Category Archives: Pops Walker

Pops Walker, in memorium

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.

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Uncle Terry’s Gift Ideas from WV Authors List 2015

Nigh on a decade ago, Terry McNemar, our former president who recently passed away, began an annual gift guide for books by West Virginia authors.  The last time we ran one on this blog, however, was 2011.  With his passing this year, we felt it was time to re-institute this annual tradition in his honor.  And as such, it's only fitting that Terry's books are #1 and #2 on the list.

So while you’re doing your holiday shopping, don’t forget to support these WV Writer, Inc. authors. And don’t forget to stop at your local bookstores: Tamarack, Taylor Books in Charleston, Empire Books & News in Huntington, the Open Book in Lewisburg, Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, Vandalia Press, Main Line Books in Elkins, …to name just a few.  Those are great places where you might find these books!

If you are a member of West Virginia Writers and your book is not listed here, please send it in immediately and we will get you added to the list.  Send those to wvwriterssecretary@gmail.com.  You may also send links to your own website.  We'll be happy to post them as well.

Thanks.

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WVW Conference Vidcasts: Conference Entertainment Sampler

Continuing our vidcast series to whet appetites for the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference, we present a two part sample of our conference entertainment. First up is a sample of the music of the amazing Pops Walker. He's a three-time conference entertainer as well as the composer of the music we use in the WV Writers Podcast. His albums can be found at CDBaby.com.

Next up is former president Eric Fritzius doing a passable channelling of Garrison Keillor in a loose parody of the News from Lake Wobegon, a.k.a. the News from Cedar Lakes. This was produced as part of the Friday Night Entertainment in 2010, which was themed as A West Virginia Writers' Home Companion.

Tune in tomorrow for a look at THIS year's Saturday Night Entertainment musicians, Doug and Telisha Williams.

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WV Writers Podcast: Keith Pitzer Tribute with Pops Walker

Episode 24 of the WV Writers Podcast is now available. It is a special double-size episode in tribute to musician Keith Pitzer, who was a friend of WV Writers and of this podcast. Keith died after a battle with cancer on December 22 , 2009. Joining us for the episode is Pops Walker, who was a good friend of Keith's. We talk about Keith the man, the musician and the tireless servant of the ecological health of the Cheat River. We'll also hear some of the outtakes from my interview with him last June, including some of the amazing music he made alongside his wife Joan.

Find Episode 24 posted on our podcast website.

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Keith Pitzer’s passing.

Received some sad news today from friend of WV Writers, Pops Walker, regarding the passing of another friend of our organization, Keith Pitzer.

Pops writes...


Friends and loved ones….

It’s with a heavy heart that I write to you today, for we have lost a great friend and performer, Keith Pitzer. Keith passed on this morning after a courageous fight with cancer. His wife Joan, and his four grown sons mourn the loss of their loved one, as do I, Bobbi, and anyone who knew Keith.

I first met Keith in 2003 at the Mountain Stage NewSong Festival. After hearing him play, and jamming with him, I knew I’d found a kindred musical spirit. After talking with him for a while, I knew I’d met a dear friend.

He and Joan played at two of our events at the river, and another at the performing arts center in Luray. Each performance was special, and folks who had the good fortune of listening to them walked away richer for the experience.

We shared some stages together in West Virginia, and while on the road in that region, the Pitzer farm became our home-away-from-home. His hospitality was warmer than a fresh buttered biscuit, right out of the oven. And when dinner was done, and the dishes put away, the instruments came out. My oh my – did we have fun. Some of the best music I ever played was with Keith – he was such an accomplished musician, he brought out the best in me. And we laughed. Oh, did we laugh. I love him for it.

While driving today, taking care of some Christmas errands, Bobbi and I were amazed by the amount of snow still on the ground from this past weekend’s blizzard. We saw many cars still snowed-in, and many by-roads that looked impassable. Bobbi mentioned that it reminded her of Keith’s instrumental, “Loudon County Snow”. He wrote the song some years ago while at Drew McKnight’s place. They were snowed in that weekend and hadn’t much else to do except play music. Apparently, the snow brought out something deep within Keith’s soul. If you’ve ever heard him and Joan play it, you’ll understand. Quite simply, it’s a masterpiece of picking. How strange, and perhaps fitting, that he passed while so many of us were snowed in again.

There will be no public ceremony for Keith in the coming days. Rather, Joan and the boys will mourn with loved ones for a while, and in the Spring, host a celebration of his life at the family farm that he so dearly loved. As Joan told me this morning, Keith wouldn’t want a mournful event. Rather, a celebration is in order. And the timing of Spring will be just right. It’s a time of new life. No, gentle people, we don’t have a date yet.

One last thing … Keith was the Executive Director of “Friends of the Cheat”. The Cheat River in West Virginia had been abused and pillaged by industry for years. “Friends of the Cheat” are dedicated to restoring it and protecting its future. Keith took his job seriously and loved that river. So, rather than flowers or sympathy cards, I ask you, on behalf of Joan and the boys, to send a small donation in Keith’s honor to:

Friends of the Cheat
119 South Price Street
Suite 206
Kingwood, WV 26537-1478

I can hear Keith’s voice now – “Shucks Pops, just a couple of bucks each from a slew of caring folks could make a big difference”. You’re right, Keith – it would.

He was one of the gentlest souls I’ve ever met, and having him for a friend made me a richer man.

Your friend in loss,


Pops Walker

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Shenandoah Valley Acoustic Roots Fest Songwriting Contest Winners

Performing Arts of Luray is pleased to announce the top three winners of the first Shenandoah Valley Acoustic Roots Fest and Songwriting Contest.

Those songwriters are: 1st place: Bryan Elijah Smith, of Dayton, VA, for his song, “The Other Side of Town”. Bryan won $500, six hours of studio time, and a future gig with Performing Arts of Luray.

2nd place: Judith Avers, of Weirton, WV, for her song, “Raining”. Judith won $300 and a guaranteed future booking.

Con Burch, Fort Valley, VA, for her song “Maybe Someday”. Con won $200.

The finals competition took place on October 3, 2009, at the BB&T Center for the Performing Arts in Luray, VA.

Be on the lookout for news about next year’s show and competition. Details are forthcoming at: http://www.popswalker.com/ and http://www.performingartsluray.org/.

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Conference Countdown: Entertainment

Once again, WV Writers has lined up two stellar nights of entertainin’ for the Summer Conference.

On Friday night conference attendees will be treated to Joe’s Shorts Part II: The Revenge, a selection of live readings from the short plays of the late Joe McCabe. Before Joe passed away in 2007, we had already been planning on asking him for a repeat performance of Joe’s Shorts, which were a hit as entertainment at the 2006 Summer Conference. With Joe’s passing, it seemed only fitting that we go right ahead with plans for Joe’s Shorts II. We’re currently casting our net for cast members to take on roles in these plays, so if you have a hankering to act or just to honor Joe, please contact El Presidente Eric Fritzius at eric.fritzius@gmail.com.

Saturday night features another reprise of a past conference favorite, Pops Walker. Last year Pops absolutely blew the roof off the assembly hall using a guitar, sound system and his voice alone. Well, almost alone; he did have a particularly memorable special guest join him mid-way through the show, one Mr. Lee Maynard, who read a new short story he’d written while Pops provided musical accompaniment. It was a wholly impressive and appropriate collaboration, being as how Pops is responsible for the music in the Mountain Whispers audio adaptation of Mr. Maynard’s novel, Crum and is also responsible for the tunes in the upcoming adaptation of Crum’s sequel, Screaming With the Cannibals. If you were there to witness the show, you know how great it was. If you weren’t there, man, you missed out—but you now can make up for it with Pops return performance this year.

For Pops grand return he will be accompanied by not one but two very special guests in the forms of Keith and Joan Pitzer. Keith and Joan are known and respected West Virginia musicians. Haling from Kingwood, they’ve appeared as part of the Voices of West Virginia touring group with songwriters John Lilly, Kate Long and Todd Burge. Their song "Underneath a Blackened Moon" is included in the Mountain Whispers adaptation of William Blizzard’s, “When Miners March.” Their musical style is a blend of blend contemporary style with Appalachian and Celtic music. So it shall indeed be an unprecedented event to hear their style mix with Pops Walker’s trademark Southern Fried Zen Mojo style.

Pops and the Pitzers will also be leading two workshops during the conference, one a tag-team workshop on Songwriting and the other a panel discussion on Issues in the Arts.

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