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Call it a comeback

Soul man Wee Willie Walker finally gets the spotlight he deserves

Wee Willie Walker’s soul is the genuine article. Photo credit:

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Music history is littered with talented artists that never quite broke through the noise to capture the public's attention - not quite has-beens, more should-have-beens. It can be incredibly difficult to distinguish yourself from the rabble, no matter how deserving you might be to have your voice heard. In the field of blues and soul, which particularly has a hard time breaking through to the mainstream, there are scads of musicians who have been lost to the sands of time, leaving in their wake gems of 45s that you might encounter in rummage sale discount bins.

Up until recently, Wee Willie Walker was such an artist, having released little-heard albums on Goldwax and Chess Records in the ‘60s that, though quite good, never crossed that threshold and found an audience. Now in his early ‘70s, Walker has reemerged on the scene with If Nothing Ever Changes, a master class in R&B and soul, revealing a man whose voice has aged like a fine wine, growing even deeper into the mold of a consummate showman and bandleader. Though he's advanced in years, that fact is only reflected in how comfortable and agile he is on the microphone. Mixing elements of gospel, funk, blues, Motown, and classic soul, If Nothing Ever Changes is a throwback from a man who has been shaped by decades spent in Minneapolis and Memphis recording studios.

Saturday finds Wee Willie Walker performing at Jazzbones, backed by popular local performer Randy Oxford, who has assembled a nine-piece band to accompany Walker. I spoke with Oxford about what we can expect from Walker's Tacoma appearance.

"There aren't many genuine soul/blues/R&B artists left who are still performing," said Oxford. "I think Willie is playing a major role in bringing back that ‘old school' sound. He is making a personal comeback and reminding us all of an important part of our culture. The younger music fans are also taking notice of this kind of music, so we are making our July 16th show at Jazzbones an all-ages show."

Oxford makes a good point about Walker's legitimacy as a soul artist, especially in recent years when people like Charles Bradley have emerged on the scene, steering focus away from new artists approximating classic sounds and placing a firmer emphasis on authenticity. It's one thing to hear an indie artist that raided their parents' record collection perform, and it's another thing entirely to listen to the genuine article.

Part of what makes this show so special is the stacked group of musicians that Oxford has assembled to back up Wee Willie Walker.

"This is a rare kind of show that we don't get to see too often anymore, so I have gone all out and hired top-of-the-line musicians," said Oxford. "Besides having Wee Willie Walker flying in from Minnesota, we have international touring artist/percussionist LA Smith flying in from New York City. He was just added to the lineup a few days ago after I found out that he was interested in being a part of this historic show. I've also hired top regional musicians like Eddie Mendoza on the drums, CD Woodbury and Willy Straub on guitars, Patrick McDanel on the bass, and I'm bringing back the Blue Note Horns from my days with Little Bill and the Blue Notes. This horn section features myself on trombone, Brian Kent on saxophone and Hadi Al-Saadoon on trumpet."

Oxford, a military veteran, is also dedicating this show to his fellow veterans, saying that this show wouldn't be possible without their service. Whether or not you've served, though, this show is more than worthy of your attention. See Wee Willie Walker on Saturday, and you can be part of his amazing comeback.

Wee Willie Walker, Saturday, July 16, 6 p.m., $15-$20, Jazzbones, 2803 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253.396.9169

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