Greg T. Walker Recalls Blackfoot and Talks About the Here and Now
by Scott Greene
If you were choosing a rhythm section for a Southern Rock Hall of Fame band, Greg T. Walker would be first off the vine. His place in Southern music is set in stone and he will always be remembered as a member of the tightest rhythm sections in history. In this Gritz Exclusive, Greg shares with us what he thinks makes the "best revenge" and other thoughts from his seat as a founding member of one of the greatest bands to ever come out of the South. Greg T. Walker was one of the four childhood friends with a love for music who grew up to become the band "Blackfoot." Here he talks candidly about the life and choices of a musician.
Greg, tell us what made you decide to be a picker and did you always play the Bass?
Well, at age five my mom bought a ukulele and I could pick out a few cords - enough to make a melody on it. At five and a half, I started taking piano lessons and I just had a natural talent for music. I played saxophone in the school band and by age ten, three of the members who would go on to make up Blackfoot had a little band and were even playing gigs on the weekends for money at dances and Youth Centers.
Where did you grow up and meet the guys who would become Blackfoot?
Jacksonville. We all grew up in the same neighborhood. And played together in several different bands with different people.
Who was in the first band and what was it called?
Rickey (Medlocke), Jakson (Spires) and myself with some different people playing in the bands as we went along. The first band was called the "Rockin' Aces". We were always playing together in some form or fashion all through school and then when we graduated I put the band together that would become Blackfoot. Jakson brought Charlie (Hargrett) in and that's how Blackfoot got together: childhood friends who grew up with a love for playing music.
So what was the first song you ever wrote?
Rickey and I wrote a song called "Time is Wasted". We were 12 or so.
What about with Blackfoot? Who or how did the writing go in that band?
Well, we all wrote a lot but I have to say that the bulk of the writing was Jakson and Rickey But Jakson was and still is an awesome writer. It was hard because you would go to them with songs and only a very few would end up on the records because they wrote so many great songs. It was hard to compete with that. But Jakson and I wrote together for the whole time Blackfoot was together and several of the songs on my new CD are co-written by Jakson.
Tell me how you came up with the name Blackfoot.
Well, we were playing in New York under the name "Hammer" and there was another band going by that name so we had to find another one. So we decided that it would be something to do with Jakson's and my heritage and we settled on Blackfoot because it fit our heritage and it sounded bolder than Creex, Cherokee or Cheyenne
Tell us about your early days with the band Blackfoot. And didn't you spend some time with Skynyrd?
Well, we all grew up together and our paths crossed a lot. In the early days of both bands, we both played the same places. We were up in New Jersey and we had played ourselves out in the local scene and Ronnie called Rickey's mom to get our number because they needed a drummer. He was looking for Jakson. Rickey took the call and he told Ronnie, "I played the drums" so he and I rehearsed for a week and he went to Florida to join Skynyrd. I went to Florida and returned to New Jersey and six months later Rickey called me and said that Skynyrd needed a bass player. I said, "Give me 24 hours and I will be there." They were about to go into the first recording sessions in Muscle Shoals so I joined and we began to record and play some live shows. There are some songs on Skynyrd albums that are basically Blackfoot songs written by Jakson, Rickey and myself but Jakson and I were never given credit for them. I did not stay with them long as it was not what I felt like I wanted to do. I told Rickey I was going to get Jakson and Charlie and reform Blackfoot and he could join us or not without any hard feelings. We played together in different forms off and on. Rickey came back, then rejoined Skynyrd and we all went our separate ways for a short time. Charlie was playing with a band in North Carolina that needed a drummer so they called Jakson, then they needed a guitar player so they called Rickey and it ended up with three of four members of Blackfoot playing in a band so we decided to just reform and that's how we got back together.
Tell me about your memories of Ronnie Van Zant.
Ronnie was the best at what he did - that "southern boogie" - and he was so dedicated to what he did. We would rehearse 14 hours a day and there was no excuse for missing a note. He was a good friend and I guess the hunting, Fishing and hanging out together is what I remember the most.
What was the big break for Blackfoot?
Well, we called Jimmy Johnson and sent him a tape. He told us if we could get down to Muscle Shoals he would help us get something together. We went down there, and in a few days, we had cut 17 songs and blown Jimmy away with our sound. He had not done a lot of other rock stuff except Skynyrd to that point and he loved our hard sound and in a few months we had a deal with Island Records and we released "No Reservations". We went in and recorded another album and Island let their option go and so Epic picked it up and that was the "Flying High" album. We spent the next three years playing shows and working up new songs. We went back in and recorded our third album and got a deal with Atco and "Strikes" came out and that was the break we needed. It went gold in ten months and folks thought we were a brand new band but we were a ten-year overnight success.
How was it to be categorized as a "Southern Rock" band?
Well, we tried to fight it at first because we did not feel like our music fit the style of the other southern bands. We had a more British influence. And we were into stuff like Jeff Beck and Cream. It was funny to see when we would play their stuff live in clubs: folks thought it was ours because it was stuff they never heard from bands.
What kind of music do you listen to now?
I still like the old stuff and bands like Wish Bone Ash, Deep Purple and Whitesnake they are great players.
How, after 17 years, did you know the end was coming for Blackfoot?
(On) the next to last album we had added a key board player, Ken Hensley, and for a time we were a five piece band till Charlie left and we went back to a four piece. Ken quit on us towards the end of the next tour and I have never forgiven him for that. He just left and we never knew why. We picked up Bobby Barth from a band called "Axe" and we missed the first show and had to pick that up at the end of the next 12 nights of shows. We were slipping in album sales and the tensions were starting to flare. The tours were starting to get shorter and shorter and we knew something was up. Before a show in Ohio, Rickey came up and said, "We all need to talk after the show." We played and went back and Rickey layed it all out there, that he felt we should all just part. We had had a great run and it was time for a change. We went in a couple of months later and dissolved the company and shook hands. Rickey and Al Nalli told Jakson and myself to get some guys and go on as Blackfoot and we said, "No, it's finished" and we all agreed to not use the name Blackfoot again and in less than three months, Rickey was in the studio with a album half done as "Rickey Medlocke and Blackfoot" and I knew right then it had been planned a long time before we ever found out about it.
So have you spoken to Rickey since then?
Only twice I heard through a close personal friend that Rickey blames me for the breakup of Blackfoot and I don't know why. I heard his version and I don't remember it being anything like that. It had nothing to do with any single one of us.
Would you rejoin the band if it were to reform now?
Yes. I have spoken with Charlie and Jakson and they both would love it also. We have all kept playing and we would be better than we have ever been. I have seen so many others get back together after taking time off and their playing is not nearly as good as it was, but we would be different. We all play better now than we ever did. I would love the chance to tour this world with the original members of Blackfoot.
Did you not think of joining the Southern Rock All Stars when Charlie and Jakson were both in the band?
Well, that's kind of funny. Charlie had my number wrong by one number when that whole band was forming and he could not find me so they got someone else. And when I found out I told him he could have called the local sheriff and the town was so small he could have found me. I told him to keep me in mind if they ever needed someone and I went and sat in a few times when they were close (to where Greg lived).
Did you ever get the gig?
Yeah, a few years ago, Jakson called me and ask if I wanted in and I said, "Sure", but Charlie was gone and I played with them for a year or a year and a half. And helped record some of the tracks on their CD, but NDN was my passion and I left to pursue that.
Tell me about the daily life as an American Indian.
It's a special life that that goes deeper then blood, it's a state of mind. I believe everything is here for a reason. I have strong convictions about life itself, and reverence towards nature and the spirits within everything.
Let's hear about the new project you have now.
Well, it's all Native (American) rock and we are looking for a Native (American) drummer to complete the lineup. We sadly lost our drummer and are looking for the right one to fill the line up.
Any plans to tour?
Yes. We plan to do the Native venues and play throughout Indian country and mainstream halls.
Tell me about the new Warriors Pride CD.
It's a labor of love and it's something I am proud of and it has a lot of heart and soul. It contains songs that Jakson and I have written over the years and some material from Richard. Richard and I formed three companies and named it NDN Enterprises. We recorded this CD under that company name. We recorded it in Nashville and Richard and I produced it and it's doing real well for us. This year we were nominated for four nammy's (Native American music awards)
Tell us who is in the band now.
Well, Richard P Luciano and myself along with Gary J. Pallin. We are looking for a native drummer. That has us at a stand still for now but we have audition set and hopefully we will find the right one for this project. I wish Jakson was playing on this project and he will always be the drummer for this band but he has so much time invested in the All Stars and he has to see that through. This CD is doing well in Europe and I have been doing some good interviews for the music magazines in Europe and that's helping us to get the CD exposure it deserves. We've been ask to come over and promote the CD and are working the details out.
So what have you done for a living in the time since Blackfoot broke up?
I went to school and got a couple of degrees one in building construction and one in wildlife/ forestry conservation. It was my dream to learn how to build a house and I did that. I was an engineer on some bridge projects and worked in a submarine base. I have also done some studio work with different bands.
Wow, some of everything . . . it's great you have had success. Anything you want to tell the fans?
Just thanks for the support and for helping us live out a dream. We went from playing bars to stadiums and I always thought Îsuccess was the best form of revenge' against those who said we would never make it.