Charlie Walker: Honky-tonk singer of 'Pick Me Up On Your Way Down'
Friday 26 September 2008
Charlie Walker was a honky-tonk musician and disc jockey best known for his classic recording of "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down". Written by the great Harlan Howard, the song, with its insistent shuffle rhythm, was a Top Five country hit in 1958.
Charles Levi Walker was born on a cotton farm at Copeville, Texas, in 1926. Encouraged by his father, he began performing while in his teens. In 1943 he began working as a singer and guitarist with Bill Boyd's Cowboy Ramblers. In 1944 he enlisted in the US Army and was posted to Tokyo, where he served as a disc jockey for the American Forces Radio Network.
On demobilisation he headed for San Antonio, Texas where he found work on the radio station KMAC and, trading on his rural roots, became popular as "Ol' polk salad, cotton-picking, boll-pulling, corn-shucking, snuff-dipping Charlie Walker". He remained at KMAC for a decade, developing a career that would, in 1981, see him inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame.
He continued to perform and, in 1956, signed a contract with Decca. His first single for the label, "Only You, Only You" broke into the Top 10. It was followed by three minor hits before he switched labels, to Columbia, and took a chance on "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down", a song the then-barely known Howard had written after overhearing the line spoken during an argument in his local bar.
Further chart entries followed, including "I'll Catch You When You Fall" and "When My Conscience Hurts the Most" (both 1959), "Who Will Buy the Wine" (1960) and "Facing the Wall" (1961). Another change of label, to Epic, saw more success with singles such as "Close All the Honky Tonks" (1964), "Wild as a Wildcat" (1965) and "Don't Squeeze My Sharmon" (1967), a title that, somewhat improbably, referenced a then-popular brand of toilet paper. From 1965 until 1967 he proved a popular fixture at the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas.
In 1967 he was invited to join the cast of Nashville's famous weekly radio show, The Grand Ole Opry. Although the hits began to dry up, he maintained a presence in the recording studio, hopping from Epic to RCA and then Capitol. His final appearance in the charts came in 1975 with "Odds and Ends (Bits and Pieces)".
An engaging performer, Walker's brand of no-frills country appealed to traditionalists on this side of the Atlantic and he made several appearances at the Wembley Festival in London. In 1985 he played the tragic singer Cowboy Copas in Sweet Dreams, the Oscar-nominated biopic of Patsy Cline, starring Jessica Lange. He continued to perform regularly on the Opry until sidelined by ill health earlier this year.
Charles Levi Walker, singer and disc jockey: born Copeville, Texas 2 November 1926; married (four sons, six daughters); died Hendersonville, Tennessee 12 September 2008.
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