NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Stop in any Nashville honky tonk, and visitors find a pretty similar scene: an energetic country music singer hoping nailing it on Broadway, will land them their big break.
At Acme Feed & Seed, there's a weekend regular that brings so much energy, people can't help but dance. But it's been years since Charles "Wigg" Walker first flirted with fame.
"Charles Wigg Walker is a national treasure, as well as an icon to this city," said Grammy award winning musician Gramps Morgan.
"The guy’s legendary," said Tom Morales, owner of Lower Broadway's Acme Feed and Seed.
"Since the minute he came out of his mother’s womb, he was singing this way," said Kathie Lee Gifford, longtime musician and former daytime TV show host.
Charles got something else the moment he was born, a nickname that stuck. "She told me that I had a full head of hair and it was shaped like a wig," said Walker.
Growing up in North Nashville, it didn't take Wigg long to want to perform. In fact, his first few gigs at Black night clubs required him to either lie about his age or bend the rules a little.
"And I’d do that two songs and then I’d have to go outside, I’d have to head out because I was too young to be in there," he explained.
When Wigg wasn't performing, he was learning at the feet of some of the masters of music that all made stops in Music City. "Chuck Jackson, Arethan Franklin, Johnny Guitar Watts, all kinds of people," said Walker.
That list includes legendary soul singer James Brown, who eventually coaxed Wigg to go on tour with him as his opening act. But that's where Wigg and Brown often butted heads.
"If I got 10-15 minutes on stage — I’d try to put a medley, and he’d tell me to do two songs," said Walker.
The Godfather of Soul wouldn't get mad, he'd get even.
"He’d fine you, you could see him on stage, he’d fine you like this -- every time he’d do that, it’s 5 dollars,"
"So how often did you see that?" asked NewsChannel 5's Chris Davis.
"Oh every night," said Walker with a grin on his face.
And on a few occassions, he'd kick Wigg off his tour bus all together.
"One time I was in Amarillo, Texas. He left me there," said Wigg.
Charles eventually decided to tour with other legends like Jimmi Hendrix, Jackie Wilson, The Jackson 5, Wilson Pickett and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. Then Charles launched a solo career of his own, recording albums and singing in nightclubs from Columbus, Ohio, to Viva, Las Vegas.
"Frank Lucas was his manager, who was American Gangster, the Denzel Washington character," said Morales. "He’d tell stories about carrying suitcases of cash and putting it in the trunk."
And while Wigg enjoyed the lifestyle, his records never went gold or platinum. At least not in the U.S.
"I thought they were dead, but they were very popular in Europe. That started a whole 'nother career," said Wigg.
But after decades on the road and a string of personal tragedies, including his house burning down and his wife passing away, Wigg decided to move back home to Nashville.
"Look I’m 81 years old, but I feel alright," he said.
His number of performances started to slow down, until he got a call from Tom Morales.
"I was aware of Wigg and I said, 'hey man how would you like to do something on a regular basis down on Lower Broad?' He said, 'I don’t know if Lower Broad is my place.' I said, 'it is your place because this is Music City,'" said Morales.
So began a second act, most performers only dream of. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, visitors can find Wigg still dancing a jig at Acme. Wigg plays front and center with a guitar player, organist and drummer to back him up. On occasion, he'll share the front of the stage with a woman, used to the bright lights.
Retired daytime TV star Kathie Lee Gifford started coming to Acme just to hear Wigg perform.
"And so when I first moved here, I cannot tell you how much I waited, waited for Saturday brunch. I was like — uh — I get to see Wigg today," said Gifford.
One day, he invited her on stage without warning to perform with him and she rose to the occasion.
"That man Wigg brings out the inner Aretha in me I didn’t even know existed. I’m fearless with him. I don’t give a rip, I let it fly and it’s so much fun," said Gifford.
Now, whenever she's in town, she usually spends it on the Acme stage with Wigg.
"I said, we’re Donny and Marie aren’t we?" she said with a laugh.
But while KLG may be more recognizable, Wigg is still the star and he makes sure she remembers.
"I’ll hit a note and I’m thinking yea I’ve got this. And then all of a sudden I’ll look over at him and that man will hold it a minute longer than I do. Pisses me off OK? Pisses me off," she said.
"Well I can," Wigg told us, with a smirk.
"I think it might bother her just a little bit," NewsChannel 5's Chris Davis interjected.
"It might, but that’s part of my little dig with her sometimes," said Wigg.
But if Kathie Lee is being honest, she's okay with Wigg stealing the spotlight. "Wigg represents to me all that was just fun, and good and real about an authentic person that gets up on that stage and sings their brains out the way God made them to do," she said.
Which, in part, may be why he's not like your typical crooner on Lower Broadway. Because in every note, you can hear his soul sing out.
"I mean he is singing his butt off right now at 81 years old and everybody in Nashville that’s a true music aficionado should come down and see him because he won’t be playing forever but he’s still singing like he’s 30," said Morales.
And you only get that kind of voice, through a life well lived.
"It shows you for a man to last this long in this business that he’s God blessed and he’s God sent," said Gramps Morgan.
"It’s never too late for the whole world to know you’re the best soul singer left in the world," said Gifford.
Wigg plays at Acme Feed and Seed every Saturday and Sunday morning.