Between March 1966 and September 1968 Walter Jackson was at his peak. He recorded a series of exceptional singles – hits or no, they were all just great records. After Welcome Home (the title track of his previous album) Walter’s new producer Ted Cooper cut their next four sessions in New York. This change of venue produced immediate results and It’s An Uphill Climb To The Bottom became Walter’s biggest R&B chart hit so far when it reached #11 in mid-1966. The follow-up After You There Can Be Nothing, co-written by Cooper, didn’t match the sales but continued the high quality of his previous records. Herb Bernstein’s arrangements were subtly different on …Nothing and they featured again on the classic A Corner In The Sun. Riley Hampton was back on hand for Speak Her Name, the superb hit that became the title for this most potent third album. From the same session came the best version of Bacharach’s They Don’t Give Medals To Yesterday’s Heroes cut by a few others including Ben E King, Lou Rawls and Chuck Jackson - but none got it down quite as well as Walter. It was used as the flipside to Speak Her Name issued in America with a picture sleeve.
Though the following OKeh singles didn’t chart, these atmospheric sides are still powerful. My Ship Is Coming In had been a UK hit for the Walker Brothers two years earlier but hadn’t taken in the States and Jackson’s superior version did no better. Road To Ruin was a surprising single choice; too depressing for mass consumption, but always a personal favourite of mine. It was the final OKeh single as he switched to Epic for his last two Columbia outings. First came the offbeat production of Bacharach & David’s The Look Of Love a song that spawned a 100 sugary versions, to which Jackson offers a sour alternative that’s more palatable than most. No Butterflies, his last single for the label, was an absolute triumph. An ironic slice of sociology cut back in Chicago with Cooper and Hampton, is right up there with the very best records he ever made. From the street soul beginning, the story rolls out poetically as Jackson relates the sham of urban politics, the broken promises, the lies and deception “And the mayor he’s on vacation – gee he’s a wonderful skier”. Absolute perfection!
This great CD trilogy has unearthed 13 wonderful previously unissued gems, all surprisingly good. The two included here – both taken from the No Butterflies session – are beautiful ballads well worth acquiring. Forget The Girl has been superbly reconstructed and Randy Newman’s Just One Smile is also great, if a tad over-produced. Hats off to Tony Rounce, who not only put this series together but has been responsible for the re-issue of almost all Walter’s recorded work onto CD.
So here it is at last – volume three of this excellent Walter Jackson Okeh trilogy! If this CD does not convince you that Walter was one of the greatest and most soulful vocalists of all time, nothing will.
By Peter Burns