The primary male vocalist on the records overseen by Johnny Otis in the early 1950’s, a balladeer with a warm mellow voice and the looks to make him one of rock’s first heartthrobs.

Born Melvin Lightsey in Texas in 1929 and moving to Los Angeles as a boy he first gained recognition as a football star at Jefferson High School where his classmate was fellow Texas transplant, singer/pianist Floyd Dixon.

Changing his name to Mel Walker he drew Otis’s attention at The Barrelhouse Club amateur contest and was quickly drafted into the band’s growing stable of talent where he soon established himself as the principle male vocal lead after a succession of singers had failed to make much of an impression in that role.

With Walker’s good looks, athletic physique and late night bedroom voice and dreamy delivery he gave Otis’s crew an effective way to off-set the band’s rousing instrumental performances while providing an ideal male counterpart to Little Esther on duets. Though he made his first appearance on record after her initial breakthrough, it was actually Walker who would go on to score more hits than his more famous vocal partner, with eleven nationally charted hits in just over two years including two sharing #1 smashes with Esther.

The loss of Esther to Federal Record wound up hurting both of their careers as each tried recording with other partners (though both still backed by Otis’s band) without the same success, Walker scored his final hit with a cover of his former classmate Dixon’s song, “Call Operator 210” in 1952. More responsible for their respective commercial slides however was their increasing drug use as Walker was arrested for possession while on tour with Otis in Baltimore in 1954.

With rock facing increased scrutiny as it crossed over into the white teen mainstream and with his ballad-heavy laid-back style not as appealing to this new audience, Walker’s run as a star was over by the time he was 25 and he sank further into drug use over the next decade. Though his voice might’ve been ideal for the uptown soul style that became one of rock’s commercial cornerstones in the early 1960’s, Walker wasn’t in any condition to make a comebacks and in early 1964 he died of an overdose, his body found in an alley in Los Angeles, the city he once helped to define musically when there were few singers who captivated listeners as he did.
MEL WALKER DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Regent 1016; February, 1950)
An effective introduction to the sleepy but captivating delivery of Walker on a rather rote song that aside from some misjudged arranging touches features strong support by the band – especially Pete Lewis on guitar – while Walker’s vocal appeal is evident throughout. (6)

(Savoy 735; March, 1950)
In Walker’s initial pairing with Little Esther he more than holds his own, both vocally and in terms of personality, as their byplay is realistic and captivating on a gripping song with solid backing from all involved that became his first #1 hit. (8)

(Regent 1018; May, 1950)
A masterful vocal performance by Walker who subtly shifts from sorrow to hope by just changing inflections, wringing out the pathos without overdoing it, all while Johnny Otis frames it in a perfectly subdued arrangement that hits all the right moods. (8)

(Regent, 1018; May, 1950)
The sparseness of the arrangement does this in despite some individually nice moments courtesy of the sax, but while Walker is in fine voice he seems uneasy about the crawling pace and how barren the song itself is. (4)

(Savoy 750: June, 1950)
Showing a more humorous side to his persona than he was usually afforded, Walker makes the ideal sparring partner for Little Esther, his soulful vocals and easy-going charm counteracting her at every turn while still embodying the ardor of this fictitious romance. ★ 10 ★

(Savoy 759; August, 1950)
Though he gets co-lead credit, Walker provides little more than a cameo here, but his part is well-played, adding soulful confidence – and the dismissive counterweight to Esther’s charges – which turns the record into another compelling one-act play between them. (7)

(Regent 1022; August, 1950)
A song featuring humor that sneaks up on you, all of which is delivered perfectly straight with the jokes coming at his own expense, makes this a record that rewards repeat listens to see Walker’s image get turned on its head. (7)

(Regent 1022; August, 1950)
A typical song for Walker wherein everything about it from the lyrics to the accompaniment to his delivery hit their expected marks without any aspect of it standing out, making it good enough to hear but not quite special enough to sit up and take notice. (4)

(Savoy 764; October, 1950)
Not surprisingly since he’s given the worst lines in a wandering and pointless production Walker suffers from that lack of effort by Johnny Otis’s subpar writing, as this one is notable only because it was a hit not because it contains anything of real value. (3)

(Savoy 764; October, 1950)
In this song Walker is given the best role and handles it well conveying the upbeat optimism that turns the record from maudlin to hopeful, but in doing so the song inhabits two different mindsets which makes it easier to admire from afar than to really enjoy from within. (5)

(Savoy 766; November, 1950)
Again being called on to wallow in misery, Walker’s emotional reading is very well measured, holding back just enough to maintain control while Johnny Otis provides a somber yet restless backing on yet another huge hit. (7)

(Savoy 766; November, 1950)
Though hardly on par with his best sides, Walker acquits himself nicely on a song he co-wrote and if this wasn’t too ambitious stylistically he at least gives the audiences what they want even if Johnny Otis’s arrangement doesn’t quite match it in the end. (5)

(Savoy 775; December, 1950)
Poorly conceived as a harmony duet with Little Esther, disregarding their vastly different vocal attributes, they’re rarely on the same page here and seem visibly uncomfortable trying to adapt to one another despite a few quality passages here and there. (3)

(Savoy 777; January, 1951)
The best solo record and vocal performance of Walker’s career, an intoxicating slow burn performance expressing heartbreak but also a hint of ghostly menace all of which is framed by a fantastic multi-layered arrangement by Johnny Otis that pulls you in even further. (9)

(Regent 1036; March, 1951)
Because the songwriting and vocal arrangement contains an unfortunate vocal hook that intrudes on the main story it’s impossible for Walker or Little Esther to come off looking even remotely competent here making for an uncomfortable listen. (2)

(Savoy 788; June, 1951)
One of Walker’s most understated gems, his sensitive vocals highlighting the emotional conflict he feels when it comes to his past flame and his current girlfriend, all of which is framed perfectly by the arrangement, especially Pete Lewis’s mesmerizing guitar break. (7)

(Savoy 821; October, 1951)
Another well deserved hit for Walker who handles these kinds of weary melancholy songs with natural ease, drawing out all the nuance from the sharply written lyrics while backed by a smart arrangement that accentuates his pain. (7)

(Savoy 821; October, 1951)
Though Walker handles the quicker pace with no problems, the band’s misguided arrangement featuring outdated horns and a vibe solo undercut its effectiveness overall making this a near miss rather than a stylistic triumph. (5)

(Federal 12055; December, 1951)
An incognito Walker – sans his last name on the label, one for which he was not under contract to – reunites him with Little Esther on an inane song that doesn’t play to their strengths even though their voices still work well together. (5)

(Savoy 849; May, 1952)
His first proper release in seven months is typically stellar with Walker’s low-key subversive vocals seeming as if they’re looking for sympathy when he’s really looking for a pick-up while Johnny Otis and company, particularly Leard Bell’s drumming, provide ideal support. (7)

(Savoy 849; May, 1952)
On Walker’s last released side for Savoy, he is as good as expected, adding soul to a song lacking in a strong melody and beset with a criminally outdated horn opening before settling into something a little more neutral but by now means cutting edge. (4)

(Mercury 8289; July, 1952)
Aside from the more varied arrangement with vibes and guitar in addition to piano, the song remains largely unchanged from Floyd Dixon’s recent original, but Walker has a better voice making this a touch more pleasant to hear. (7)

(Mercury 8289; July, 1952)
With Walker’s vocal cleverly twisting the story perspective thanks to the way he emphasizes the hope under the surface, he brings the oddly familiar melody to life even as the story stops halfway through and we get a subpar sax solo in the bargain. (6)

(Mercury 8295; September, 1952)
Two years ago this record would’ve been a huge hit and even last year it would’ve drawn more notice, but by now this seems old hat stylistically with a slightly behind the curve arrangement even though you can’t find any fault in the song or Walker’s impeccable vocal. (7)

(Mercury 8295; September, 1952)
Though he strays far from his usual laid-back vocal technique, this gutsier delivery only proves Walker’s talents were even more than he was generally given credit for, as this mood piece is remarkably effective with limited arranging accoutrements. (8)

(Mercury 70050; December, 1952)
The end of the line for Walker’s association with Otis before the legal shit hit the fan, finds Mel doing his usual understated job on a song that needed a far better title and main hook to connect, as this insensitive ode to a big girl can’t help but be uncomfortable to hear. (5)