Junior Walker

Junior Walker was born Autry DeWalt Jr. in Blytheville, Arkansas in 1942. Some accounts list his birth name as Oscar G. Mixon, and say his name was changed at some point during his early childhood. He grew up in South Bend, Indiana where he became a proficient saxophone player, studying the methods of some of the prominent sax players of the time. During his teens, DeWalt joined a group called The Jumping Jacks and began to perform in local clubs, calling himself Junior Walker.

As time went by, Walker relocated to Battle Creek, Michigan and formed a band he called Junior Walker And The All-Stars, who took up a residency in Battle Creek's El Grotto club. Walker's band consisted of James Graves, Willie Woods, Vic Thomas and Tony Washington. It was at the El Grotto that they were noticed by Johnny Bristol, who recommended them to Harvey Fuqua, formerly of Harvey And The Moonglows. By this time, Fuqua was running his own fledgling record label called simply Harvey. Fuqua liked what he heard and signed Junior Walker And The All Stars in 1962.

The Harvey label was soon bought out by Motown and the group found itself recording with Soul Records. Soul was a subsidiary of Motown and all of the group's subsequent hits in the US were released on the Soul label, although they had some Tamla/Motown hits on the charts in the UK. In early 1965, the band scored their first big hit with a dance tune that Walker had written called "Shotgun", which marked Junior's vocal debut. In fact, the only reason he sang the song was that the vocalist he'd hired didn't show up for the session, and he was somewhat flabbergasted by the label's decision to leave his vocal intact. Berry Gordy's instincts proved right, however, when "Shotgun" topped the R&B charts and hit #4 on the Pop chart. Two more efforts also cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in '65, "Do The Boomerang" (#36) and "Shake And Fingerpop" (#29)

In 1966, Graves left and was replaced by old friend Billy 'Stix' Nicks. Walker's hits continued with tunes like "I'm a Road Runner" (#20 Pop), "How Sweet Is Is (To Be Loved By You) (#18), "Pucker Up Buttercup" (#31 Pop), "Come See About Me" (#24 Pop) and "Hip City - Pt 2" (#31 Pop). Toward the end of the '60s, seeking to diversify their approach, the All-Stars began recording more ballad material, complete with string arrangements and Walker vocals. That approach resulted in the group's second Top Five pop hit, the R&B number one "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" which helped refuel Walker's career. He landed several more R&B Top Ten hits over the next few years, including a cover of The Guess Who's "These Eyes", which went to #16 on the Pop chart. Musical tastes changed in the 70's and the final Top 40 hits for Junior Walker And The All Stars were "Gotta Hold On To This Feeling" (#21 Pop) and "Do You See My Love (For You Growing)" (#32 Pop) in 1970.

Walker resurfaced as a solo artist during the Disco era, working with producer Brian Holland beginning in 1976 with the single "Hot Shot". A pair of albums followed. In 1979, Walker joined up with another former Motown mainstay, signing with producer Norman Whitfield's Whitfield label, though without much success. Walker returned to the spotlight in 1981 with a guest solo on Foreigner's Top Five hit "Urgent". Two years later, he re-signed with Motown and recorded "Blow the House Down". His melodic style was now being absorbed into a new generation of R&B-flavored Jazz instrumentalists.

Junior continued to perform in the '80s and '90s, often with his son Autry DeWalt III on drums. Sadly, Junior Walker developed cancer in 1993 and as his health deteriorated, he had difficulty walking. He died on November 23, 1995 in Battle Creek, Michigan at the age of 53. In the wake of his death, Billy 'Stix' Nicks continued to tour with a version of The All-Stars. Original drummer James Graves was killed in a car accident in 1967, and guitarist Willie Woods passed away in 1997 at the age of 60. Victor 'Vic' Thomas died November 28th, 2010 in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Junior Walker's classic hit "Shotgun" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002 and the entire group was inducted into the Michigan Rock And Roll Legends online Hall of Fame in 2007. "Shotgun" was voted a Legendary Michigan Song in 2010.