Walk In the Night

"Walk In The Night"

[song written by Johnny Bristol]

The Paul Hardcastle album ‘Cover To Cover' from 1997 is a collection of rare and unreleased tracks that provides a showcase of covers with a distinctly Hardcastle feel.  One track from this album gives us the subject of the latest ‘Smooth Soul Survivor'.  The track is ‘Walk In The Night,' originally recorded by Junior Walker and the All Stars.

This 1971 composition has great soul credentials.  It was written by Johnny Bristol who, as a producer, composer and vocalist, was a major force in the Motown organisation from 1961 to 1973.  He had been responsible, as a duet with Jacky Beavers, for the original version of ‘Some Day We'll Be Together' which was released on Gwen Gordy's Tri Phi label.  When later it was made into a massive hit by Diana Ross and the Supremes it was Bristol who worked on the project as a session producer.

During his time with Motown, Johnny Bristol was a writing and production partner of Harvey Fuqua.  However, his marriage to Iris Gordy linked him personally as well as professionally to the label.  As a performer he carved out a successful solo career that spanned the 70's, 80's and 90's yet it was ‘Hang On In There Baby' from 1974, the very first recording he made as an MGM recording artist, for which he is best remembered.

His composition ‘Walk In The Night' was written for the Junior Walker and the All Stars album ‘Moody Jnr'.  It made #10 in the U.S. R & B charts and #46 in the pop charts.  It represented Junior Walker's last substantial release for Motown.

Of all the great musicians who played on Motown recordings, few of them got label credit, much less a chance to bask in the spotlight.  The major exception to this rule was Junior Walker, born 1942 as Autry Dewalt II in Blythville, Arkansas.

His band The All Stars got their name when an enthusiastic fan jumped to his feet during a show and shouted ‘these guys are all stars'!  His playing has been described as a mixture of Illinois Jaquet, Coleman Hawkins and pure Midwest soul, yet the Motown fans of the time who followed his music regarded him as a definite one on his own.  It was clear that what Walker was playing was more than soul and was unwittingly laying a foundation to be built on by the fusion and smooth jazz artists who followed.

The track ‘Walk In The Night' can predictably be found in the usual ‘best of' and Motown showcase album places and on some other more interesting listings besides. 

It is included on the 1972 recording by the Green Grant Group ‘Live At The Light House' where Wilton Felder can be found on bass.

A version by Choker Campbell is on ‘The Best Of Motor City Volume 12', a best of collection from the disco and soul label masterminded by Englishman Ian Levine.  Although the Motor City label never really produced any big hits it did throw up several interesting obscurities that, for the soul enthusiast, are worth seeking out.  This Choker Campbell rendition can also be found on the compilation ‘Shag Spectacular Volume 2'.  Shag music has been described as the most dubious term going, due in part to the fact that no one can really define what it means.  However, if the assorted tracks on this record are anything to go by, Motown remakes must figure in it somewhere.

A smooth jazz connection is made with the version by Paul Hardcastle that, in addition to being found on ‘Cover To Cover', is also on his 1998 showcase ‘The Best Of Paul Hardcastle'.

Junior Walker died in November 1995, aged 64, at his home in Battle Creek Michigan, shortly after arriving back from a Motown revival tour with the Temptations and the Four Tops.  As a man he will be missed. Through his music he will always be remembered.

By Denis Poole

See other Smooth Soul Survivors