BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

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):

CRY BABY
(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)

MISTRUSTIN’ BLUES
(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)