To make sure that this blog doesn’t permanently slide completely into a female soul singer tribute site (be it nothing wrong with that), I’m gonna steer the boat into a Masculine Corner of Soul with the incomparable… and ironically flexible (as I get to it in a minute) tribute to Walter Jackson (1938-1983).
Appearing out of the mists of late 1950s R&B, he unsuccessfully auditioned for Motown, which was alarmed by the fact that 1) He suffered from Polio and 2) walked on leg braces and crutches. Motown, already being image conscious to the extreme (Thanks Georgeanna of The Marvelettes going out on stage chewing gum) was too blindsided by his disability to listen to the purity of his voice, halfway between the Jazz crooners of the 1940s/50s and the R&B singers of the 1960s.
…Think If Marvin Gaye & Nat King Cole were those two separate Darrin’s from that episode of Bewitched and they had to run back in each other… and out comes Walter Jackson. He could completely morph into any genre expected of a Black Singer in the 1960s with grace and agility that was in total irony to his appearance. Something strong, stoic, decidedly masculine erupts from each and every performance. Something extremely relaxed and cool also.
Signed with Okeh records he cut beautiful slices of Chicago soul, that sadly, barely made any notice in comparison to the major hits that his Windy City contemporaries had. My favorites include the ode to Mama’s advice with very very “real” lyrics “That’s What My Mama Say” , the commanding “It’s An Uphill Climb To The Bottom” and his splendid “Welcome Home” (one of those slightly obscure songs that falls into that “if Dusty Springfield did a cover of it it must have been an awesome original” category).
The best examples of him as a straight up crooner I think are “Moonlight in Vermont” and “There Goes That Song Again.”
He continued to record and to chart songs on the R&B charts, including a version of “Feelings” (yes we can forgive that) up until his death in 1983. Of all things, beyond just enjoying his music I hope that it’s learned never to put any mental barriers between yourself and your dreams. If a man with Polio could become an R&B legend, pretty much all in life that’s needed to make it somewhere is a little bit of determination.