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Willie Walker & The Butanes
Right Where I Belong

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[T]he year's best deep-soul album...Howard Tate, your comeback ass has just been kicked.

Dylan Hicks - Village Voice (US)

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)

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)

 

A little history...

Jim Greenwell, Curtis Obeda, Willie Walker and Robb StupkaI had seen Willie around town since I began gigging in local bars. While I was hanging out with "blues guys" like Mojo Buford, Lazy Bill Lucas and Big Walter Smith, Willie always seemed to be with guys who were known as good musicians but I didn't think were very good blues players. While we were drinking beer and bourbon and listening to Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and BB King, Willie was drinking brandy and singing Sam Cooke. When I first asked about him I was told "that's Willie Walker...he's a great ballad singer," almost like he was a great buggy whip maker. Apparently what he had didn't interest us guys much. After a couple of years on the local scene our band had begun adding a few Little Willie John and Tyrone Davis songs even though no one could really sing them well. After a short stint in Big Walter Smith's band I moved to Chicago, got much deeper into the soul music bag, and returned home occasionally seeing Willie around the local bars. We were friendly but not friends.

Willie Walker with the Redemption Harmonizers1956 Memphis, TNIn July of '87 the Butanes trio was hired to play behind John Lee Hooker. Unbeknownst to us Willie was hired to sing the opening 45 minute set with us. As we were leaving the basement dressing room the promoter asked us what we had decided to play with Willie. We told him John Lee wasn't coming up until after our set. "No, with Willie Walker," he asked again. That was the first we knew that Willie was on the show. We replied that it was a surprise and he would have to wait. We walked to the stage and there was Willie looking good in a suit asking what the plan was. I told him the plan was for us to play the first half of the set without him then call him up. Since we didn't know any of Willie's material we asked him what he would like us to call him up on. We settled on "Can I Change My Mind" so after 20 minutes or so it was time to call Willie up. Being only a trio we didn't really have the full sound of the original recording but Willie was singing great and we were having fun. Willie next called a slow blues in A, which turned out to be Sam Cooke's version of "Little Red Rooster." After huddling for a little while we came up with "Turn On Your Lovelight" to end Willie's part of the show. He sang well, the band was happy and the crowd response was very strong. We said we should all do this again soon and the Butanes turned our attention back to our next set with John Lee Hooker.

Willie Walker in his living room  late 60s  Minneapolis, MNA short time later a 6 piece version of the Butanes was backing Little Johnny Taylor at the Blues Saloon. LJT had played with us prior to the Hooker show, done a great job and we were looking forward to his return. Unfortunately a strange event occurred to either start him drinking or cause him to continue an earlier binge (accounts differ) and the first set did not go well. Willie was in the house and I asked him if he would like to sing a few to open the last set. He agreed and somehow LJT decided he should sing with Willie- or "cut" the local guy- or who knows exactly what... it did not work out well for Mr. Taylor. After a few songs Johnny retreated to the dressing room to be called up once it was "star time." Willie sang great again and after we were done for the night we said goodbye to Willie and said we should all do this again soon.

Willie Walker Cozy Bar Early 70s Minneapolis, MNAround this time we were working a few shows with vocalist Maurice Jacox. Maurice often had conflicts with our dates because he also worked with another group from Duluth - the Wingtips. We phoned Willie to see if he had any interest in filling in for Maurice and/or performing a set we had scheduled as a ten piece band at a Christmas party. We set up a few rehearsals but (again accounts differ) things never got off the ground with Willie. Maurice mostly cut his ties with the Wingtips and began working regularly as the front man in the Butanes Soul Revue.

After a year we called Willie to sing on our anniversary show and he attended and sang well but nothing came of it.

A few years later Maurice informed us he would be unable to make any of our upcoming dates as he had been cast in an opera. Singer Percy Strothers had been coming around to our Wednesday night Soul Revue shows so we spoke to him about filling in for Maurice. I had worked with Percy back before I left for Chicago, and again after, and knew Percy is unfortunately quite prone to blowing out his voice so we knew we needed more help and also phoned Willie. All rehearsals went great this time, Willie and Percy would split the nights' vocals and we could handle all the dates currently on our calendar plus more as this routine sounded good! Around this time Maurice informed us the opera was off and he could make all the gigs. The club owners told us they preferred to have Maurice do the shows if he was available as he was the singer the fans would obviously expect. So that we didn't waste all our work we performed as the Butanes Soul Clan at the Cabooze with Percy, Willie and Maurice each doing a set. The board tape from that night somehow didn't get turned over while Willie was on stage so we have a very incomplete version of his set. We did however bring the Soul Clan to perform for a local cable show and have a short tape as proof of the existence of the band. Willie missed the next Soul Clan show a few weeks later and we never scheduled another one. Once again the chance for Willie and the Butanes to work together slipped away.

in 1993, disenchanted with the "local scene," the Butanes mostly disbanded the Soul Revue and began concentrating on touring work with Earl King and Al Rapone. We also returned to the Blues Saloon as the backing band for many great artists. A show with James Carr led to us being booked as the "house band" at the 1996 St. Louis Blues Heritage Festival. The next year the promoter asked me about obscure performers deserving a set on the fest and I answered Willie Walker. He was very intrigued, knowing much more about Willie's background than I did. Willie not only appeared on the fest with us but his photo with bass player John Lindberg on stage dominated page 2B in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where the festival review was placed. Nothing came of this either...

We spent a few years sporadically trying to track down Willie as his number had changed since the St. Louis show. I finally reached him through Arnellia's, a St. Paul club that occasionally features the likes of Bobby Rush, Clarence Carter and Denise LaSalle. Willie called, we spoke for a while, and I told Willie that I occasionally had some interesting things pop up so he should keep in touch. A few weeks later I tried to reach him but his number was once again disconnected with no further information available. I started the process over but had no luck acquiring his number.

Willie Walker's new CD Haute 1108Around this time a friend of mine, Paul Metsa, began booking Famous Dave's. He called and tried toconvince me to play a few dates but I wasn't very interested. I suddenly thought of Willie. I played a few cuts over the phone of Willie singing with the Butanes for Paul and he was very impressed. We started looking harder for Willie as we wanted to speak to him about working with us again but I had no luck tracking him down. I came home one night to find a message on my answering machine and it was from Willie- but it was not intended for me! Willie had misdialed when calling local studio owner/guitarist known as Johnny O and instead dialed Obeda, Curt. The message was long but didn't end with a phone number. I realized that Willie was the last person to call my number so I "star 69ed him." Willie picked up the phone and we discussed the Famous Dave's opportunity. Thank goodness I listen to Clarence Carter or I wouldn't have known about that telephone feature! We've been playing sporadic Thursdays, honing our show, ever since.

 

Click here to download Willie Walker & the Butanes' promo pack

Click here to read the review of Willie's new CD from The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Click here to read the article on Willie in the Chord

Click here to read edited liner notes from a rare compilation of Willie's Goldwax recordings.

 

 

Review of Willie's song on The Goldwax Story (CDKEND 203)
note: much of this information is incorrect but Willie's performance contained on this disc is great!

"Wee" Willie Walker cut great music all over Memphis without scoring a hit of any consequence, but his riveting revival of There Goes My Used To Be (previously seen inhabiting the down deck of OV's That's How Strong...) shows that he - like other Memphian label-hoppers here such as ex-Volt distaffer Dorothy Williams, former Sun man Jeb Stuart and arranger/saxblaster-about-town Gene "Bowlegs" Miller - deserved the kind of contemporaneous appreciation that they'll now be afforded thanks to this release...

Entire review of The Goldwax Story containing Willie's version of "There Goes My Used To Be."
http://www.acerecords.co.uk/gotrt/dec01/cdkend203.html

 

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