Monday, September 19, 2011

Charlie Walker and KMAC

 That's walker in the middle above. According to the book Willie Nelson: An Epic Life by Joe Nick Patoski, one of the many radio programs Willie used to listen to in the 1950s was Charlie Walker on KMAC-AM. I'll write about Willie some other time. For now it's Walker that piqued my interest. The book further wrote:
"Charlie walker was a role model. An engaging charismatic radio host whose folksy speaking manner was said to have been influenced by his habit of dipping snuff...  He befriended Willie and they used their microphones to tease one another on the air."
Charlie Walker was the old-school kind of country Disc jockey. He was the polar opposite of Ralph Emery.  On the other hand Emery didn't even like country music by most reports. By comparison Charlie Walker was the real deal, he lived it breathed it, wrote it, played it and spun it on his program. Nonetheless he found himself interviewing Elvis in 1956. Of course in 1956, Elvis could pass for country. What can I say?  It was a pivotal time.

Charlie Walker was born in Copeville, Texas, in 1926. He began playing music as a teenager. In 1943, he signed on as a singer and guitarist with Bill Boyd's Cowboy Ramblers but he quit the band to enlist in WWII.  There with the Eighth Army Signal Corps he served in postwar Japan. He became a disc jockey on their Tokyo station.  He performed country music on AFRN radio. He was discharged in 1947 and he started a new band the Texas Ramblers and played around the Corpus Christi area.

Multiple sources claim that Walker DJ'd on multiple Texas are radio stations before getting his break on KMAC-AM in 1951. I have not yet compiled a complete list but I believe that list  includes KENS-AM in San Antonio and KWBU-AM in Corpus Christi. Somewhere in there he acquired the nickname "poke salad." It was sometime after 1952 when DJ Red Jones at KVET-AM circulated the rumor that Walker co-wrote the Leon Payne tune "Poke Salad and Greens."  It wasn't just a rumor. It was true. The honky tonk number was very Charlie Walker. Regardless KMAC is where he started to pick up some momentum, with or without the greens.

Country music star Ray Price, who was big at least briefly in the mid-1950s pushed walker to do more with music and less with radio. Walker started recording in 1952 for Imperial Records but the magic wasn't there. In 1953 he moved to Decca and scored two regional singles "Only You, Only You" and "Tell Her Lies and Feed Her Candy. " Mercury tried a dance with him in 1957 and cut two singles which went nowhere.
But in 1958 Decca tried a turn and struck gold with a song written by Harlan Howard, "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down."  It hit #2 on the country music charts, but he never managed another big hit. He had a few stragglers that rounded out the 1960s.

He entered the bonus round of country stardom in 1967 and joined the Opry. He had one more single on Capitol in 1974 with "Odds and Ends." He remained on the Opry there until his health began failing. He was inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame in 1981. Walker died on September 12, 2008... he was  82.