Sad news to report for the West Virginia Writers family. WVW co-founder Kirk Judd has reported on Facebook that Pops Walker died on October 29, at his home in Luray, Virginia, surrounded by friends and family. Pops was a dear friend of West Virginia Writers, myself, and of this podcast in particular.
Pops was an amazing guy and so very supportive of the music community throughout the region and beyond. He was also just a downright fantastic musician in his own right.
I came to know Pops in 2007 when he attended the West Virginia Writers Summer Conference as the main musical entertainment for Saturday night, as well as participating in a couple of workshops. However, I think Pops was there to hang out with Lee Maynard. Not long before the conference, the audiobook adaptation of Lee's book Crum had been released by Ross Ballard through his Mountain Whispers Audiobooks. Pops provided the music for the project and released a separate album called The Crum Session. For the 2007 conference, Lee, Pops and Ross were in attendance and we got to hear some of that adaptation live, as well as the three of them in a workshop speaking about the collaboration process. Pops concert on Saturday is among my all time favorite musical concerts, conference or no. His performances were so much fun to watch, partly due to the quality of the music, but also for the energy with which Pops attacked his work, seemingly devouring the notes from the air and grinding them in his grinning teeth.
After I told him how much fun I'd had watching him, he replied, "Nobody has as much fun at my show as I do. They might be having as much fun as me, but no one's having more."
That conference also marked the first time that Lee and Pops teamed up for what would become regular reading/music combo concerts for them, with Lee reading from his work accompanied by Pops on guitar. To say it was magical is an understatement. Lee and Pops, who had only just met, quickly became fast friends and remained so until Lee's passing in 2017. (Pops spoke about their friendship in a memorial podcast to Lee, which was the last new episode produced here.) They would re-team for similar combos in 2011 as well.
Pops was gracious enough to return to the conference on two more occasions, and he always brought friends who quickly became new favorite musicians. In 2008, he brought West Virginia musicians Keith and Joan Pitzer, who were wonderful. And in 2010 he brought musical protégé Kipyn Martin Kae. They joined the West Virginia Writers family of musicians and fit right in.
When the idea first occurred to me to produce a podcast for West Virginia Writers, in 2009, I knew whose music I wanted to use as the theme song. I contacted Pops and he gave me permission to use any of his music that I wanted. His only requirement was that I needed to send him copies of the show on CD, because his internet in Luray was too slow for downloading them. It was one of the best deals I ever made, as Pops' music was a large part of making the show sound as good as it did. I chose his instrumental "Southeastern" as the podcast theme. Pops said he wrote that tune to sound like what might happen if Ravi Shankar and Greg Allman were to collide with one another while carrying stringed instruments. An apt description if there ever was one.
In 2012, I was invited to help plan the first Lewisburg Literary Festival. My first proposal was to bring in Lee and Pops for one of their combo concerts, and for Pops to be part of the festival entertainment on his own. They readily agreed, since they always like an excuse to hang out with one another. That summer we had their tag-team magic recreated on the stage of the historic Lewis Theater. Not only that, but Lee did a live reading of the infamous apple slice chapter from Crum, which was a piece he said he had never read live before. Truth be told, he was nervous about it, and had asked me in advance if I thought the audience might rebel. I explained that we were a literary festival first and foremost and the written word was something we celebrated, even if that word might potentially offend. We were pretty sure our audience would be up for it. They absolutely were. And, of course, Pops brought a guest musician to help out in the form of Kipyn Martin Kae, who the audience fell in love with as well. They joined one another for Pops' concert that night. Pops even played "Southeastern" for me.
Pops and his wife Bobbi liked to give back to the music community and I was honored to be able to attend two of the Shenandoah River Song Fests which they hosted near their home in Luray. These were tented concerts on the banks of the Shenandoah River itself, during which music lovers from all walks of life gathered to camp for three days punctuated by catered food cooked right there on the riverbank, libations, and, of course, music by an assembly of musicians. My CD collection grew with each festival, and it was always great to see familiar faces take the stage there, from Kipyn to the Pitzer Family, to WVW friends Doug and Telisha Williams' band Wild Ponies, and new faces like Beaucoup Blue. It was so much fun to experience these bands he'd curated, who jammed together as easily as they played their own wonderful tunes, You could also see the love Pops had for them. These were his friends he was showing off to the world, celebrating their talent and joining their with his own brand of what he called Southern Fried Zen Mojo.
During the last fest I was able to attend, in 2014, we were treated to another Pops/Lee Maynard combo show, as Lee was in attendance as well. It would unfortunately mark the last time I would to see both Lee and Pops in person.
Pops was not only a musical contributor, but the show's most frequent guest. Unfortunately, two of his three appearances were memorials to friends who had passed. The first was for Keith Pitzer, who had passed in 2010. And his second appearance was the last episode I produced, a tribute by Pops to his friend Lee Maynard, who passed in 2017.
If you've not heard them, I encourage you to listen to the Pops Walker podcasts, or revisit them if you've heard them before. Most of all, though, I encourage you to listen to his music. Two of his albums, Milepost 5, Live `N Drivin On, and The Crum Session can be found at Amazon. You can also find Pops work on the Crum audiobook as well as its sequel Screaming With the Cannibals courtesy of Mountain Whispers, also available via Amazon. You can also find Pops' book of essays, The Existential Redneck as an ebook for Amazon/Kindle.
Pops Walker's like will not be known again, but those of us who got to know him even a little bit are the better for it.
You can read Pops' obituary here. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions can be made to Page Alliance for Community Action.
PODCAST EPISODES FEATURING POPS