Charles "Wigg" Walker sticks to what he does best: belting out super soul and funk songs that resonate with the sound and passion of an era that's long forgotten. But as the pop-culture wheel spins around, it kicks up interest in dusty grooves from the past, and Walker's nearly 50-year-long career as a soul man has suddenly found a new audience.
His latest single, "Come On In" b/w "Slinky" (Out of Sight) has placed Walker amid a burgeoning scene where DJs, college kids and musicians fetishize funk with rejuvenating enthusiasm. And just as younger listeners are discovering the obscure Nashville-born showman, Walker grows more comfortable with who he has become every time he steps onto the stage. His latest single bookends a career that has carried him to New York City, across the Atlantic and dropped him off right where he started in Music City, USA.
Walker recorded his first single in 1959 at the age of 16. The song, "Slave to Love" was recorded for Champion Records under the name Charles Walker & the Daffodils. This was the only time he recorded a song in Nashville, save for his recent cut with his current 10-piece band, the Dynamites.
Walker left Tennessee in '62. The musical opportunities in a city like the Big Apple were much more promising than alongside the country-music obsessions of his hometown. He spent the '60s and '70s playing in Harlem clubs, most notably Small's Paradise where his band Little Charles & the Sidewinders had a regular gig. During this time, Walker was also recording for classic labels, such as Chess and Decca records. All of this spawned from nights spent as the opening act for mega soul stars, including James Brown, Etta James and Sam Cooke, while singing for the JC Davis Band.
In the '80s, Walker moved to Europe; first Spain and later England where he pursued a more blues-based sound. It wasn't until '93 that he landed back in Nashville.
Walker never scored any major hits, but he did find mediocre success with a few songs, most of which he struggles to remember the titles for. "One of my favorites was called, 'Talk About You Babe,' and I think 'Please Open the Door' probably sold the most, but I didn't ever see much money from it," he laughs.
There's a humble tone in Walker's voice, indicative of a gentleman who came of age in a much more socially sophisticated time. His words and mild conversation carry a grandfatherly sense of aged wisdom. But when the man sings his voice bursts with visceral, sexual and party-starting energy. Such an explosive presence isn't typical of a 63-year-old man, but Walker, like a fine wine, has only improved with age. "My voice has gotten stronger in the last 20 years," he acknowledges. "I don't think it was polished enough when I was a young singer. Plus, I was doing stuff that other people wrote. Nowadays I write a lot of stuff myself. When you find your own direction and know what you can really do, that's what makes you better."
"Come On In" and "Slinky" are credited to Dynamites' guitarist Leo Black and Out Of Sight co-owner Bill Elder. Elder conceived the Dynamites, the label and asked Walker to front the group to create an authentic soul sound.
The group has recorded more to be released further down the road. Whether it will appear on Out of Sight or a bigger label remains to be seen. "We're trying to find a bigger label, something with a little more resources," Walker says. "You do what you have to do when you're just starting off ... again!"
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