Live! Notodden Blues Festival
Little Village Foundation
Kim Wilson refers to Willie Walker as "one of the last, if not THE last, real soul singer on this planet." A career that goes back to recording for Goldwax Records decades ago, he perhaps is finally getting some recognition. With a fine band assembled by guitarist Kid Andersen (Jim Pugh on the B3 organ, Lorenzo Farrell on bass, and J Hansen on drums with horns), Walker performed in August 2016 at the Notodden Blues Festival in Norway and Andersen has made the performance available.
After band introductions, Walker opens with Clarence Reid's "(Can You) Read Between The Lines," where with his raspy, gospel-inflected vocals he establishes his authority as a singer with The Greaseland All Stars providing solid, idiomatic support. It is followed by a terrific original by Rick Estrin (who helped Walker get larger exposure, "Is That It!" with greasy organ and punchy horns. It is followed by a recasting of a Goldwax recording (that was also issued on Checker), "You Name It, I Had It," a terrific deep southern soul performance. It is one of several Goldwax recordings revived here that include the Beatles' "Ticket To Ride," that he covered four decades ago. The loping groove of "There Goes My Used to Be," "I Ain't Gonna Cheat On You No More" (co-written by Sam Cooke) and "A Lucky Loser ( a favorite of mine)" are other early recordings he performed at this Festival.
In addition there are strong renditions of Tyrone Davis' hit, "Can I Change My Mind," and Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." Rick Estrin adds harmonica to "Funky Way," and Walker does a solid take on "Little Red Rooster," that has a jazzy feel that owes as much to Sam Cooke's rendition as that of the Howlin' Wolf. Another extended reworking of another Beatles' classic, "Help," closes this recording as Walker slows this rocker down. Andersen's playing here evokes the late Robert Ward and Lonnie Mack on this track, but he is outstanding whether playing soul guitar riffs or playing in a jazzier vein on other tracks. The backing, as indicated, is solid throughout. In any event, Wee Willie Walker certainly has it still and this live recording suggests just how moving and powerful a performer he remains.
I purchased this. Here is the performance of "Help" from the Festival.