‘Scuse me while I make my way to the nearest record deck!
I’m not clued up on the Walker Brothers recordings, they were a piece of aural action missing from my archives. So it was a no-brainer accepting this record into my collection when I found it in a nearby record shop for £10.
It’s a double album, compiling twenty eight songs from their repertoire, taking in the hits, random B-Sides and the odd album track. A very good introduction to the Walker Brothers, especially if you want to experience their music on vinyl.
Inner cover liners:
The Walker Brothers had it all. The mods of the mid sixties found them as acceptable as The Who and Cathy McGowen’s pelmet and curtains hairstyle, while the older generation didn’t take long to latch on to the fact that lead-singer Scott was really Ohio’s new wave answer to Frank Sinatra.
So everybody found some facet of the Walkers that appealed to them. And the group became big – so big, that at one point they rivalled the Beatles in Britain. Then, forsaken brotherly love, they opted to become individuals – at which time they blew it.
But, of course, they weren’t really brothers, just three American musicians who’d realised that their homeland pop scene had gone stale. Which convinced them that they ought to emulate such other acts as Jimi Hendrix and P.J. Proby and use Britain as a springboard to success.
the early years
Even before they set out on their Atlantic crossing the threesome had the wheel of fortune spin somewhat in their direction. Scott, the good-looking six-footer, born Scott Noel Engel, had been bassist with The Routers when they’d cut their “Let’s Go” hit – and he’d also laid down a few tracks with John Stewart.
At an earlier age he’d won the juvenile lead in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Pipe Dream”, and, apart from the fact that he was expelled from school somewhere along the way, he’d always looked like the guy most likely to succeed.
John Walker, who’d been christened John Maus (pronounced ‘Moss’), had also been around. Like Scott he’d done the child-actor bit, appearing in a show called “Hello Mom” opposite incendiary blonde Betty Hutton. More importantly, he also became pretty proficient on sax and guitar.
Gary Leeds, the last of the red-hot Walkers and perhaps the least charismatic, could also point to some pedigree – for hadn’t he once played drums with Elvis and hadn’t he also thumped skins for Proby in that innovatory trouser-splitter’s ‘Jet Powers’ era?
Eventually the talented threesome, who’d been students together in California, got together and began making records, as the Walker Brothers, for the Smash label.
Whether Gary had much part in this recording debut is debatable (in an interview, given many years later, Scott mentions that only he and John Maus took part – and it’s true that Gary’s recording career as a Walker Brother was somewhat hampered by a previous contract to another company – which meant that he never touched a drumstick on any Walker session) but with Nik Venet and Jack Nitsche producing they re-made the Everly Brothers “Love Her”, which Nitsche envisaged in a Phil Spector-like setting.
Though Gary’s contribution to the Walker recorded output may have been negligible, it was he who suggested that they make Britain their base for world domination. He’d toured here with Proby and felt that the Walker Brothers could thrive in such an environment. Scott readily agreed to come simply because he was a film freak and thought he stood more chance of meeting Ingmar Bergman if he crossed to Europe.
John, who was married, took more time making up his mind, but he went along with the others’ plans and so the trio arrived in London in 1965. At first, things didn’t exactly pan out too well.
The gigs were few and far between , which meant that Gary’s father had to rush in financial support, and their first record release “Do The Jerk” / “Pretty Girls Everywhere”, made in the States with the help of ace jazzman Shorty Rogers, fizzled gently and then moved on to that great Valhalla where all great misses go.
Three months later, in June ’65, “Love Her” was released in Britain – a move which resulted in a top twenty entry . . . if only for one week.
hitting the Big Time
But the British public was catching on fast: the Walkers began to get mobbed in true pop star tradition. And when they made their first appearance on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ they were practically torn apart. “I thought it was great”, said Scott at the time.
One man who dug the Walkers was Philips Records’ John Franz, a man best best known for his hit-making productions with Peters and Lee. When Scott, John and Gary set about recreating what they called their refined Spector sound, in a British studio it was Franz that they turned to. When Scott indulged in a self-interview, sometime in 1974, he recalled:
“The big asset of having John Franz was that he could read charts very well and had this tremendous ear. If we needed more cello or there was a slight oboe part missing somewhere, he’d hear it. He was a valuable man to have around because we used to cut four sides in a three-hour session, so things had to be thought out fast.”Scott Walker
First of the three-hour session sides to break was “Make It Easy On Yourself”, a Bacharach and David ballad. It established Scott as a moody sex symbol, eventually making No. 1 in the charts and retaining a place in the top thirty until a follow-up could be scheduled.
This proved to be “My Ship Is Coming In”, another in “Make It Easy” mould. Released in November ’65 it took but a couple of weeks to reach the top twenty where it perched itself at No. 3.
Could the Walkers provide four hits in a row? The Animals’ Eric Burden hoped not. When “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” was played on the Juke Box Jury panel in February 1966, Burden, who was a member, proclaimed “What can you expect from Americans? This sort of thing makes me sick!”
But few people suffered from this particular ailment. Again the Walkers found themselves on top of the heap, though they reported: “The Stones don’t like us.”
At the very time “Sun” was shining brightly at No. 1, the group were well on their way to becoming solo recording acts. Gary appeared on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ during February 1966 promoting a single that Scott had produced for him, while both John and Scott announced that they were planning individual ventures for later that year.
“We are going to do solo records but continue to appear as the Walker Brothers,” they told the NME.
And, for a while, the scheme seemed to be working well. The Walkers’ next couple of singles “(Baby) You Don’t Have To Tell Me” and “Another Tear Falls”, the latter another Bacharach creation, both reached the top twenty – and Gary’s individual effort also sold well, establishing him as the first Walker Brother to make it in his own right.
Then the threesome set out on a huge tour with Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, plus the Troggs, taking in over thirty towns. They got mobbed everywhere they went and it was claimed that they even had to pull out of a gig at Blackpool North Pier because they considered that safety precautions would be too difficult to set up.
the beginning of the end
Before the year ended they were asked to play a Royal Gala performance before the Duke of Edinburgh and, in the words of a song they’d recorded for an EP that year it looked as if “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”. But it wasn’t. The Royal Show was really the beginning of the end.
“We were getting draggy at the time of the Gala”, claimed John. Perhaps their public felt the same way too, for the next Walker Brothers’ single, “Stay With Me”, issued in January ’67, flopped badly. And by the time that “Walking In The Rain” came out, in May of that year, it was all over.
The Walkers had announced that breaking up wasn’t so hard to do after a concert at the Tooting Granada, just a couple of weeks prior to what was to be their final single release, the final straw being Scott’s late arrival at one date, where John and Gary went on without him.
“I’ve known Scott for four years and now I can’t even talk to him anymore”, said John, at the end. It was a sad conclusion to what had been a musically rewarding partnership.
But during the two years that heralded the meteoric rise of the Walker Brothers, Scott, John and Gary put together some of the greatest sounds to come out of British Pop during that era. And here are the best of them – all the hit singles plus a few that should have made it but didn’t.
The titles for Smash are included, plus the Walkers’ versions of Dylan‘s “Love Minus Zero”, Chris Kenner‘s “Land Of 1,000 Dances”, Curtis Mayfield‘s “People Get Ready” and other fine songs by Randy Newman, Goffin and King, Bob Crewe and Ben E. King.
All of which means that the only thing that’ll give me more pleasure than writing about this great compilation is playing it.
‘Scuse me while I make my way to the nearest record deck!
Sound & Vision purchase @ £10