The Grand Ole Opry's fans and members, and indeed all of country music, are in mourning at the news of the death of Charlie Walker. Walker died Friday (9/12). Newspaper reports state he had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer.
Charlie Walker, like a number of other country music performers (Bill Anderson, Wayne Raney, Jim Reeves) began as a disc jockey and graduated to being one of the performers whose records were played on radio stations across the country. He had one single on Decca, "Only You, Only You," in 1956 before moving to Columbia where he scored his biggest hits. The highlight of his career was his 1958 recording of a Harlan Howard song, "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down." The song went to #2 on the Billboard country charts for a month and established Walker as a star in the Texas-based honky tonk country music. Other hits included "Who Will Buy the Wine," "Wild as a Wildcat," "Close All the Honky Tonks," and his last top ten record, 1967's "Don't Squeeze My Sharmon" (a take-off on the Charmin toilet paper commercials that featured Mr. Whipple pleading with people not to squeeze the Charmin). The B-side of "Sharmon" was an outstanding Bill Anderson composition, "You Lied to Me," which was later covered by Tracy Byrd.
Walker spent 41 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry, where he would perform his hits as well as other country classics. A favorite cover of his was Tex Williams' "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," which Walker introduced as "the first rap hit -- in 1946."
Walker began his career as a disc jockey in the early 1950s in San Antonio, Texas. His popularity in the profession earned him induction into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1981. While working as a DJ he recorded on local labels, including the song "Tell Her Lies and Feed Her Candy" (later recorded by Porter Wagoner).
Walker's local success netted him a brief stint on Decca Records before he signed to Columbia (and later a Columbia subsidiary label, Epic). His trademark was the traditional hard-driving Texas honky-tonk sound, frequently punctuated by humorous songs (such as the aformentioned "Don't Squeeze My Sharmon" and "I Wouldn't Take Her to a Dogfight"). His last charted record came in 1974.
Walker landed the role of Hawkshaw Hawkins in the mid-80s film about the life of Patsy Cline, Sweet Dreams. He also appeared in some of the low-budget country music films of the mid-60s.
Charlie Walker was 81.