Johnny Big Moose Walker
Johnny Walker--Big Moose, Busy Head, Moose John, J. W. Walker--by whatever name he was called him, he was Chicago’s irrepressible wild man of blues piano. He wore a splendid smile and long, wavy hair; in his briefcase he carried a gorilla mask and a “Big Moose” jersey. Just as musicians and audiences enjoyed Moose’s antics, they also admired the exuberant, two-fisted blues he played. He’s worked alongside the best in the business and rambled from coast to coast.
John Mayon Walker’s story was colorful from the start. He was born June 27, 1927, in Stoneville, Mississippi, but the way Moose told it, “I was really born in a graveyard, playing with the tombstones.” Indian blood and long flowing hair ran in the family. He picked up the nickname Moose as a youngster hanging around the pool hall in Greenville, Mississippi. “I wore my hair so long maybe I looked like a moose, I don’t know. I asked the guys, ‘Why you call me Moose?’ They said, ‘Well, that’s the only thing that fit for you.’”
Moose made his first music on an old church organ. He played guitar in the cotton fields, took tuba lessons and once had visions of becoming a famous blues vibes player. During the ‘50s he became known as a pianist and bass player as he roamed through the Delta and beyond. He played with many local Greenville bluesmen, joined Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm in Clarksdale and sat in with the King Biscuit Boys in Helena, Arkansas. He worked the Mississippi juke joints with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson. He switched to guitar for gigs with Boyd Gilmore in Arkansas and with pianist Eddie Snow in Cairo, Illinois. He lived with bandleader Tuff Green in Memphis and with pianist Pinetop Perkins in East St. Louis. He got to do some shows with Lowell Fulson when Fulson’s bandleader, Choker Campbell, hired Moose to drive the group around the country. He traveled even more extensively with the roadmaster of the blues, Earl Hooker. During the drunken party in St. Louis, he won a $50 dollar bet with Ike Turner by jumping off the third floor of a building. (It was just enough to cover the hospital bill.) And he joined the army and went to Korea.
He did some recording in the ‘50s too. His first studio date was with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson, for Trumpet Records in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1955 Ike Turner taped Moose in a Greenville club; two of those sides, credited to J.W Walker, appeared years later on the Kent Label. He appeared with Earl Hooker on Johnny Otis talent show in Los Angeles and cut his first 45, as Moose John, for Otis’ Ultra label, also in 1955.Read more