy soul fans "Wee" Willie Walker is very well remembered on the basis of his three 60s singles, one for Goldwax (in '67) and two for Checker (in '68), and the canned sides that have later appeared on some U.K. compilations.  "On Goldwax we were all friends.  We all sang gospel at the same time, but of course we were all in different groups, but we were all very close.  O.V.Wright was a quiet, mild-mannered individual, and James Carr was an out-going type of a person, but he did have a kind of a reverence about the way he carried himself.  I also went to school with Louis Williams and Spencer Wiggins.  But mainly all those artists were south in Memphis and I was way north in Minnesota.  I would work with Al Green before he was a recognizable artist, before Back Up Train was released.  In the 70s my band backed Al Green up and I opened up the show for him in Minnesota."

In spite of those remarkable singles Willie wasn't able to sign a further recording contract.  "I have no idea as to why.  I really haven't given it that much thought.  I think that the organization itself, Goldwax, was undermined, which is why they leased my last two recordings to Checker, because they figured I would get more assistance from them."

Since the 60s Willie has worked part-time in music at his home base in Minnesota, and that's where he got acquainted with Mr. Curt Obeda and his band, who on and off used him as a vocalist since 1987.  Initially Curt and Willie met in the late 70s, and now finally they got together for an album with the help of an active Brit, a real soul music lover and the owner of the Keeping Soul Alive company, Mr. Colin Dilnot.  Prior to this, however, they had released an eponymous album on Willie packed with covers on Haute a couple of years ago.  "That was a personal project, and I wanted to do it just to show that I was still alive and still performing."

The new album, Right Where I Belong (One On One Rec., '04), is a great nostalgia trip to all of the 60s soul music lovers, which there must be many.  With real live players on the background and Willie singing in his best O.V.Wright style and with Curtis Obeda's fourteen new but "genuine old school" melodies this is as much a must as Charles Walker was last year.  "For recording we used Curt Obeda's living room, dining room, kitchen and part of his bedroom.  That was for everything, for the track and the vocals.  But we were never all there at the same time.  We first did the rhythm track along with my scratch vocal tracks, and then I had to go back and redo my tracks."

Heavy on the horns, the CD kicks off with a down-to-earth mid-beater titled I Don't Mind At All.  "I would say that it's a song about a man, who's found himself in a situation that he didn't expect to be in, but he's happy about it."

There are many great soul slowies on display, on which Willie's voice bears a resemblance not only to Overton, but also to Arthur Conley and Johnnie Taylor, and of these personal favourites are the intense (We Gotta) Put Out The Fire, the James Carr aimed No Longer For Me, the basic southern Crying To Do and the traditional Ain't It Funny.  "People seem to think I do ballads best, and I love them, too."

There are also a couple of bluesy cuts included, a mid-plodder called Careless and a slow, Bobby Bland type of a moan titled Sometimes Love's Not Enough.  "It just came out that Bobby Bland way.  It wasn't intentional."

The CD offers many smooth and relaxed mid-pacers, such as Right Where I Belong, Give As Good As You get and the infectious Down For The Count.  On the upbeat side they have the chugging Change, the funky I Understand and a careless jogger called I Feel It, which just grabs you along.  "That's the one that's growing on me and is my favourite."  On the strength of this great CD Willie and Curt are already talking about a new project.  This is as good as it gets.

-Heikki Suosalo

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