Before City Pages put Bernard Walker's face on the cover two weeks ago, I didn't know his name ("One Nation, Invisible" 8/18/04). The only thing I could say for sure about the photograph, taken by the late Charles Chamblis and collected by the Minnesota Historical Society, was that the DJ in the picture looked familiar to other local DJs. Some identified the location as the upstairs disco of the Taste Show Lounge in Minneapolis. (Actually, it was probably P.J. Clarke's near downtown St. Paul.) One sleuth put the year at 1982, spotting the barely discernible Lionel Richie album cover on the wall. Walker might not even have been playing hip hop: He just looked hip hop.
As it turns out, Bernard Walker spun records in Minnesota under the name "Short Lunch" for some 15 years. "I was the silent guy back in those days," he says now, speaking over the phone from his home in Midland, Texas. "I really didn't start talking until I was 18. Then I started doing a little bit of rapping, and I won four DJ-of-the-year awards. Local clubs gave them out." Today Walker is a nurse's aide with plans to attend nursing school. He was told about the cover by his daughter, Orion Walker, who phoned City Pages to answer the query--"Do you know who the DJ is?"--on page 3.
At the time the picture was snapped, Short Lunch was 24 years old, most likely. Before that, he had landed his first gig at St. Paul's Elks Club in the mid-'70s, when he was still too young to drink, and went on to spin regularly at P.J. Clarke's. He performed at parks and gymnasiums with such groundbreaking local turntablists as Big Funk, Kyle Ray, Billy Bump, Kansas City, and Farrow Black. Walker remembers entering several competitions in the early '80s, sometimes held in the Elks parking lot, where he rapped while scratching and mixing.
"It was just like playing the dozens," he says of the contests. "You'd talk about the next guy's haircut and clothes. Then he'd get up there and take his turn. It was what we called a battle, but we were all friends."
Walker's best friend was his partner Big Funk, who, like Short Lunch, grew up in St. Paul and has since moved away. "My name goes after his name, because he was the headliner," says Walker, setting the record straight. "I was just the young cute guy."