Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lil Walter and The Average Black & White Band "Funk Train" (Column B)

In 1959, a fifteen year old Walter Williams cut a pair of duets with his sister Lola for Richmond's legendary Nu Kat label. The record, "No Mercy" b/w "Broken Heart", was Walter's first as a featured artist, but he had already made a name for himself as leader of Lil Walter's Band, the backing combo credited on most of Nu Kat's early releases.
Five years later, The Walter Williams Show unleashed the super raw two-sider "Hootenanny Stomp" b/w "The Cat" for Turn-Tage, one of a handful of small labels under the auspices of Joe Turnage's Church Hill Records, Richmond's primary black owned record store.
"Lil" Walter Williams remained a fixture on the city's ultra competitive Soul scene, becoming one of its best known band leaders. His band worked extensively with the superb vocal group The Bonnevilles, to the point where they were commonly billed as Lil Walter & The Bonnevilles. The Bonnevilles would go on to record for Now Records in D.C. (sans Lil Walter) backed by fellow Richmonders Zeke & The Soul Setters.
It would be some ten years until Lil Walter's third single saw the light of day. Recorded in 1975 at Alpha Audio, "Funk Train" dramatically illustrates how much things had changed since Walter got his start way back in the 50's. It also shows the development of an artist who was able to adapt and stay very relevant. Despite being a sage veteran at this point, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Walter was still a young man in his early 30's.
The cleverly dubbed "Average Black & White Band" was indeed an integrated outfit but we would argue that these guys were a least a cut above average. "Funk Train" chugs along propelled by some super tight drums (especially the cymbal work!) and Lil Walter's own thunderous bass line. The horn section locks in and keeps everything on point, but it's a white keyboard whiz known simply as "Sweat" who steals the show.
The flip "Everyday Life" offers a nice change of pace with a classy deep ballad. We again refer you to Sir Shambling's wonderful Deep Soul Heaven for a listen.
In an unusual development, "Funk Train" was later renamed "Do The Rope 'Pee' Dope" and white stickers displaying the new title were placed on the labels of remaining copies of the record. One can only assume the change paid homage to Heavyweight Champ Muhammad Ali, who famously employed the "rope-a-dope" strategy in legendary bouts against George Foreman and Joe Frazier in the mid 70's. Whether this move translated into more record sales is anyone's guess.
Special thanks to Brent Hosier for his invaluable information on Lil Walter Williams. Without him this entry wouldn't have been possible. Please check out Brent's outstanding Ol' Virginia Soul Part 1 CD for more information on Mr. Joe Turnage, Turn-Tage Records and much, much more!

Lil Walter and The Average Black & White Band "Funk Train"