10 Questions with ... Johnnie Walker
November 25, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Radio and recorded music executive. My career began in Country radio as an announcer, which led to a stint in Black radio in Memphis. I later segued to Def Jam Recordings, where I remained for 15 years. I rose from regional rep to National to VP and SVP. I later advanced to Head of Black Music for DreamWorks Records. In my latest transition, I'm in city government where I utilize my career background for the operations of the Memphis Music Commission.
1) You were in radio and transitioned into the music business, can you tell us the story?
I was PD for KRNB/Memphis and we did not play Rap. Of course that did not stop reps from Rap labels approaching us to get their music played. I was at a conference in Atlantic City and Wes "Party" Johnson approached me about a LL Cool J song that I was not playing. He gave me his pitch, introduced me to Russell Simmons and they went at it. I remained steadfast as to why the record didn't work for the station's format or my programming goals. I suppose I had the better argument as later I got a call from Wes saying that Russell wanted me to come to work for Def Jam. He quoted Russell as saying, "That girl can talk ... I'd rather have her talking for me than against me!" Later, I was hired!
2) I have heard a lot of stories, what was it like working at Def Jam when you were there?
We were a family team! Everything was about the meaning of that logo ... I believe we all had an imaginary Def Jam logo tattooed on our chests! It was a great opportunity to learn the business and grow. At Def Jam, you didn't just work records. You worked TV shows, movies, fashion, video games, energy drinks ... we had our fingerprints in a lot of places! The artists were different in their own respective ways. However, that didn't matter ... our job was to deliver the artists and the projects ... and that's what we did, together! I have to say, my staff was one of the best in the business!
3) I understand you have returned to your radio roots, can you share that with us?
I host a weekly radio show on two stations, WYPL and WUMR in Memphis. The show is called "Memphis Music Revealed," and we only play Memphis music by Memphis-based artists. It gives local artists an opportunity to get their music played on the radio. I also host "Women Who Jam!" This is a weekly radio show that airs on several Internet and terrestrial radio stations. We play only female artists ... indies, hits and classics.
4) Besides the radio show, aren't you involved in some other organizations?
Yes, NABFEME ... the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment, Inc. and Women Who Jam. NABFEME is a networking, empowerment and resource base for women in entertainment and Women Who Jam is a collective of female artists. We feature "live" music showcases in different markets across the country, a radio show and a promotional CD.
5) Tug on your memory and give up the list all of those you have either mentored or guided you in your career?
That would take some tugging! I would lean more towards the staff that I had at Def Jam. I carefully picked each of them; many had never worked in the record business. However, they opened up and allowed me to pour myself in. They were a very strong, connected team that executed perfectly. Many of them are in different jobs now; however, some like Bill Evans, Drew Rives and Ron Hurd are among today's top music executives!
6) Have you noticed anything different about today's artists and process of the music business?
It seems everyone has a microwave mentality. They just want it quick ... now! Make a record and put it on iTunes ... that's all it takes! People send me links to songs and I don't have a clue who they are. I love the technology being used, and while it made some of the processes easier ... it didn't necessarily make them better. You just can't take people and relationships out of music. Most music purchases or interactions are generated by emotion and I don't get much emotion out of a link.
7) Could you tell us more about your current position?
I serve as Exec. Dir. of the Memphis Music Commission ... a quasi-governmental body that promotes Memphis Music locally, nationally and around the world. We provide local musicians with various programs and services that assist them with marketing, live performances and general music business education. We also fund a healthcare program that assists musicians with medical care at no cost to the musician.
8) Would you please offer some advice for artists and producers wanting to break into the music scene?
Be patient, overnight successes go as quickly as they come ... Be disciplined, you gotta know when to leave the party! Put the work in ... there is no elevator to success ... you gotta take each step to make it to the top! Pray!
9) How do you see the future for urban music and urban radio?
I see a shift. Recycled beats are losing their steam. Artists are finding unique ways to bring back "real" music. Good, relative, story-filled R&B music is coming back and radio will make the adjustment when and where it needs to.
10) For those just starting out in the music industry, explain the differences between being a Regional rep and a National or VP in promotions?
The regional rep is basically the label's "eyes and ears" in the market and is responsible for the label's interaction with radio, clubs, colleges, media, the fans or any marketing opportunity that will boost the label's goals and objectives. The National or VP has basically the same responsibility, but with a broader spectrum ... meaning all stations, all markets and everything contained within ... including marketing, scheduling, dealing with artists and artist management, budgets, staff management, etc. I was in a conversation with Russell once and I said, "I'm not sure that's my market ... he said, huh? The whole damn country is your market!" Oh, well...
What are you most proud of?
NABFEME, the work that we do, the 15 markets we are actively engaged in and the fact that we are still making a difference in the careers of women in entertainment
When you are not working, what do you like to do?
Spend time with my grandchildren and spoil them to the 200th degree
What's in your future?
Great question! I'm working on some projects that will be meaningful to me and all of the artists that I work with ... stay close!