WALKER, CHARLES LEVI, JR. [CHARLIE]

Jennifer Cobb

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WALKER, CHARLES LEVI, JR. [CHARLIE] (1926–2008). Charles Levi Walker, Jr., disc jockey, vocalist, and guitarist, was born on November 26, 1926, in Copeville, Texas. Maintaining a performing career alongside his radio career, Walker is best-remembered as a beloved country music deejay, a honky-tonk performer, and a forty-year member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Born on a cotton farm in Northeast Texas, Walker began performing in his teens at the encouragement of his father. After honing his singing and guitar talents, Walker began his professional music career in Dallas in the 1940s, playing with Bill Boyd’s Cowboy Ramblers. In 1944 he enlisted in the United States Army and was posted to Tokyo, Japan, where he served as a disc jockey for the American Forces Radio Network. After being discharged from the army in 1947, he formed the Texas Ramblers and began performing in and around Corpus Christi before moving to San Antonio in 1951. Once in San Antonio, Walker worked as a disc jockey for the KMAC radio station, where he remained for ten years. He was known as a top country deejay in San Antonio during his years on KMAC and staged country all-star shows, booked bands at his club called the Barn, and hosted rising stars such as Elvis Presley, whom he interviewed in 1956. Walker’s engaging on-air style also served as an inspiration for another young disc jockey and performer—Willie Nelson on KBOP, Pleasanton. The two became friends and often traded affable barbs on the air.

During the 1950s Walker recorded for several labels, including Imperial and Decca, where he scored a regional hit, “Only You, Only You.” He also cut two songs for Mercury. But Walker’s greatest success came when he signed with Columbia and recorded the Harlan Howard song “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” in 1958. The tune hit Number 2 on the country charts. He recorded other chart entries, such as “Wild as a Wildcat” in 1965 and “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon” in 1967, both for Epic, but none achieved the success of his 1958 hit. From 1965 to 1967 Walker was a popular act at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he performed regularly.

In 1967 he was invited to join the cast of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, where he remained a member and continued to perform up until his death. Walker’s final appearance on the country charts was in 1974 with the hit “Odds and Ends (Bits and Pieces),” on Capitol Records. Walker was inducted into the Country Radio DJ Hall of Fame in 1981. In 1985 he portrayed country singer Cowboy Copas alongside Jessica Lange in the Patsy Cline biopic, Sweet Dreams. During the 1980s he also appeared on several episodes of Hee Haw. He released numerous albums during his career, including Greatest Hits (1961, Columbia), Close All the Honky Tonks (1965, Epic), Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon (1967, Epic), and I Don’t Mind Goin’ Under (1972, RCA Victor). He was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and the Texas Country Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 2000.

On Friday, September 12, 2008, Charlie Walker died in Hendersonville, Tennessee, of colon cancer. He was eighty-one years old. Walker was survived by his wife, Connie, four sons, six daughters, and many grandchildren.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Country Music Television, "Charlie Walker Biography," CMT.com (http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/walker_charlie/bio.jhtml), accessed December 1, 2011. Country Music Television, "Grand Ole Opry Member Charlie Walker Dies at Age 81," CMT.com (http://www.cmt.com/news/news-in-brief/1594705/grand-ole-opry-member-charlie-walker-dies-at-age-81.jhtml), accessed December 1, 2011. The Independent (London), September 26, 2008. Joe Nick Patoski, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008). USA Today, September 12, 2008.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Jennifer Cobb, "WALKER, CHARLES LEVI, JR. [CHARLIE]," accessed September 24, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwabm.

Uploaded on March 17, 2015. Modified on November 1, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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