We want the neo-funk

Charles Walker Band gets groovy at Trolley

By Katie Christoff

Jazz, funk, soul, R&B—the Charles Walker Band has done it all. Since Charles Walker started the band over 12 years ago in Milwaukee, he’s had a variety of musical influences and styles.

Walker is the only original band member, and he says that has had a great influence on the evolution of the band’s sound.

“When I started this band, we were doing all blues,” Walker says, during a recent phone interview with Dayton City Paper. “We had different influences then—now, we don’t play much blues. It’s mostly soul, R&B, and funk.”

But the band’s story really starts much earlier than that.

Walker recounted his memories of fifth grade music classes, where students would do little more than sing. Despite the simplicity of these classes, Walker remembers the first time he encountered jazz instruments and the immediate inspiration he felt.

“I remember when the trombone player came in, he slid up and down and that’s what I wanted to play,” Walker says. “I told my music teacher, and she said she just had this weird hunch that she wanted me to try the saxophone—that’s what got me started.”

She was right—Walker quickly picked up the saxophone and started playing. He went to college at University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, where he studied music, and began his first band.

“One of the requirements in the music program was to put together little combos—I put together jazz combos,” Walker says. “This was back in the late ’90s when neo-swing was going on, and I was like, ‘I should catch a piece of that—we could get way more of that.’”

Walker put together a neo-swing band, and they were together throughout college. After graduation, everyone went their separate ways. That was when Walker moved to Milwaukee and began the Charles Walker Band.

Since then, band-mates and musical styles have changed, but Walker’s values remain the same. He’s committed to writing positive lyrics, and putting on a show.

“What sets our show apart is that we don’t just stand up there and play music—but we put on a full show, so its fun and exciting to watch,” Walker says. “We get the crowd involved.”

And they’ve warmed up some large crowds—the Charles Walker Band has opened for Earth, Wind & Fire, Aaron Neville, Robert Cray and BB King, to name a few.

“It was amazing, and such a privilege to play with such legendary musicians that paved the way for music today,” Walker says. “It was great to stand on the same stage as those bands.”

Walker named Earth, Wind & Fire as one of his greatest musical influences, in addition to Stevie Wonder and Prince.

Throughout his long career in music, he’s written and released eight albums with the Charles Walker Band. Though Walker writes all his own music, the band will play some covers during a four-hour set at the Trolley Stop on Friday.

“We could play four hours of original music, but there’d be a lot of blues, and we don’t play a lot of blues anymore,” Walker says.

He named some of their most popular covers: “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk, “We Want the Funk” by Parliament and, less predictably, “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, which is also recorded on the band’s latest EP.

Walker says his favorite album to play live is the latest, Ghetto Prophet, because it’s most representative of his musical evolution.

“It’s been a learning process and evolutionary,” Walker says of his long career. “As a band leader, if you’re open and willing to listen, you’ll always be able to grow and be pushed to grow. So over the years it’s been playing with great musicians, great ideas, and that took us in different directions. Everyone wanted to expand and grow and change.”

Current band members include Walker, Porsche Carmon on vocals, Nathan P on guitar, Brian Kennedy on bass and Josh McHatten on drums.

They play a lot of Midwest shows, and have been playing in Dayton for four years now. Walker says their first time in Dayton was at the Trolley Stop, and they’re excited to return.

The Charles Walker Band will perform on Friday, March 4 at the Trolley Stop, 530 E. Fifth St. The show begins at 9 p.m. For more information, please visit walkerband.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Christoff at KatieChristoff@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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