"Blind" Willie Walker

by Danny Ness, UNC Asheville Student

 


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[No known photograph of Willie Walker in existence.]

Full name: Willie Walker

Other names: "Blind" Willie Walker

Born: 1896 in South Carolina
Died: March 4, 1933,  Greenville, SC 

Instrument: Guitar and vocals

Biographical Sketch 

"Blind" Willie Walker's birthplace is unknown, but most of his life was spent in and around Greenville, South Carolina. His parents George and Lucy Walker moved to Elford Street in Greenville in 1913. It is said by Reverend Gary Davis, a fellow blues musician, that Willie played in a string band as early as 1911. Little else is known of his childhood, except that he was blind from birth. 

The late guitarist, Josh White, said, "Walker was certainly sophisticated and his clear, almost minstrel-like vocal delivery went perfectly with his delicate yet strong-structured guitar lines." His whole life was music, and on his death certificate he was named a musician, it was all he knew. 

Walker traveled on and off. He maintained residence in Greenville in 1915, 1917 through 1919, 1924, 1931 and 1933, always in Clover, South Carolina, in his parents house. His father died of pneumonia on December 23, 1928, but his mother lived until 1958. on December 6, 1930 Walker had his only recording session. He cut four sides for Columbia in Atlanta. Walker played in an exceptionally fast style, and he enjoyed the key of C the most. Playing C produced much of Walker's ragtime style, lending to the chord progression (C-A7-D-G-C). This type of progression along with his clear vocals, are the backbone to tunes such as "Make Believe Stunt," "Cincinnati Flow Rag," and his most popular, "South Carolina Rag." It wasn't until 1970 that a cassette of Walker's was released. It was a coupling of Walker and the accompanying guitar of Sam Brooks. Then, in 1972 the original version of Walker's, "South Carolina Rag" was released. John Jackson, the son of one of Walker's guitar companions, released the cassette. "Blind" Willie Walker died on March 4, 1933, at the age of 37. He died of congenital syphilis, which was probably the initial reason for his blindness.

Books 

Bastin, Bruce. Crying for the Carolines. London: Studio Vista, 1971.

Bastin, Bruce. Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986. 

Charters, Samuel. The Blues Makers. New York: Da Capo, 1991.

Harris, Sheldon. Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers. Arlington House Publishers, New York, 1979.

Bogdanou, Vladimir. Erlewine, Stephen. Woodstra, Chris, ed. All Music Guide To The Blues, 3rd Edition. Publishers Group, West, CA, 2003.

Oliver, Paul, ed. The Blackwell Guide to Blues Records. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Reference, 1989.

Articles 

Berggren, Lars. "Willie Walker: En av odtkustbluesens framsta gitarrister." Jefferson [Sweden] no.43 (Spring 1979): 12-14. 

Recordings on CD 

Various Artists. East Coast Blues: 1926-1935.

Various Artists. Ragtime Blues Guitar. 

Various Artists. Raggin' the Blues: Essential East Coast Blues.

Various Artists. Pickin' the Blues.

Various Artists. East Coast Blues.

Web Sites 

T-Bone's Web Page. Accessed 12 Nov. 2003 www.io.com/~tbone1/blues/ECblz/wilwak.html

Rhythm and News. Accessed 12 Nov. 2003 http://delmark.com/rhythm.cntrybls.htm 

Willie Walker Biography. Accessed 4 Dec. 2003 http://www.theiceberg.com/artist/27086/willie_walker.html



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Last updated 18 December 2003.