Ronnie Walker was living in North Philadelphia when he was asked, by a girlfriend to sing over the phone to a prospective producer and manager of Impact studio manager Phil Gaber. Gaber was impressed enough to invite the young 15 year old into the studio and it was in these early sessions that Walker would hook up with Glenn Williams and the pair started writing songs together. Within a short time they had written ‘Trouble’ for The Agents having recorded the song initially on Walker as a demo, (That version stayed in the can until it gained a release over 30 years later due to demand in UK on an Impact lookalike label #I-101 in 2004) and Walker had released his first recording by 1966, Ronnie Walker – “I’m Saying Goodbye b/w My Baby Doesn’t Love Me Anymore” – Bell 651. The sweet sound of Ronnie’s strong young teenage voice is matched equally by a pitch perfect, almost gossamer like quality as he laments his heartbreak in this lilting ballad.
Mr Walker was out of the blocks and off and running with this magnificent debut single. His follow up release, in 1967, backed by Glenn Williams’ band, vocal support being provided the The Agents and with production credited to Gaber and the WHAT manager George Wilson, Ronnie Walker – “Really Really Love You b/w Ain’t It Funny” – Phillips 40470, was another sweet, heart-wrenching ballad that fully deserved its success in penetrating the Top 10 locally and achieving a national Top 100 placing. The flip is a simple tortured ballad led by of all things an organ.
Sometimes less is more and in this case Ronnie proves that maxim as he delivers a note perfect sad lamentation about what a little love can do. In the same year Ronnie released Ronnie Walker – “You’re The One b/w Thanks To You” – Phillips 40501. Ronnie Walker - Youre The One 45 A departure from the ballads of previous release this Walker/Williams penned dancer highlights Ronnie’sRonnie Walker - Its A Good Feeling - Nico ability to cross over into dance music whilst maintaining that crystal clear diction and pitch that was becoming his vocal signature. The song became a hugely popular 45 with UK DJs on the Northern soul scene as is regarded as a great example of emerging ‘Philly’ sound. His next release was the 1969 outing, Ronnie Walker – “It’s A Good Feeling b/w Precious” – Nico 1000, the A Side of which is a Holland Dozier Holland song originally recorded by The Miracles on their Make It Happen album. Ronnie’s take on the song isn’t really that much different vocally than Smokey’s efforts. Not surprising considering they shared the same high tenor almost falsetto vocal range. The flip is a self-penned return to the sweet mid tempo, almost ballad style that Ronnie was so effective with. The record picked up a distribution deal with ABC records and was subsequently released on their imprint with the Precious song as the plug sides as Ronnie Walker – “Precious b/w It’s Good Feeling” – ABC 11215.
Precious also received a third release on the local label as Vent By 1970, Ronnie was still searching for that commercial breakthrough that would reward his performances, collaborated with another Philly icon Vince Montana, and with a slight change of name recorded and released a collaboration of theirs that Phil Gaber produced on the flip of, Fletcher Walker III – “Didn’t We b/w I Guess I’ll Never Understand” – Paramount 0065 the A Side being a Jim Webb, that prolific 60s songwriting juggernaut, penned stone classic of the era that many artists had previously recorded including, Jackie Wilson, Thelma Houston and The Supremes.
Phil Gaber’s Gala label was the next imprint to release Ronnie’s recordings although none of them were recorded at Impact Studios but across the river in Camden at Mod Sounds Studios with legendary producer Morris Bailey at the control desk. Although four songs were recorded only one double sider saw a commercial release, this being Ronnie Walker – “In Search Of Love b/w Now There Is You” – Gala 5202. The remaining songs were “Someday” and “This Is My Prayer”, both of which remained unreleased until they appeared on a Philly Archives CD of Ronnie Walker’s work in addition to eight other unreleased recordings, in Oct 2000.
It was Walker’s collaboration with Montana that led to his next couple of releases, both of which were joint writing projects and gained plays on UK dance-floors. The first one, which was released in 1974, Ronnie Walker – “You’ve Got To Try Harder b/w No One Else Will Do” – Event 220 is probably the most famous of Mr Walker’s records as far as dancers are concerned, it’s a great mid=tempo dance affair, opening with a psychedelic ‘slide’ before the 70s almost disco beat leads Ronnie’s beautifully sweet vocal spends the next two and a half minutes encouraging the listener to ‘try harder’ in times of strife.
There is also a backing female voice that soars towards the final verses that brings a great atmospheric finale to what is a great song. The flip is another MRonnie Walker - You've Got To Try Harder - Eventontana/Walker composition and is in a similar vein but isn’t quite as infectious. The second Event release being Ronnie Walker – “Magic’s In The Air b/w Just Can’t Say Hello” – Event 225 which paired another couple of collaborations that the guys both wrote and produced. The A Side is an upbeat, infectious piece of Philly soulful disco whilst the flip is a return to the sweet ballad genre. Both sides clearly demonstrate that Ronnie Walker’s vocal performance had not only stayed maintained its quality but arguably had actually improved.
Both the Event singles had good sales in and around the New York area but just fell short of that sought after breakout that would have launched in to national recognition. Its one of the great Philly musical travesties that Ronnie Walker remained something of an unsung hero of the industry, his records testify that as is often the case, great records sometimes do slip under the radar of mainstream record collectors.
Amongst Ronnie’s legacy there are also a number of other top quality recordings that didn’t receive a contemporaneous release but can be found on both vinyl and/or CD format. Ronnie Walker –“On and On b/w On and On (Instrumental) – Impact is a great version of the Artistics song first released on their “I’m Gonna Miss You” – Brunswick 54123 LP in 1967. Jointly produced by Gaber and Bobby Eli, its features Ronnie’s vocal on one side and the instrumental on the other and was specifically manufactured for Ronnie’s UK tour of soul venues in 2009. He also recorded a fantastic dance version of “Can You Love A Poor Boy”, another song originally written by Motown stalwarts Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder and initially recorded by The Miracles for their Smokey Robinson and The Miracles – Away We A Go Go – Tamla 271 LP.
Ronnie and Vince also wrote both sides of the anthemic 70s soul outing Brown Sugar – “The Game Is Over b/w Going Through Changes” – Capitol 4198. When looked at in comparison to other contributors to the city’s musical heritage the legacy of Ronnie Walker may not be at the front of most of Philadelphia’s music officianados but it certainly ranks up with the best and any self-respecting soul music collector would be able to pull out a Ronnie Walker track at the drop of a hat.
Special thanks to Chris Burton and Dave More
The soul-legends website was designed by Phil Taylor