W is for Junior Walker and the All-Stars

Among the wealth of artists that performed on the Motown labels in 1960s, I probably know about Junior Walker the least. He was born Autry DeWalt-Mixom, Jr. in Blythesville, Arkansas on 14 June 1931. He grew up in South Bend, Indiana.

He started his band, the Jumping Jacks, and his good friend, drummer Billy Nicks, had a group, the Rhythm Rockers, but the two would play on each other’s gigs. Since Nicks had a local TV show in South Bend, he asked Walker to join his band.

When Nicks got drafted, Walker convinced the group to move to Battle Creek, Michigan. After some personnel and name changes, the All Stars were signed by Harvey Fuqua to his Harvey records. “Fuqua’s labels were taken over by Motown’s Berry Gordy, and Jr. Walker & the All Stars [the usual spelling] became members of the Motown family, recording for their Soul imprint in 1964.”

The group’s first big hit was “Shotgun” in 1965, which “uses only one chord throughout the entire song — A-flat seventh. Other songs featuring this same structure (or non-structure) are Chain of Fools and Land of 1000 Dances.” The song is in the Grammy and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. The All Stars were in a particular groove. The song appeared in several movies, including Malcolm X.

I have this Motown LP box set that explains that there was a songwriter – it doesn’t identify who, but it was either Johnny Bristol, who discovered the group; Fuqua, who took Bristol’s suggestion; or a guy named Vernon Bullock. The songwriter pitched the song to Junior, but he said it wasn’t his thing.

The next year, the songwriter said he still had that song, and Walker reluctantly agreed to record “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” in 1969. “A Motown quality control meeting rejected this song for single release, but radio station DJs made the track popular, resulting in Motown releasing it as a single.”

Junior Walker died of cancer on 23 November 1995 at the age of 64 in Battle Creek.

Listen to:

Shotgun, #4 pop, #1 rhythm & blues for four weeks in 1965 here or here

(I’m A) Road Runner, #20 pop, #4 r&b in 1966 here or here

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), #18 pop, #3 r&b in 1966 here or here

What Does It Take (To Win Your Love), #4 pop, #1 r&b for two weeks in 1969 here or here

These Eyes, #16 pop, # r&b for two weeks in 1969 here or here

Urgent (Foreigner, with Jr. Walker on sax solo), #3 pop in 1981, here or here

Urgent, 1983, appears in 1985 movie Desperately Seeking Susan, here or here

Round 20 of ABC Wednesday.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

17 thoughts on “W is for Junior Walker and the All-Stars”

  1. Oh man…you seem to have a knack of taking me back to my youth! I still love that Motown sound and all the above songs! “These Eyes” take me back to sock hops at high school, swaying with “the boy” in the gym and forgetting about all the girl friends watching and giggling.

    abcw team

  2. I also can’t remember ever having heard of him… although I love Motown-music.

    Thank you for this introduction, I will look him up.

    Have a cool day or 2, 3, 4, -)

  3. It took Junior and the All-Stars a while to prove there was something to them besides the Southern gutbucket soul that made them stars; the next two singles (“Do the Boomerang” and “Shake and Fingerpop”) were basically different gauges of “Shotgun.” It was Holland-Dozier-Holland who propelled them forward, with “(I’m a) Road Runner,” no relation to the cartoon bird or to Bo Diddley’s classic. (Amusingly, there’s a line in the bridge about “I love the life I live, and I’m gonna live the life I love,” which either Norman Whitfield or Barrett Strong lifted for the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” a couple years down the road.)

  4. I can’t remember if I ever heard “Shotgun” but my kids when they were in their teens said it often, wanting to sit next to the driver’s seat:)Wow, one chord for a whole song -that’s an accomplishment!

  5. One of Junior Walker’s last concerts was here in Albany at Alive At Five. But that song Shotgun… it seemed to be talking about the social violence that seemed to be so pervasive at the time. Of course it’s a dance tune, but especially at first listen that first stanza is shocking.

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