An Arkansas-born saxman who grew up on the sounds of legendary jazz and rhythm and blues honkers, Autry DeWalt is much better known under his stage name of Junior Walker. Leading Junior Walker & the All-Stars, he scored a series of jukebox hits including the instrumental "Shotgun," a number that ranks among the ten most-covered tunes ever recorded. Listeners who may have seen the name Autry DeWalt listed as "Shotgun"'s composer can stop worrying that somebody else made all the money off this big hit. The ducats went into the pocket where Junior Walker kept the number four tenor saxophone reeds that he used to bear down so hard on.
A certain amount of suspicion is inevitable, nonetheless, since not only are three different years of birth commonly given for this artist -- 1931, 1941, and 1942 -- but he also seems to have been known under the name of Oscar G. Mixon for several years before taking on the DeWalt name. Arkansas loyalists like claiming his as their own, but he actually grew up in the Midwestern town of South Bend, IN. The change in names from Mixon to DeWalt is considered to have happened around this time, causing speculation that his mother was trying to stay hidden from Mr. Mixon.
One place where the youth did not keep a low profile was nightclubs, where he checked out many prominent sax players of his youth, including Illinois Jacquet and Earl Bostic. Learning the horn at an early age, DeWalt's first professional group was Jumping Jacks, which began to perform in local clubs while he was still in high school. He later played with a group known as Stix Nix. He moved to Battle Creek, MI, better known as the breakfast cereal capitol of the world, and in the early '60s formed the All Stars. He was now known as Junior Walker; other original members of the group included his old-friend Willie Woods on guitar, Vic Thomas on organ, and James Graves on drums. The group's original base was the southern-Michigan club circuit and northern Indiana. A famous rhythm and blues haunt of the time was El Grotto in Battle Creek. They were soon noticed by agent Johnny Bristol, who passed word of the great band along to vocalist and record label manager Harvey Fuqua, formerly with Harvey & the Moonglows. Fuqua checked out the band and wound up signing them to his Harvey label. In 1962, DeWalt and company cut the first sides for this label, which was soon bought out by Motown. DeWalt's group was now recording with Soul, a subsidiary of Motown as well as a pretty good description of everything the label was putting out. The group's first hit was "Shotgun," cut early in 1965. It hit number four on the pop chart, officially announcing the arrival of Junior Walker & the All Stars. Many of the group's hits that followed were party songs, some purely instrumental. The titles included "Do the Boomerang, "(I'm A) Road Runner," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," and "These Eyes." "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" in 1969 was the one song to match the success of the group's initial hit, again climbing to number four. Yet as time went on this song was largely forgotten compared to "Shotgun." The group toured almost constantly, reminding some fans of the jump bands of the '40s. As the group progressed musically it sometimes added strings to records or cut ballads, but overall was known for a certain type of ambience on disc which often included what sounded like rooms full of boisterous drunks shouting.
The changing musical styles of the '70s were not kind to DeWalt, no matter how many frat and bar bands continued playing his signature song. His last hit was at the beginning of this decade, entitled "Do You See My Love (For You Growing)." The group continued to perform in the '80s and '90s, often with offspring Autry DeWalt III keeping the groove on drums. During this decade, DeWalt contributed sax solos to Foreigner's 1981 hit "Urgent" and appeared in the 1988 movie Tapeheads. In 1993, papa DeWalt contracted cancer, his health deteriorated and he had difficulty walking, let alone dancing onstage while playing sax. He died several years later.