One summer’s evening in 2002, I received an e-mail asking the question what had happened to the Goldwax/Checker artist Willie Walker? As I sat looking at the screen another mail arrived to tell me that if I went to a web site dedicated to a band called the Butanes I would find information about Willie and his work with the band.
Within a short space of time I was in touch with Curt Obeda, the leader of the Butanes and we quickly built up a rapport, which has brought about this new album. Curt organised an interview for me with Willie, which later appeared in the in Issue 29 of the UK soul music magazine In The Basement in February 2003.
I remained in touch with Curt and Willie after the interview and helped them with the distribution of a CD Willie had recorded of cover songs. I was impressed with Willie’s voice and hoped that one day he would return to the studio to record an album of original songs. I discussed this possibility with Curt and he eventually sent me a series of demo songs, which cried out for Willie’s vocals. We met up in Memphis in April 2003 during the celebrations for the opening of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music while Curt was on route back to Minnesota following the funeral of Earl King. This meeting cemented our friendship and we decided to work together on a new album.
Originally, the idea was for my company Keeping Soul Alive to find a label to record the album but after several false starts we ended up setting up our own label called One On One Records. Over the last year, Curt and I have worked together from the rough demos through Willie’s scratch vocals to the recordings in Minneapolis which began as the first snow fell in the winter of 2003 to produce an album which would compliment Willie’s soul drenched vocals.
The concept of this album was to prove that you could still record a classic southern soul styled album with real instruments, which had a live feel and that the musicians would provide a back-drop for the singer to perform. What you will find in this album is a synthesis of a singer whose contemporaries were James Carr, Spencer Wiggins and OV Wright, an American band of 30 to 60 somethings who can play in a real soul style and a UK based company who wanted to keep soul music alive.
One On One Records
New Brighton, Wirral
Like most great Soul singers Willie Walker started singing in church and joined a Gospel group, the Redemption Harmonizers, while a teen. Unlike most he relocated to Minneapolis before he was twenty years old. He soon was singing in a local Rock & Roll group, the Val-Dons, who were once described as “Little Richard meets the El Dorados”. On a return trip home to visit family, friends spoke highly of Willie’s singing to Goldwax label owner Quinton Claunch and within days was in the studio recording his debut 45: “Ticket To Ride” backed with “There Goes My Used To Be.”
Other trips to Memphis and Muscle Shoals to record for Goldwax yielded some great music that the label leased to Checker Records of Chicago. Willie continued his live performances in Minneapolis and came to the attention of Soul legend Curtis Mayfield who wanted to record him but was unwilling to pay the ransom required to free Willie from his Goldwax recording contract. His Goldwax and Checker records no longer available, he rarely mentioned them and moved on to sing for a number of different projects. In 1987 he was the surprise opening set guest with the Butanes when they backed Blues great John Lee Hooker. In 1997 Willie was reunited with former Goldwax label mates Louis Williams and Spencer Wiggins when the Butanes performed as the “house band” at the St. Louis Blues & Heritage festival.
At the end of 2001 Kent records released The Goldwax Story, Vol. 1 containing There Goes My Used To Be. In 2002 Willie’s self-titled CD was released to international interest leading to 2004’s Deep Soul CD of the year candidate: Willie Walker & The Butanes, “Right Where I Belong” on the English One On One label.
•Stunning: rarely does a record not only successfully reproduce a beloved style without sounding dated, but actually adds to the genre that has influenced it. This record is so top notch that no purist will be able to tell the difference between it and a long lost reel of Goldwax tape. Amen.
Michael Hurtt - Living Blues magazine (US)
•This is it! The real deal. The goods. You will hardly believe your ears as your own personal laser beam converts those little digital signals into music. Yes, music. Real soul music.
Steve Armitage - Blues & Rhythm magazine (UK)
•An album of smoldering, Memphis style soul that could comfortably stand alongside the classic works of artists such as Syl Johnson and O.V. Wright.
Blake Thompson - Offbeat (US)
•Cet album est vraiment merveilleux, peut-être la meilleure sortie soul de l’année !!! Achetez-le !!! - Le Pied.
Translation: This album is truly marvelous, perhaps the best soul release of the year !!! Buy it !!! - The highest rating.
Florent Mazzoleni of Soul Bag (FR)
•It's the kind of album the worst nit-picker can't find one thing wrong with. Except that eventually it's over. Curt Obeda wrote everything, coming up with cold-blooded killer material -- sharp lyrics, fresh melodies and chord structures rich in dynamics. Combine this with Willie Walker and The Butanes performance, then talk about chained lightning. Trust me: if you can't feel this music from the top of your head to bottom of the toes, someone should notify your next of kin, 'cause you're already dead and just don't know it.
Dwight Hobbes - Insight (US)
•The finest new release (new recording) I've heard in many a year. All new songs by a true cult artist supported by a sh*t hot band who could have just emerged from being locked away since the heydays of classic soul music in the 60's.
Dave Porter - Vivid Sound (UK)
•I would have been proud to release this recording.
Quinton Claunch, co-owner of Goldwax Records (US)
•The Willie Walker CD hasn't been off my deck. I didn't think I'd hear real soul music like this in 2004! Brilliant! This CD will blow everyone away. An absolute 24-carat gem.
Ray Ellis of Juke Blues (UK)
•Believe me folks, this is the real thing.
Mike Elias - Chord magazine (US)
•It's bloody marvellous! It's one of those cds that no one [with a love for Southern Soul] ought to be without. - a ‘star pick’
David Cole of In The Basement magazine (UK)
•A languid, loving blast of classic blues that often recalls Al Green's more carnal incarnations.
James Walsh - City Pages (US)
•This is as good as it gets. A must...
Heikki Suosalo - Soul Express (FIN)
•I'm delighted to say I was completely knocked out!!!!! It's all that [others] said it is and more. Great songs, and a real soulful band behind him, Willie sounds as good as ever, maybe even better.
Martin Goggin of Juke Blues (IRE)
•Find this CD at any cost. You will listen to it for years to come. A gem.
Alan Shutro - bluesbytes.com (US)
•The most brilliant piece of music I have heard in ages. Now this is a CD you HAVE to listen to from start to end, because it’s impossible not to. Almost brings tears to my eyes, so good this is.
Hans Diepstraten - Hans & Harry’s Fingerpoppin’ Soul (NL)
•A Top 10 Soul Blues CD of 2004.
Dylann DeAnna - www.bluescritic.com (US)
•Well done Willie! well done The Butanes! and well done Colin (producer)! this reminds me of the golden days of “deep soul”, one of the very best newly recording “southern soul” album!
Keisuke Yamada - soul-treasures.com (JP)
•The year’s best deep-soul album...Howard Tate, your comeback ass has just been kicked.
Dylan Hicks - Village Voice (US)