A major hit from Junior made its blew onto the scene this day in 1969. That was Junior Walker & the All Stars sax-happy “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)?”. The single represented quite a comeback for Junior, who’d scored a major hit five years prior with “Shotgun”, a song which has lived on to this day in numerous commercials and movies. It solidified Walker’s reputation as one of the best sax-men in the business and helped usher in the widespread use of horns in pop or rock songs.
“Junior” was born Autry Mixon, in rural Arkansas in 1931. He seemed to get to music rather late in life, at least in a professional way, forming a band called the Jumping Jerks around the beginning of the ’60s. At some point, a fan jumped on stage with them and declared “these guys are all stars!” Junior agreed and decided that would be a better name for the group. Apparently Berry Gordy agreed as well; soon after the Motown mogul signed them to Soul Records, a subsidiary of Motown. Walker’s prominent tenor sax differentiated them from most of the other Motown acts of the day, and made them (in the words of Britain’s Independent) “Motown’s answer to Stax’s Booker T & the MGs.” They had good success off the bat with “Shotgun” and were a major presence on R&B radio stations and charts in subsequent years but had only minor mainstream success until this.
The song was written by Motown staffers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, who also produced the record. It would have been a mere “hurtin’ unrequited love song” were it not for Junior’s impassioned pleading voice – he was one of the rare sax players who also sang lead – and of course, the sax that could rival the best horns Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears could have thrown at you in the day. It’s 35-second sax solo intro was like nothing else on air at the time. Which perhaps was why Gordy balked at releasing it as a single.
However, radio DJs found it buried on the Home Cookin’ LP and began playing it, and eventually Motown relented and put it out as a single. A smart move, as it would revitalize the All Stars career and become a gold seller. It got to #4 in the States, topping R&B charts, and made the top 20 in the UK and Canada as well. It was nominated for the very first Best R&B Performance Grammy Award, losing out to the less-remembered King Curtis.
Clarence Clemons later said this was one of the most influential records to him and his playing, and it also found fans in the guys in Foreigner. They liked his playing so much, they wrote a sax part specifically for him on their song “Urgent.” Meanwhile, also in the the ’80s, easy-listening sensation Kenny G re-recorded it and made it a minor hit.
Walker never had as big a hit again, and passed away in 1995 from cancer.