The Sun Never Sets On British Quartets…

…Even if, as in the case of The British Walkers, they weren’t actually British. The British Walkers were, however, a kickass combination of The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks fronted by a tall, lanky hellraiser named Bobby Howard. Bobby Poe aka The Poe Kat and Mitch Corday guided the local D.C. group’s career from 1964 until they broke up in 1968. Their debut single was a remarkably polished effort on Try Records entitled “I Found You” and was co-written/co-produced by Bobby Howard and lead guitarist Roy Buchanan. Roy had started the song years before as a love song to his wife. The B-side, a remake of the Bo Diddley classic “Diddley Daddy”, was also co-produced by Bobby Howard and Roy Buchanan.

Roy Buchanan went on to become a Washington, D.C. area legend. He was greatly renowned for his blues guitar prowess and the story goes that he was asked to replace Brian Jones in The Rolling Stones. Roy wasn’t in The British Walkers for long and Bobby Poe relates the saga of how several times when Roy couldn’t be found for a gig, he would run by his house only to find that Roy was locked up in the closet. Tragically, later in his career Roy hung himself in his jail cell after being arrested for public intoxication - at least, that is the “official” version of Roy’s death. Serious bruises to Roy’s head were never explained and it’s been documented that Roy was beaten about the head by the local police before. In any event, by the time of his death in 1988, Roy’s stature as one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time was firmly established. Fifteen years later, in 2003, Rolling Stone proclaimed Roy one of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time”, coming in at number 57.

Another prominent member of The British Walkers was John Hall, who joined the band briefly in 1967 towards the end of their career. John soon gained fame and fortune by co-writing the song “Half Moon” (with his then wife Johanna Schier) for Janis Joplin. A guiding force behind the “No Nukes” concert in the 1970’s, John later was the leader of the highly successful group Orleans and has had an extended solo career. John continues to tour to this day…or at least he did. John was elected Congressman for New York’s 19th district in 2006 and assumed office in January of 2007!

As for Bobby Howard, he became upset when he found out that Bobby Poe and Mitch Corday had trademarked the name The British Walkers. He didn’t like the idea that if he quit the band, the name would go on. So he did quit the band in 1967 and the name did go on, with John Hall and many others going in and out of the band. Mitch Corday even went to England to recruit a couple of actual Brits for the group (including guitarist Geoff Richardson of UK band The Attack), but it wasn’t the same and everyone had to admit that the group’s days were numbered.

In 1966, before the inevitable demise of the band, Bobby Howard recorded a “solo” single with the current crop of British Walkers at the time (Jimmy Carter/guitar, Jack Brooks/bass and Steve Lacey/drums) backing him. That single eventually attained cult status in the UK. Under the name of Mr. Dynamite, Bobby and the band recorded “Sh’ Mon”, a track that could very easily be mistaken for a Soul music workout by James Brown. The late, great Jazz musician and Howard Theater Band Leader Charlie Hampton (pictured here) did the song’s arranging and conducting - the horns on the track (especially the saxophone) bear his unmistakable stamp.

“Sh’ Mon” was released by Sue Records in the UK and commands a premium price by collectors. In the U.S., “Sh’ Mon” was the one and only release on Soultime Records, a label Bobby Poe started for the occasion. The Poe Kat relates the humorous tale back then of how he took the single over to his good friend, legendary D.C. area D.J. Barry Richards, asking him NOT to mention that the single was by Bobby Howard, so as to keep the illusion alive that Mr. Dynamite was a funky new phenomenon. As The Poe Kat started to drive away from Barry’s radio station, his delight in hearing Barry play the new song on his car radio turned extremely sour when Barry announced that everyone had just heard the new single by…BOBBY HOWARD!

In their short lifetime, The British Walkers recorded some fantastic singles. These included the aforementioned “I Found You” b/w “Diddley Daddy”, a remake of “The Girl Can’t Help It” b/w “Lonely Lover’s Poem”, the Stones-like harmonica rocker “Watch Yourself” (co-written by Bobby Howard and Link Wray) b/w “Bad Lightnin’” and their one chart record, the incendiary “Shake” b/w “That Was Yesterday”.

Originally written and recorded by Sam Cooke, “Shake” featured Tom and Charlie Willett (pictured here, who performed together as The Willett Brothers and were previously in the local D.C. band The Newports) tearing up the vocals. Bobby Howard’s vocals had been removed from the single when he quit the band during an argument with management over The British Walkers name. B-side “That Was Yesterday” was written by Frank Dillon and Vernon Sandusky of The Chartbusters and was a great track on its own. The Poe Kat, Vernon Sandusky and Mitch Corday produced “Shake” and The Chartbusters were the backing band on the track. By this time The British Walkers were a band in name only and primarily existed to fulfill still plentiful concert commitments.

Nonetheless, “Shake” was released on the Cameo Parkway label and was on its way to becoming a bona-fide hit, getting huge Major Market airplay at radio stations such as WMCA in New York and WRKO in Boston, as well as hitting the Top 10 at WPGC locally. In fact, as the single climbed the national charts, The British Walkers Shoe Company was going to offer the band big bucks if the single entered the Billboard Top 10. But then two things happened. Otis Redding released a great version of “Shake” sparking a cover battle, and the new owner of Cameo Parkway pulled the plug on the entire label, killing the shoe deal with it.

The new owner was Allen Klein and when he bought the label there was talk his clients The Rolling Stones would record for Cameo Parkway. That rumour drove the stock price way up and a tidy profit was made. But in effect, the label was shut down for good, only to be resurrected in 1969 (without any of the Cameo Parkway artist roster) as ABKCO Records. Between its start in 1957 and its ignominious end in 1967, Cameo Parkway had placed 134 songs in the Billboard Top 100, including hits by Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, Question Mark And The Mysterians and The Ohio Express. Making for a nice sense of closure, in the Spring of 2005 Allen Klein finally made peace with many of the label’s artists and released an extensive box-set of the hits of the Cameo Parkway era.

Edited by britishwalkers on 28 Jul 2009, 04:46

Sources

The British Walkers’ MySpace.

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