Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Charlie Walker, Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.
Jean Shepard, He's My Baby.

Here's to the late bloomers. Charlie Walker, born in Copeville, Texas, in 1926, had been playing professionally since World War II, as a guitarist and singer with Bill Boyd's Cowboy Ramblers. And with the Eighth Army Signal Corps, Walker served in postwar Japan, playing country music on the radio to homesick soldiers.

Discharged in 1947, Walker and his band, the Texas Ramblers, worked for a few years around the Corpus Christi area, but were getting nowhere. So Walker became a DJ for a number of Texas radio stations, getting his big break in 1951 when he moved to San Antonio's KMAC.

Ray Price, who had become a huge country music star by the mid-'50s, pushed Walker to get back in the studio, urging his own label Columbia to sign Walker, and recommending that Walker use Price's own producer, Don Law, and most of the session players who worked on his hits, including Floyd Cramer on piano, and guitarists Harold Bradley and Pete Wade. The final ingredients were a great song--Harlan Howard's "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down"--and an irresistable, echoing shuffle beat delivered by Buddy Harman. The track became a #2 country hit.

Walker would keep alternating as DJ and musician, recording a number of smaller hits in the 1960s, and ultimately joined the Grand Ole Opry, where he remains today. (Some info from David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren's Heartaches By the Number.)

"Pick Me Up" was recorded in Nashville on June 5, 1958, and released in August as Columbia 41211. On Honky Tonk Heroes.

And pay no attention to Jean Shepard's admonition at the start of "He's My Baby" that she and her band can't play rock & roll "very good"--as soon as that shifty guitar pattern begins, and the drums kick in, any worries go out the door. Shepard sounds a bit uncomfortable at times, but you get the sense that, with a few more performances like this, she might have rivalled Wanda Jackson as a rock & roll legend. "Maybe it wasn't very good, but it was awful loud, wasn't it?" she smirks at the end. See, she had the spirit.

Recorded live on the radio (don't know which station), possibly in November 1958. On the out-of-print Honky Tonk Heroine. The studio version is on That'll Flat Git It! Vol. 3.

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