Saturday, February 2, 2013

BUNKER HILL - THE GIRL CAN'T DANCE

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!

Yep, that's how this record really starts, and it just gets wilder from there. This is one of the ALL-TIME get-your-ass-out-on-the-dance-floor-and-stomp 45s, the true missing link between Little Richard and The Sonics. Best part is, Bunker Hill never even TRIED to follow this up, keeping his rockin' rep completely intact.

Of course, Bunker Hill isn't the real name of the performer who did this. It's David Walker, born on May 5, 1941. Walker was raised in the Washington, D. C. area, and soon gravitated to singing gospel. He joined the Sensational Wonders in the late 1950s and the group changed their name to the more famous Mighty Clouds Of Joy.

But like a lot of other gospel performers of that era, there was another side to Walker. While singing the praises of God on the stage, off stage he was beating the holy hell out of some of His subjects as a heavyweight boxer (compiling an 18-7 record) and working part-time as Archie Moore's sparring partner.

Then David Walker, gospel singer, met the Devil.

Not literally, but close. Sometime in early 1962 Walker met writer/producer Vernon Wray, who had made several records under the name Ray Vernon in the 1950s. Vernon quickly introduced David Walker to his brother - Link Wray. Link had an idea - why not do a reverse Little Richard? Since Richard had given up rock and roll for the ministry, why not have David give up the ministry for rock and roll? So in mid-1962, David Walker, backed by Link Wray and his Raymen at Link's Three Track Shack recording studio in the hills of Maryland, recorded five of the wildest songs in rock and roll history - "Red Ridin' Hood And The Wolf", "Nobody Knows", "You Can't Make Me Doubt My Baby", "The Girl Can't Dance" and "Hide And Go Seek".

Vernon got the group a deal with Larry Uttal's Mala label, but when it came time to put the records out, David Walker balked. See, he didn't want his name on the records, lest he suffer the backlash in the gospel community that Sam Cooke had gone through when he went secular back in 1957. So ol' Vern came up with the name Bunker Hill (after the even more ridiculous name of Four H. Stamp was rejected) and Mala pressed up "Hide And Go Seek" (split into two parts) as a single.

The record started to get heavy airplay in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Seattle, Houston - pretty much everywhere except New York and Los Angeles (which is probably why it only hit #33 on the pop charts and #27 R&B, despite the fact that it hit Top Ten in many of the cities mentioned above). Bunker Hill was a national rage, and decided to take a break from the gospel world and tour with Link and his Raymen to promote "Hide And Go Seek".

But Bunker Hill soon learned a lesson of the capriciousness of the music business. In late 1962 Mala released "Red Ridin' Hood And The Wolf" as the follow-up 45, and it promptly flopped. Larry Uttal and Mala lost interest, and Bunker Hill decided to go back to the Mighty Clouds Of Joy.

Almost a year later, in August, 1963, Mala decided to take the two remaining Bunker Hill tracks they had and put them out as the 45 shown above. They literally threw it out on the market, with hardly any promotion (though it did get a review in Billboard in mid-September, with the mag giving the hit pick to the B-side, the gospelly "You Can't Make Me Doubt My Baby". Billboard was usually wrong about these things), and that's why it's so hard to find original copies of "The Girl Can't Dance" today. Last I checked with popsike.com, original copies on Mala go for between 200-300 bucks, and even the repros go for 30-50 smackers (which makes NO sense, since Norton reissued the track on 45 in 2009)! I got mine at the legendary Allentown record show for 10 bucks - screw you, eButt!

Out of the five songs recorded by Bunker and Link in that Maryland shack, "The Girl Can't Dance" was EASILY the wildest. Link's descending guitar riff (which runs through the whole song, and even serves as the guitar "solo"!!), Bunker's vocals which sound like the microphone was IN his mouth, and the killer drums of Link's other brother Doug Wray all make "The Girl Can't Dance" one of the GREATEST rock and roll records in history! Unfortunately for Bunker, 1963 radio wasn't touching it. Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, and cute novelties all dominated the airwaves that year (though the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" managed to get on the air, but that record truly exists in another dimension).

No one really knows what happened to David Walker/Bunker Hill. After bouncing in and out of the Mighty Clouds Of Joy for a few years, he left the gospel world for good in the late 1960s. Some sources say he died in the early 1980s, some say he's still around, living in Washington D. C.

Either way, he will never be forgotten by those who like their rock and roll RAW.

Bunker Hill - The Girl Can't Dance (Mala 464) - 1963

2 comments:

  1. Proves that great raw rock n roll was being made in the early 60s. Pity the Beatles wiped it out but at least we have this beautiful remnant of a forgotten era.

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  2. truly a gem. few songs make me want to move like this. if you can't tap yer foot to Bunker Hill, you need to see a podiatrist.

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