Country singer Charlie Walker loved the country western lifestyle, and it showed. Throughout his career, he focused most of his attention on drinking, whether it be the joys of getting drunk, the power of alcohol to heal a heartbreak,or the frustrations and difficulties of staying away from demon rum, if it was liquid and it was an intoxicant, Walker sang about it. He was as real and as pure a honky-tonk singer as you can get. The latest two CD set from Morello handily compiles four of his drinking albums.
Walker began his career in the 1950s as a DJ, and even though he had a steady stream of single releases throughout the decade, his first proper album would not come until 1965, Close All The Honky Tonks. As one might expect, the album was a nonstop tribute to the joys and sorrows of Saturday night, paying homage to his surroundings with such lovely numbers as Hank Williams’ classic “Honky Tonk Blues,” the Red Simpson standard “Close All The Honky Tonks,” and Walker’s signature number, Harlan Howard’s “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.” His next album, Wine, Women, and Walker, gave listeners exactly what the title promised––songs about drinking, running around, and raising hell. It also included what would become a walker standard, the fine “Little Ol’ Wine Drinker Me.”
That the third album in this collection is titled Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon should indicate the albums general mood. The song is a reference to the Charmin paper towel commercial character Mr. Whipple, and even though the pun is winsome, it’s actually a clever song that doesn’t feel like the novelty you might rightly think it to be. The mood here is definitely upbeat and lighthearted; much like the title track, a few of the songs border on a comedic country style akin to Roger Miller or Ray Stevens. Considering his next studio album would be a southern gospel record, it’s not unfair to speculate that perhaps Walker was trying to clean up his image with a record that was more lighthearted and less rambunctious.
1971’s Honky Tonkin’ with Charlie Walker may have found him back to familiar thematic ground, but musically the sound is richer, more lush, and more sophisticated. country music was changing; it was becoming both more radio friendly and more outlaw in nature, with rock’n roll starting to show its influence. That’s most evident here with his cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” a song he did not feel comfortable recording because he felt it was vulgar and dirty. His opinion is ironic, considering it’s an obvious tribute to the music he created and made popular. The rest of the album is good, ranging between drinking songs and comedic and irreverent numbers, and it’s clear Walker had found a formula that works for him.
Charlie Walker could definitely be considered one of the founding fathers of the outlaw country movement, even if he may not have been comfortable with such a designation. The two hours of music contained in this collection show that Walker knew how to sing about having a good time and about the darker, seedier, and unhappier side of the bottle.