A Rockapaedia Obituary
Junior Walker died aged sixty-four of cancer in Battle Creek, Michigan, U.S.A. on 23rd November 1995. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, in Battle Creek, Michigan, under a marker inscribed with his birth name of Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr.
Junior Walker was born Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr. in Blytheville, Arkansas, and grew up in South Bend, Indiana. His saxophone style was the anchor for the band's overall sound. The other original members of the group were drummer Tony Washington, guitarist Willie Woods, and keyboardist Vic Thomas.
Junior's career started when he formed his own band in the mid-1950s called the "Jumping Jacks." His longtime friend Billy Nicks, a drummer, would sit in on Jumping Jack's shows, and Junor would sit in on the Rhythm Rockers shows and obtained a permanent gig at a local TV station in South Bend, Indiana. He then asked Junior to join him permanently. When Billy Nicks got drafted into the United States Army, Junior convinced the band to move from South Bend to Battle Creek, Michigan. While performing in Benton Harbor,Juniorfound a new drummer. Eventually, the piano player left the group, and Victor Thomas stepped in. The original name, "The Rhythm Rockers," was changed to "The All Stars". Junior Walker's style was inspired by jump blues and early Rythm&Blues, particularly players like Louis Jordan, Earl Bostic, and Illinois Jacquet.
The group was recommended to Harvey Fuqua who had his own record labels. Once they started recording on the Harvey label, their name was changed to Jr. Walker All Stars. The name was modified again when Fuqua's labels were taken over by Motown's Berry Gordy, and Jr. Walker & the All Stars became members of the Motown family, recording for their Soul imprint in 1964.
Their first and signature hit was "Shotgun," written and composed by Junior Walker and produced by Berry Gordy, which featured the Funk Brothers' James Jamerson on bass and Benny Benjamin on drums. "Shotgun" reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the Rythm&Blues chart in 1965, and was followed by many other hits, such as " Road Runner," "Shake and Fingerpop" and remakes of two Motown songs "Come See About Me" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)", that had previously been hits for the Supremes and Marvin Gaye respectively.
In 1969, the group had another hit enter the top 5, "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)". A Motown quality control meeting rejected this song for single release, but radio station DJs made the track popular, resulting in Motown releasing it as a single, whereupon it reached number 4 on the Hot 100 and number 1 on the Rythm&Blues chart. From that time on Junior Walker sang more on the records than earlier in their career. He landed several more Rythm&Blues Top Ten hits over the next few years, with the last coming in 1972. In 1979, Junior Walker went solo, disbanding the All Stars, and was signed to Norman Whitfield's Whitfield Records label, but he was not as successful on his own as he had been with the All Stars in his Motown period.
Junior Walker re-formed the All Stars in the 1980s. In April , 1981, Junior Walker was the musical guest on the season finale of Saturday Night Live. In 1983, Junior Walker was re-signed with Motown. In the same year, he appeared as a part of the Motown 25 television special which aired in May 1983.
In 1988 Junior Walker played opposite Sam Moore as one-half of the fictional soul duo "The Swanky Modes" in the comedy Tapeheads. Several songs were recorded for the soundtrack, including "Bet Your Bottom Dollar" and "Ordinary Man," produced by ex-Blondie member Nigel Harrison.
Junior Walker's song "Shotgun" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002.
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