Country crooner Billy Walker (1929-2006) had a long, slow climb to full country stardom: he was a member of several big regional radio shows, playing in the Texas-based "Big D Jamboree," "Louisiana Hayride" and "Ozark Jubilee" in the 1950s, while recording minor singles throughout the decade. After becoming a cast member of the Grand Ole Opry, he finally hit big in 1962 with his top hit, "Charlie's Shoes," which marked the start of a career peak that also included the release of his 1965 album, Cross The Brazos At Waco, a Western-themed set which echoed the cowboy-song revival led by Marty Robbins. Walker remained a modestly successful performer for many years, also hosting and performing on country-themed TV shows. Here's a quick look at his career...
Billy Walker "Columbia Hits" (Koch/Sony-BMG, 2005)
Although he was a Texas native, country crooner Billy Walker cut his teeth working throughout the Southwest and -- like so many others -- playing on the fabled Louisiana Hayride. He started recording in the late 1940s, but found little success chartwise until nearly a decade later. Walker specialized in smoothed-out, mellow ballads, and this set of Columbia recordings shows him so nakedly imitative of Marty Robbins that it's almost shocking... Things finally started to click for Walker in the early '60s, when he latched onto the historical/western fad that Robbins pioneered, along with Johnny Horton and Claude King. Walker's contributions in this field -- notably "Cross The Brazos At Waco" and "Matamoros" were par for the course; also included here are a couple of early Willie Nelson tunes (he recorded the first version of "Funny How The Time Slips Away") and Walker's biggest hit, "Charlie's Shoes," which was his sole #1 hit. This is the first American-released disc to cover Walker's complete Columbia recordings, and while the music might not be vigorous enough to suit many twangfans, folks who are poking around checking out vintage countrypolitan might find this album illuminating. Either way, it's nice to have the old stuff in print again, and will surely make his old fans happy as clams.
Billy Walker "Thank You For Calling" (BACM, 2005)
This rarities collection -- a CDR -- has a lot of Walker's earliest work, back when he was more reliably in a hillbilly mode. Definitely worth checking out if you want to dig deeper than his better-known his crooning work.
Billy Walker "Cross The Brazos At Waco" (Bear Family, 1993)
This 6-CD set covers Walker's early career, from 1949-65, including his early recordings on Capitol and his big hits for Columbia, in the early 'Sixties... A real must-have for hardcore fans!
Billy Walker "Greatest Hits On Monument" (Sony, 1993)
Fairly drippy country crooning from Walker's late-'60s stint on the Monument label. On the larger arrangements, Walker was able to hide behind the orchestra; sparser arrangements (such as "Ramona," etc.) reveal the notable weakness of both his voice and phrasing. Walker was something of an also-ran in comparison to Eddy Arnold, Marty Robbins or Jim Reeves, but he was able to eke his way into the Top 20 with most of these songs. Still, this doesn't do much for me... It's pretty wimpy musically -- amazing how singers like Walker could suck the vitality out of songs by otherwise admirable songwriters such as Harlan Howard, Dallas Frazier and Harlan Howard. Oh, well. Some of it's okay, I guess.
Billy Walker "Everybody's Hits But Mine" (Columbia, 1961) (LP)
Billy Walker "Greatest Hits" (Columbia, 1963)
Billy Walker "Anything Your Heart Desires" (Columbia, 1964)
Billy Walker "Thank You For Calling" (Columbia, 1964) (LP)
Billy Walker "The Gun, The Gold And The Girl" (Columbia, 1965)
Billy Walker "Cross The Brazos At Waco" (Columbia, 1965) (LP)
Billy Walker "A Million And One" (Monument, 1966) (LP)
Billy Walker "The Walker Way" (Monument, 1967) (LP)
Billy Walker "I Taught Her Everything She Knows" (Monument, 1968) (LP)
Billy Walker "Salutes The Country Music Hall Of Fame" (Monument, 1968) (LP)
Billy Walker "Portrait Of Billy" (Monument, 1969) (LP)
Billy Walker "How Big Is God" (Monument, 1969) (LP)
Billy Walker "Darling Days" (Monument, 1970) (LP)
Billy Walker "When A Man Loves A Woman (The Way That I Love You)" (MGM, 1970) (LP)
Billy Walker "I'm Gonna Keep On Lovin' You/She Goes Walkin' Through My Mind" (MGM, 1971) (LP)
Billy Walker "Live" (MGM, 1971) (LP)
Billy Walker "The Billy Walker Show" (MGM, 1973) (LP)
Billy Walker "All Time Greatest Hits" (MGM, 1973)
Billy Walker "The Hand Of Love" (MGM, 1973) (LP)
Billy Walker "Too Many Memories" (MGM, 1974) (LP)
Billy Walker "Lovin' And Losin' " (RCA, 1975) (LP)
Billy Walker "Alone Again" (RCA, 1976) (LP)
Billy Walker & Barbara Fairchild "Bye Bye Love" (RCA, 1980)
Billy Walker "Life Is A Song" (EMH, 1984)
Hick Music Index