music (2007-46)

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Charles Walker and The Dynamites kick some real old-school Nashville funk

by Matthew Everett

In the late 1990s, things started ending for Charles Walker. Heâ’d been living in Spain for a few years when his wife died. She was buried in New York, where Walker had lived for more than 30 years before moving to England and then Spain. He didnâ’t want to go back to Europe, but he didnâ’t want to stay in New York, either. Feeling unmoored, he took a trip back home to Nashville to see what he would do next.

â“I was fed up with New York,â” the 60-ish Walker says. â“All my people are here in Nashville, so I thought Iâ’d come back and spend a month or two. It was totally different from what I remembered, though. I saw some possibilities to get things working, and thatâ’s really how the whole thing started.â”

The â“whole thingâ” is Walkerâ’s recently rejuvenated career as a hard-soul singer in front of the nine-member Nashville funk revival band The Dynamites. For the last two years, Walker and The Dynamites have toured relentlessly in Europe and the United States, playing with jam bands like Widespread Panic, at jazz and blues festivals, in clubs and theaters, dishing out a sweaty, dirty revue in the spirit of â‘60s acts like Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett, and, especially, James Brown.

â“I was doing cocktail things, whatever, making a little bit of money,â” Walker says. â“Iâ’d go to Europe two or three times a yearâ"thatâ’s how I was really making money. I was doing blues and R&B stuff. I released two or three solo CDs, blues and soul. Then The Dynamites started happening, and I was contacted about that.â”

The Dynamites were put together by guitarist Leo Black, who also serves as the groupâ’s composer, arranger, and bandleader. Itâ’s a big groupâ"organ, drums, bass, guitar and a four-man horn sectionâ"and it sounds big. The arrangements resemble the nascent funk of New York in the â‘60s, when James Brown was re-inventing soul at the Apollo Theater. Walkerâ’s an accomplished and enthusiastic singer, smooth but entirely capable of shouting and hollering when itâ’s called forâ"and with The Dynamites, itâ’s called for quite a bit. Itâ’s a model established by Brown, but Walkerâ’s hardly an imitation. Both he and the band behind him are good enoughâ"and energetic enoughâ"to wipe out the air of novelty that can threaten this kind of late-model revival act.

Part of what makes The Dynamites so convincing is that Walker was part of the â‘60s New York soul scene, though he was never a star. Heâ’d tried making it as a singer in Nashville, but the capital of country music offered few opportunities for African-American singers. â“Thatâ’s what the deal was back in the day,â” he says. â“It wasnâ’t the greatest. There werenâ’t too many outlets. I couldnâ’t go nowhere, you know what I mean?â”

So he moved to New York in 1962, the same year Brown released his simmering version of â“Night Train.â” Heâ’d made connections before he left Nashville, and soon found work with Jackie Wilson. He performed on bills with Wilson and Brown for years, recording singles that didnâ’t chart. By the â‘80s, he was having more success on his periodic European tours than he was in New York, so he and his wife just stayed there until her death. â“I was in New York a long time,â” he says. â“Beating down doors, trying to get in. You know how it is.â”

Neither Black nor Walker expected Walkerâ’s partnership with The Dynamites to last when they first played togetherâ"â“We wanted to do a few showcases, see how it worked out, but the first gig we did was completely sold out and everybody seen the possibilities,â” Walker saysâ"but now, two years later, they have an album out, Kaboom!, and a growing reputation as a smoking-hot live band. They spent October in Europe and have just started a swing though the South and are booked up for the early part of 2008.

â“People are excited about this funk thing,â” he says. â“A lot of people. I never really thought Iâ’d get back to playing this kind of music. Iâ’d been doing other things, and I was getting up in age. I thought I was just going to be easing on. Then we got this off the ground and I could see a purpose, see things happening.â”

Who: The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker with Dishwater Blonde

Where: World Grotto

When: Saturday, Nov. 17, at 10 p.m.

How Much: $8


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