Amidst the ballads and impassioned lyrics, the instrumental breakdowns within songs she’s spent two decades refining to fit just right, Jacqui Walker’s ethos shines through like a red hot sun.
“I’m a rocker,” she says confidently, knowingly, as if there was no question of her type. “I’m a blaring guitar-loving chick. I just love rock & roll.”
It wasn’t always this way. Though the crunchy keys and amped up boogies found on her self-titled debut emote rock & roll in its truest, Walker, came by way of the style in a rather atypical fashion. A Long Island native raised in Philadelphia, she was a student at the University of Pittsburgh when she got tabbed to perform as the jazz queen Billie Holiday in a one-woman performance of Rob Penny’s Crawford Grill Presents Billie Holiday. Walker still remembers the way the crowd took to her – most notably her father. “He was crying after the show,” she recollects. “That’s when I decided that singing’s what I had to do.”
Walker transferred to the University of Tampa and started studying music, getting into classical piano, guitar, jazz, tap, ballet, and voice. She hopped on a compilation CD that turned Depeche Mode into techno, then segued into live funk and soul via her first band, Grin. A move to Hollywood followed. There, she fell in with three bands – first, Tenbone Martini, then Urban Family Dog and If 6 Were 9. The latter, an homage to Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 Axis: Bold As Love classic “If 6 Was 9,” found Walker ushering out of funk and into rock & roll. “It was the black girl singing rock music,” she explained. “The whole Jimi Hendrix thing. It was a great feeling. The strength and confidence in the vocals, mixed with the crying guitar solos and gut-wrenching climaxes still get me every time.”
The black rock vibe proves itself all over Walker’s debut album, a work of 10 songs produced by Dumpstaphunk bass hero Nick Daniels. It’s most evident on the lead track, “Give It Up,” but arrives elsewhere on the lively, horn-aided “So Many People,” and the illuminated “Innocense.” Elsewhere, Walker finds a more emotive edge on tracks like “Get Over You” and “Ghost of LA,” both of which find her flexing her vocal range. And on “That’s Alright” and “Voodoo Blues” she shines through with a shade of blues she began honing when she moved to Austin in 2011. Walker embarked on her solo career after moving down to Texas, and has since shown a renewed energy and focus. On stage and behind a microphone she’s at home and at her most comfortable, whether out opening for famous figures like the Neville Brothers or Morris Day or in a juke joint nightclub back in Austin. Her debut album captures the mood emitted from each type of performance, be it heartfelt, poetic, or enlivened.
“This album is comprised of a lot of songs that I wrote and never finished,” says Walker. “It was a big completion for me. Writing songs has always been hard; I felt like I couldn’t write anything new until I finished these. This was my way of showing everybody where I come from and where I am. Every song on there is a snapshot of me from some moment in time.”