In October 2014, Mike Reilly, Matt Bockelman, and I had the privilege of spending some time with the Walker Family in Como, MI. The experience is something that we will never forget, and we are truly grateful to the Walkers for allowing us into their home. This episode is dedicated to some of the most moving singing I have ever witnessed.
Mike Reilly's liner notes for the record that he is working on says it best-
In a perfect world of my own construction, I would possess a very pleasant singing voice and a giant repertoire of old songs committed to memory from which I could draw upon everyday to sing with my family as we spend time together. I fantasize about this scenario because I've had the rare good fortune of listening and recording The Walker Family doing just that and the experience is transcendent. The elder Raymond and Joella sing with three of four of their daughters and two sons sitting around their living room in Como, Mississippi. The songs have to be gently coaxed out though and only when the situation is right. They seem to reveal themselves like ancestors invoked by sacred chants, one awakening another and each one deeper than the last. In a world dominated by electronic music there is no electricity needed here. It’s oddly comforting to me to know that if the lights ever go out...if I can get to Panola County, Mississippi at least I’ll be surrounded by good music as the roaming marauders of armageddon encroach.
Everyone in Como knows of the Walker Family. The Walker men have all been preachers for many generations back in Panola County and their singing talent is legendary. People talk reverently about Raymond’s uncanny ability to work a crowd into an ecstatic frenzy. He is 81 now and isn’t able to move around like he used to but is still capable of igniting a congregation. He says it’s possible because it is not him doing it but rather the lord working through him. He has taught all his children the same thing regarding their musical abilities; that it’s God using them as a vessel. This makes the whole clan a very soft spoken and humble group. But they are also, one can sense by spending time with them, quietly confident and fiercely proud of their legacy. Robert, Bobby, Aberta, Delouse, and Patricia all say that they knew they came from a famously musical family. In fact Raymond Walker was courted by both Fred McDowell and Sam Cooke. Each asked him to sing behind them on tour. Fred McDowell supposedly offered to write Raymond a $1200 check on the spot if he’d agree to travel with him. That was a real significant sum of money in the early 1960s. When he respectfully declined on account of his family needing him at home Fred increased the bid to $1300 but Brother Walker said he couldn’t oblige unless Fred would sing gospel. Fred didn’t swing that way and I suspect there’s a lot of country blues fans out there who are pretty happy he didn’t.
Faith is very strong in the Walker family. It’s the ground from which all the music comes as Robert tells me. It wouldn’t make sense to have music without faith and music is only useful as a tool to deepen that faith and to glorify God. I told Robert and his brother Bobby who are both preachers that in all honestly I am not very religious and am mostly just interested in the music; they shot me a look so we left it there. But the more time you spend in Como the more you want to be a part of whatever it is the singers there are into