The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker
" Soul music is more than just what's in the song - it's the mood and feeling you put into the song that makes it soul." So says Charles Walker, 70 year-old veteran of the soul music genre, and one-time contemporary of James Brown. "It's not jazz or classical. With those types of music it's about the notes and the arrangements, but that's not the case with soul. With soul you've got to put your heart into it, and that's what makes it. It's about the feeling you put into a song. That's what I think, anyway, and who cares if anyone thinks something else," Walker cackles.
In the early 1960s Walker was playing in his own local band in Nashville when the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, came through town. "I went to see James' show, and then he came back to the club where I was playing," Walker recalls. "He said to look him up if I ever came to New York, and that's just what I did." Within a short time Walker was fronting Brown's opening act, the JC Davis Group, at such legendary New York venues as Small's Paradise, the regular haunt of local and visiting celebrities. "Everybody and anybody came to Small's," Walker recalls. "That was a quite a gig there. Usually you don't get to meet these people, but at Small's they were all there," he says.
While he confirms the stories of Brown's fiscal punishment for poor on-stage performances - "James was paying for rehearsals, and he rehearsed a lot. He didn't pay for anyone to make a mistake, so they got fined if they did make a mistake" - Walker says he never felt under pressure himself. "I didn't care about pressure. All I cared about was getting on stage," Walker says.
Walker subsequently formed his own band, The Sidewinders, playing and recording in the United States until 1972. For the next few years Walker eked out a living, playing a combination of Sidewinders and other material. In the late 1970s soul and funk were outflanked by the colourful disco scene. Walker realised disco wasn't his scene, and the change in popular taste, compounded by structural changes in the music industry led Walker to embrace a change in career. "I was living in West Hampton, but it was pretty expensive living there, and I really needed to do something so that I could stay living there" Walker says. Walker and his wife found a property in West Hampton and decided to open an art gallery. "It took a few years to get going, but it became a really successful business," Walker says.
In 1987 Walker received a call from a soul music fan in England, asking Walker to travel across the Atlantic to play in a one-off soul review. Feted by excited European soul fans after the show, Walker decided it was time to return to his musical interests. "They were selling my old Sidewinders songs over there for a lot of money," Walker says. "After the show the press went mad, and that's when I realised I had to get back into music."
Walker undertook a few more European tours to capitalise on his renewed fame. After Walker's wife died in 1992, Walker moved back to his birthplace of Nashville after almost 40 years away. "A lot of my friends were still around, and I also met a lot of new people. Things had changed in Nashville, and they'd changed for the better," Walker says. Around the same time Nashville resident Bill Elder was in the throes of putting together The Dynamites, a funk-soul review act. Elder was searching for the right front man, when he heard about Walker's performance at a Nashville soul tribute event. "Bill already had the project going when I came to it," Walker says. "We played a couple of shows, and people really liked it, so we just kept going."
The Dynamites featuring Charles Walk perform alongside The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, Kylie Auldist and Bobby Alu at The Hi-Fi on Friday November 18 as part of th e Australasian World Music Expo.