When Charles Walker opens his mouth, the sounds of '60s soul come tumbling out. With the aid of his backing band the Dynamites, the 65-year-old soul man delivers what Dynamites bandleader/guitarist Bill Elder calls "authentic, full-on, super-hard-drivin' funk — and the soul bag, too."
But it's not all about gruntin' and groanin'. Walker's soaring soul sounds like a mix of Johnny Adams and the high tenor of Sam Moore of the legendary '60s duo Sam and Dave.
Like many soul greats, Walker honed his craft in church. "I wasn't really what you'd call a true gospel singer, but I still have those flavors," he says. "I did start in the church, but worked my way out of it."
In 1960, when he was 16, he left his hometown of Nashville to try his luck in New York. Walker was hired right away as an opening act for James Brown's backing outfit, the J.C. Davis Band, which had heard him in Nashville.
Walker started his own band, Little Charles and the Sidewinders, in the mid-'60s. But retaining too much of Brown's act got him canned the first night he played the legendary Harlem jazz club Smalls Paradise. "You know how James falls out," he says, referring to Brown's apparent collapse during "Please, Please, Please." "I did some of that kind of stuff, and they thought I had fallen down for real."
Management carried Walker off the stage. "I told them, 'Put me down! That's part of the show.' And they said, 'Well, you won't be doing that in here no mo'."
The club soon relented, and Walker had lines around the block for his shows there for nearly a decade. In the '80s, he left for Spain, running an art business and performing sporadically before returning to Nashville in 1993.
Currently, he's at work on a new record of originals out in September, mixing James Brown's funk with Marvin Gaye's smooth soul and '60s ballads. "I'm just really happy that there's an underground movement of people wanting to hear where this music really comes from."