When Jr. Walker and the All Stars joined Motown, they did so in their signature style—boldly and confidently. The group consisted of Junior Walker on lead vocals and saxophone, Jimmy Graves on drums, Victor Thomas on keyboards, and Willie Woods on guitar. Originally signed to Anna Records, a label owned by Gwen Gordy and Harvey Fuqua, the group was slowly but surely gaining popularity. After the label was sold to Motown, and Fuqua became head of Artist Development, Berry Gordy called the group to ask if they would officially sign to the newly created Soul label in 1964. They joined Motown on the road, performing original songs and playing behind other Motown artists. One day, at a show in Battle Creek, Michigan, Junior Walker saw a group of teenagers doing an unfamiliar dance. When he asked what the dance was called, they told him, “the Shotgun!” Inspired, he gathered the All Stars to write what would become their most celebrated single, “Shotgun!”
Jr. Walker and the All Stars hurried back to Detroit to record “Shotgun!” However, there was a problem. The singer they hired never showed. Berry Gordy decided Junior would sing the vocals (so as not to waste the session), promising to later have another singer dub over it. Walker was hesitant but, in his words, he went up to the mic and “hollered” the song. Impressed by his skills, Berry Gordy kept Walker’s vocals. That first bellow of “Shotgun!” became iconic, and the song rose to the top of the US R&B charts in 1965. They went back on the road and more people fell in love with the fast-paced soul and jazz sound of Jr. Walker and the All Stars. Following their success, they released their debut album SHOTGUN! in 1965 which would include other dance songs “Do the Boomerang” and “Shake and Finger Pop.”
Their next big hit from the album would be “Road Runner.” Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland, it reached #4 on the US R&B charts and break the top 20 of the US Pop charts. The band would record and perform with Motown until 1979 when Junior Walker pursued a solo career. The band reunited in 1983 for the Motown 25 Special and re-sign with Motown that same year. They would continue to perform together until Junior Walker’s death in 1995.
The fast-paced, dance-inspired group left its mark on Motown. “Shotgun!” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002, and the band joined the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2007.
Jr. Walker and the All Stars performing Shotgun on Hullabaloo, 1966
Jr. Walker and the All Stars performing in London at the Ram Jam Club, 1967
“Road Runner” was inspired by the group’s constant touring on the road—they never stayed in one place long.