A CLOSE SHAVE WITH BLUES LEGEND WADE WALTON, Clarksdale, Mississippi 1992.

Wade Walton was one of Clarksdale’s most talented and renowned blues musicians. He was a civil rights activist in the early sixties and this resulted in his barber shop being bombed.


Wade had chosen to pursue a career as a barber, rather than as a professional musician after seeing little financial gain from his records. Even more disheartening was an ill-fated expansion into the nightclub business in the late eighties, which quickly ended in disaster. Walton lost both his Big Six barber shop and the adjoining club, and he recorded a song about the incident, “Leaving 4th Street.”
In 1990 he reopened his shop on Issaquena Avenue, close to the former home of ‘The Father of the Blues,’ W.C. Handy.


During his time as a barber, Wade counted Ike Turner, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson among his clients as well as other blues greats. At one time in the fifties Wade was a member of Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm but chose not to tour with them when the band went national.


Fuff, Les, Ian and myself visited Wade Walton’s barber shop although none of us need a haircut, we opted for a proper cut-throat razor shave with hot towels, just like we’d seen in the movies.


Ian Clayton remembers what happened next:
“The thing I recall about that visit to Wade Walton’s barber shop is that he didn’t seem to have a queuing system. I think he picked who he would like to have in the chair next. He kept overlooking a young fella from Sweden because he had long hair. Then all of a sudden Wade decided he’d done enough for the day, announced he was tired and that he was closing up shop. The Swedish lad moaned and said that he’d travelled there specially for his hair cutting by the famous Wade Walton. But Wade was having nothing of it and missed the Swedish youth and me out and told us to come back tomorrow. The Swedish lad said he was moving on to Memphis that night. Wade then said ‘I’ll give you a tune on the harp instead.’ He played us out of the shop on a battered old Hohner.”


Wade Walton died in 2000. He was eighty years old.