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*Junior Walker was born on this date in 1931. He was a Black musician.
From Blytheville, Arkansas, Autry DeWalt II (his birth name), was raised in South Bend, Indiana, and moved to Battle Creek, Michigan as a young musician. Walker was discovered by singer and producer Harvey Fuqua and joined Motown with Fuqua's Harvey label in the early 60s. Backed by a tight trio of musicians known as the All-Stars (Billy Nix, Willie Woods, and Victor Thomas), in 1965 Walker recorded the classic song "Shotgun." With his always rough vocals leading the way through a sing-song refrain, the infectious, mostly instrumental song shot to the top of the Soul charts and hit the Pop top five.
Over the next half-decade, Junior Walker and the All-Stars released a number of top 10 Soul hits, including "I'm a Roadrunner," "How Sweet It Is," "Shake and Fingerpop," "Gotta Hold On To This Feeling" and a cover of "These Eyes." He moved to the top of the pop and Soul charts again in 1969 with the great ballad "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" (later remade by Kenny G and Lenny Williams). The hits stopped coming for him by 1973, but he continued to record sporadically over the remainder of the decade.
Walker's career received an unexpected boost in 1981 when the white-rock group Foreigner was recording "Urgent" and wanted to have a saxophone solo in the refrain. They played the raw track for him and asked him to improvise a solo. After a single listening, he cut one of the most memorable sax solos in rock history in one take. The song went on to the top of the pop charts and became a Walker concert staple for the next decade (he and a reconstituted All-Stars recorded it on their final album, 1983's Blow Down the House).
His impassioned, raw saxophone work which resembled the gritty sound of Memphis (not Motown) became the foundation for a string of party hits that influenced a generation of funk musicians and which are still revered today as some of the greatest music Motown ever released. Walker continued to tour with the All-Stars over the next decade. Junior Walker died of cancer at his Battle Creek home in 1995.
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