A Memorial to Russell "PeeWee" Walker 1932-2003
This edition of the newsletter is dedicated to the memory of Argel Russell (PeeWee) Walker who passed away in Lindale, Texas, on June 18, 2003, after a losing struggle with cancer. Pat, his wife of 47 years, 6 children, 19 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren survives him. He is perhaps best remembered for his association with Ray Price, the Gilmer contest, as an accomplished musician, and as PeeWee.
Born in De Kalb, on January 4, 1932, he was raised mainly in Texarkana, began his music with the piano at about age 3 or 4, started on the fiddle about the same time learning his first tune, "My Horses Ain't Hungry." Eventually he would master the violin, as well as the piano, guitar, mandolin, bass, and drums. He played his first paying "gig" at the Spot Club in Texarkana at about age 14. He met his wife Pat in 1955, they married in 1956, and she survives him. PeeWee served in the Armed Forces from 1956-1963 beginning with a tour of duty at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where he played drums in the army band and replaced Roger Miller as fiddler, in the Circle A Wranglers, the special services band at Ft. Benning. According to PeeWee, Miller was a much better songwriter than fiddler. His tour of duty included service in France where he continued in special services 1959-63. He formed a four-piece band playing at NCO clubs, but their popularity soon demanded appearances throughout France as well as other NATO and non-communist countries in Europe.
After the service, PeeWee continued with the fiddle but maintained a day job in the East Texas timber industry working in sawmills and related occupations. It was in a sawmill that he almost lost a finger. The story unfolds that in 1981 he pulled his right index finger through a v-belt pulley and it was nearly severed. The attending physician thought it a total loss but then decided to attempt a re-attachment. It was successful and after six months of therapy he regained full use and it was back to fiddling again.
His music experiences over the years have been quite extensive and include touring and recording with many different personalities and groups. He never recorded with Ray Price but is best remembered because of a lengthy professional association with Price. As a member of TOTFA, he competed in many contests and was a consistent winner. He often claimed that he had to struggle with Texas fiddling. He was not a hoedown fiddler and found difficulty in playing such tunes as "Beaumont Rag" and "Hell Among the Moonshiners." However, he had no problem with western swing. He was very frequently called upon to judge contests both in and out of the State.
The first time I met PeeWee was at a contest in Mountain View, Arkansas, about 10-15 years ago; and I had been on the stage accompanying Smokey Butler on the bass fiddle. It was at intermission and one of the judges would appear on the stage and entertain. I was in the process of vacating with my bass and before I could exit, PeeWee caught me and said "You stay!" He played the "Beaumont Rag" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" and that was no problem. But when he played that gawdawful chord crazy "La Golandrina." I blanched and faded.
In his later life, PeeWee limited has range to Northeast Texas and was involved with organizing and directing a Saturday night Opry-type show at the Cotton Pickin' Theater in Point, Texas.
He played the fiddle by ear and continued to learn by listening to others. Among his Texas fiddling favorites are Dale Morris, Randy Elmore, Wes Westmoreland, Danita Rast, Mark O'Conner, and Carl and Tonya Hopkins.
Pee Wee enjoyed listening to Jazz fiddling such as that by Stephan Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. His all-around favorite tune was Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." That shouldn't come as a surprise. I remember when some time ago, at a contest in Hallettsville, MC Harvey Norris requested "Stardust" be played by Terry Morris. PeeWee had serious reservations about Hip and Rap but was most tolerant of all other musical genres.
PeeWee is also remembered as the director of the Annual Gilmer Yamboree fiddlers' contest, about a 25-year affiliation. That contest by the way will continue and will be directed and organized by his wife Pat. Other than being an excellent musician, he was very much a gentleman, a good friend and he was PeeWee, RIP.