by Rick Grant
When I heard my friend Landon Walker is leaving Jacksonville to return to his family roots in Greensboro, N.C., I called him to get the skinny. He should be leaving for Greensboro around Thanksgiving. Once there, he will continue playing with his brother Scott, and niece, Jennie, and Scott Manring in The Walker Family Band (www.thewalkerfamilyband.com).
Most people remember Landon as the radio host of The Metro during afternoon drive time on WJCT -circa 1982-1993. When the show was yanked off the air, Landon’s many fans were outraged and started a protest movement which ended in a lawsuit. Alas, it was for naught. Landon ended up back on the air on the 6 to midnight shift.
The Metro was musically eclectic, featuring Landon playing alternative music and interviewing promising local musicians. He also played rare comedy albums from obscure humorists of a bygone era. The fact that the program was spontaneous, and one never knew what Landon would play next, made it special. It was like an unscripted version Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion on acid. Landon even played some of the Crawfish of Love’s out-there music. (I performed with the COL as a guest artist in 1987 at Applejacks.)
After the The Metro, Landon stayed on with WJCT for a few more years then left and joined the River City Band. About ten years ago, Landon left the RCB and worked as a freelance musician while privately teaching bass. I would run into Landon at jazz gigs playing with various ensembles. I used to joke that Landon was the hardest working musician in town. Since I was everywhere he was, then it made me he hardest working journalist by association.
Landon is an accomplished bass player, composer, and arranger. He’s got bull chops on either the upright or electric bass. Landon’s post WJCT career brought him in contact with Walter Parks. Landon worked in Wing Tips, one amongst many of Walter’s projects around the First Coast Region. Then Walter decided to get the hell out of Cowford and moved to NYC. There he hooked up with a cellist and formed Dear John. After that duo ran its course, Walter joined Richie Havens’ band as Richie’s lead guitarist. He formed Swamp Cabbage– a very hip side project to keep him busy when Richie wasn’t touring.
By any standard, Landon is a master musician having played every genre of music. Now he wants to play a variety of roots music with his family band for the right reason-his love and joy of bringing music to live audiences. I asked Landon what are some of the memorable milestones of his career in Jacksonville?
“Wow, where do I start. Of course, my time at WJCT was a big part of my career here. When I first got there I was trying to figure out what I was doing there. So I started hosting the After Hours Cafe during late night time period. That show continued the entire time I was there. And, it was the longest running show with more tapes in circulation. People would tape the shows so they could listen to them at their leisure. Then I did a bluegrass show with Mike Johnson. We did live shows from his bar The Malabar, which was a bastion of bluegrass for many years.”
“During the membership drives, Steve Grad and I started to play around with the idea for The Metro. We were having so much fun we wanted to do it as a regular show. So we started The Metro in 1982 right after we moved into the new building. I never dreamed it would be so popular. It was really about shining the spotlight on the music and art community. At the time the arts were exploding in Jacksonville. So that show evolved into a major vehicle for me and the music and art community. But I was continuing my bass studies as a serious classical bass player.”
“This was during from1980s through1993. Then WJCT went through a change of leadership and one day I found a note tacked to my front door of my house which said, “The Metro is gone. You start the 6:00 pm to midnight shift tomorrow.” Of course, the end of the show started an uproar among our fans. There were hundreds of letters, phone calls, and then the lawsuit. But it didn’t make any difference.”
“I left the RCB some years ago because they were going in a direction I wasn’t interested in pursuing. Now I want to play acoustic music with my brother. We’ve been playing Irish folk and other roots music. We also give workshops for families who want to play together. My elderly parents live in Hickory, N.C. So, at this point in my life, I want to be near my family. I’ll bunk with my brother until I find a place of my own. I’m trying to talk him into buying a house together.”
“Lately, I’ve been working with James Jenkins, he’s the tuba player in the symphony and he has a group called Body & Soul. We have been going around to the old age living facilities and nursing homes playing music for the elderly, which I really enjoy. Music brightens up their spirits and that is a satisfying thing to do,” Landon said.
At that point we concluded our chat. I’ll miss Landon. He contributed greatly to the Jacksonville music scene and as a radio personality he raised the consciousness level of the community. Incredibly, many of Landon’s radio fans are still pissed off at WJCT suits for canceling The Metro. Loyalty like that is a testament to the creative innovation of Landon’s programming skills and creative personality. “Long may he run.”
Landon Walker Interview
by Rick Grant