Wade Walton

Wade Walton - Clarksdale

One of Clarksdale’s most talented and renowned blues musicians, Wade Walton (1923-2000) chose to pursue a career as a barber rather than as a professional entertainer. Walton never lost his love for blues, however, and often performed for customers and tourists at his barbershops, including the one he operated at this site from 1990 to 1999. Walton, a popular and respected local figure and a charter member of the city’s NAACP chapter, was inducted into the Clarksdale Hall of Fame in 1989.

Wade Walton’s contributions to the blues extended well beyond the music he made playing harmonica and guitar and slapping out rhythms with a straight razor and razor strop. Blues enthusiasts, researchers, and musicians called on him at his barbershops for information and introductions, and Walton often escorted visitors around the area. Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, and Ike Turner (whom Walton claimed as a protege) all had their hair cut at Wade’s.

Born October 10, 1923, or possibly earlier by some accounts, on Lee May’s plantation in Lombardy, Mississippi, Walton was raised on the Goldfield plantation near the state penitentiary at Parchman. His brother Hollis played guitar, sometimes alongside Tony Hollins, an influential Delta bluesman who also worked as a barber; another brother, Frank, blew jug and danced, and Wade soon joined them on guitar. Walton began his barbering career in the 1940s and worked at the Arnold Brothers and Big 6 shops in Clarksdale before starting his own business, a combination barbershop and lounge, at 304 4th Street in the early 1970s. Walton came to the attention of the international blues community after two California college students in search of folk and blues musicians, Dave Mangurian and Don Hill, visited him in 1958. Walton went with the pair to Parchman, where their request to record prisoners’ songs garnered a hostile rebuff and became the topic of a song Walton composed after the encounter. On a return trip in 1961, the students were jailed, but after concluding that they were indeed in town to record blues, not to agitate for civil rights, a State Sovereignty Commission investigator dismissed them as “crackpots.” They then traveled with Walton to New Jersey for the recording of his album for Bluesville Records, Shake ‘Em On Down.

In 1960 producer Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records and British author Paul Oliver recorded Walton and guitarist Robert Curtis Smith at the Big 6. Smith also recorded an impressive LP for Bluesville, Clarksdale Blues, in 1961. Walton saw little financial return from his records, reinforcing his decision to remain a barber. Even more disheartening was an ill-fated expansion in 1989 into the nightclub business, which quickly ended in disaster. Walton lost both his shop and the adjoining club, and recorded a song about the incident, “Leaving 4th Street,” in 1990. After reopening on Issaquena Avenue, Walton was often joined by his son Kenneth Lackey, who operated Lackey’s Entertainment, a “musical catering service.” Another son, Luther Lackey, gained fame as a singer on the southern soul circuit after recording a country & western debut album. The Lackey brothers also sang gospel with their mother, Dotsie “Dorothy” Lackey. Wade Walton died in St. Louis on January 10, 2000, and is buried at McLaurin Gardens Cemetery in Lyon, Mississippi.

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