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 Wade Walton
 Wade Walton
January 10, 2000
Age 77 
 Intestinal Blockage 
 
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Editor's Pick: various artists: I Have to Paint My Face
 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
 
  Blues musician, barber Walton dead at 77
  
       THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
       CLARKSDALE - Wade Walton, who mixed a career as a blues musician with
      work as a barber, died Monday at a St. Louis hospital. Walton was 77.  ''He was
      with blues a long time, and he gave me my first haircut on credit when I was 16
      and in the eighth grade,'' said Melville Tillis, chairman of the Sunflower River Blues
      Association and owner of the Rivermount Lounge in Clarksdale. ''He used to come 
      down to my place and play with us. ''Funeral services for Walton have been 
      tentatively scheduled for Saturday at noon at Liberty Baptist Church in Lyon.  
      Walton had been a barber in Clarksdale since 1943.  During his music career, 
      he shared the stage with most of Clarksdale's other blues celebrities including 
      Muddy Waters, John  Lee Hooker and Ike Turner. In 1958 Walton recorded ''The
      Blues of Wade Walton: Shake 'em on Down.'' The album was widely distributed
      in Europe and earned him international attention.
            
       Walton was visiting his daughter during Christmas when he fell ill. He underwent
      surgery for an intestinal blockage and died at the hospital. 
      Walton was born one of 17 children at Lombardy near the state penitentiary at Parchman. 
      He was raised on the Lee Mays plantation. Although he heard prisoners play blues, he 
      said, he learned to play blues guitar from his brother, Hollis 'Honey' Walton.  In the 1940s, 
      he went to Memphis to the Lupkin Barber College where he learned his trade. 
      Moving to Clarksdale, he started barbering at the Big Six Barber Shop.  In 1972, 
      he opened his own barber shop. It had a small club in the rear. In 1990, he opened 
      a second barber shop with his son.   Walton was regular performer at the Sunflower
      River Blues and Gospel Festival.  Survivors include his wife, Rose; a son, a step-
      daughter and a sister. 
    
  
 
        
 
 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
 Born: Oct 10, 1923 in Lombardy, MS
 
      Wade Walton is a unique individual having spent his entire life in  
      Clarksdale, cutting hair and slapping out blues rhythms on his razor 
      strap. A barber for 55 years Wade has probably known more blues 
      performers and has performed for and with more blues performers 
      than anybody else around the Clarksdale area.  

      No trip to Clarksdale would be complete without a trip to Wade Walton's  
      barber shop.  Many a Blues fan has made the trip to sit in his chair and 
      listen to him talk about and perform the Blues. A great guitarist and harp  
      player in his own right he's also a mean barber so you get double your  
      money's worth.  

      Wade is a favorite performer at Blues Festivals and he brings along his 
      razor strap to show folks how it's done. 
        
      Copyright by Larry Heyl and Vivian Heyl, 1997  Delta Boogie 
        



      The following is taken from the liner notes of Shake 'Em on Down:  
        
      PARCHMAN FARM is a musical dramatization of a very real incident involving Wade, myself [Dave Mangurian], and Don Hill  a friend of mine from Pomona College.  During our summer vacation in 1958, Don and I traveled to the South to record folk  music and blues in the field.  We found Wade in Clarksdale and, while recording, we mentioned that we wanted to go down  to Parchman Farm State Penitentiary and try to record the prisoners singing their work songs.  Wade generously offered to  take the next day off from work and ride down with us, since he was familiar with Parchman from his childhood days. 
        
       Late the next morning we drove the 25 miles down Highway 49 to Parchman. We got a visitor's pass at the main gate and  drove down to the chaplain's house figuring he would know the prisoners better than anyone else and help us out.  The chaplain, however, was very uncooperative and sent us down to the administration building to wait for the educational  director to return from lunch. 
        
       We didn't wait long before a stocky man with a .38 on his side stormed in.  This was Mr. Harpole, a staunch segregationist it  turned out, who was then assistant warden and noted for his cruelty toward the convicts with his three foot leather strap.   He asked us a few questions, then turned on Wade saying, "Boy, if you knowed like I know, you'd be out of here runnin',"  and bluntly ordered Don and me to leave with the advice that we "should have known better than to come in here with a  nigger."  In disbelief at our harsh rejection, we left.  It was the first time Don and I had seen outward racial prejudice face to face. 
        
      The incident made a lasting impression on Wade who later made up this song, weaving together the events in a loose  rhyming story....What had happened was certainly not of any great scale of importance, but the hurt Wade suffered was deep.  He ends by saying "...we left Parchman Farm, didn't get no race relations done." 
        


       
      Blues Barber 

                                      Tucked away on Issaquena Avenue, a few blocks from the 
                                      Riverside, is Wade's Barber Shop, a one-chair pace run by Wade 
                                      Walton, blues barber.  

                                      Walton, who is 76, has been cutting hair and playing blues since 
                                      1943. His first shop, which also featured a bar, was on Fourth 
                                      Street. He moved to his present location in 1989.  

                                      Over the past 56 years, Walton has entertained and cut the hair of 
                                      many blues dignitaries. The walls of Walton's shop are covered 
                                      with signed photos from B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson, 
                                      Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Ike and Tina Turner -- even 
                                      Z.Z. Top.  

                                      ''Yeah, that Z.Z. Top come in here once,'' Turner said, nattily 
                                      attired in a bowtie and white barber's smock with his name on the 
                                      back. ''They kept eyeing me and strokin' them long beards. I think 
                                      they was worried.''  

                                      Walton is a bluesman in his own right. He took a harmonica out of 
                                      a drawer crammed with barber supplies and bent a few notes. He 
                                      didn't play long; he looked tired and frail.  

                                      He then turned on a cassette tape of him playing guitar with Big 
                                      Jack Johnson. Walton took out a straight razor and, striking a 
                                      leather strop, illustrated a source of rhythmic support as old as the 
                                      blues.  

                                      As he worked that strop, he danced, and the years seemed to fall 
                                      away.  

                                      Walton is proud of his musical heritage. He pointed with pride to a 
                                      photo of him playing for a group of Freedom Riders in the early 
                                      1960s. He opened a cabinet and pulled out a worn copy of Shake 
                                      'Em On Down: The Blues Of Wade Walton, an album he 
                                      recorded for Bluesville in 1958.  

                                      There was a time when Walton performed in many of the area's 
                                      juke joints. ''Didn't make no money, but we had a big time,'' he 
                                      said. ''We'd play, get a shot of whiskey, play some more, drink 
                                      some more, then go home before things got rough.''  

                                      These days, Walton performs for patrons only when the spirit 
                                      moves him -- and his spirit is moving mighty slow.  

                                      Walton's wife of 37 years is sick, and business isn't what it used to 
                                      be. Blues musicians don't come 'round much anymore. People 
                                      move on. Times change.  

                                      ''These young kids, they don't know nothing about making music 
                                      with no washboards, combs or razor strops,'' he said, looking up 
                                      with sad eyes. ''And they don't care. All that's dying with the 
                                      people who know it, and that's a shame.''  

                                      In Wade Walton's yard sits a sign. ''House for Sale. Moving to St. 
                                      Louis.'' By year's end, Wade's Barber Shop will close forever.  

                                      ''It's been nice,'' Walton said. ''But it's hell without money.'' Walton 
                                      extended his hand, and we headed to the parking lot.  

                                      Inside, Wade Walton sat in his barber chair, listening to his 
                                      recording of ''Leaving 4th Street,'' alone in the blues.  

                                      Sunday, Aug. 29: Ed Bumgardner and Chris English visit 
                                      Memphis, the city where cultures collided to create rock 'n' roll. 

                                      Published: August 22, 1999 in  Journal Now

 
 
  
 
 

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See Tracks: 
11. Rooster Blues - Wade Walton  
12. Barbershop Rhythm - Wade Walton
 
 
 
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