Gary James' Interview With Jimmy Walker Of
The Knickerbockers enjoyed great success in the mid-1960s with a song called "Lies". That led to an appearance in the movie Out Of Sight and frequent performances on Dick Clark's ABC-TV show Where The Action Is. What was it like for an American group to have success at the height of the British Invasion? We took that question and more to Knickerbockers drummer Mr. Jimmy Walker.
Q - So, Jimmy, as we speak is there a Knickerbockers group and are you a part of it?
A - No. Buddy (Randall) passed away ten years ago or more and he was the sax player and singer. John (Charles) and Beau Charles have kind of retired. I'm still active, but I haven't played in a while. I've been doing some recording. I'm working on trying to do some things in Europe. It's taken a while. It's taken longer than I wanted it to. Katy (Levy, Jimmy Walker's publicist) is working on that for me. We did a video and an album and some photo shoots. So, we got our electronic press kit up and running. I want to try and do some gigs where I live, in the Northern California area. So, The Knickerbockers now are pretty much in the old dust bin of life.
Q - So, what exactly is it that you and Katy are working on? Your solo career? Are you trying to put a band together?
A - There's a situation that we've got going. Alan Glenn is a performer in England. He used to play with The Yardbirds. Katy knew him from then. He's still quite popular and has his own band and plays all over Europe. We've also gotten hold of Ben King, who played guitar with The Yardbirds. It seems The Yardbirds have disbanded. They're not playing anymore. So, Ben is kind of free and doing freelance stuff. So, our plan is to have them back me up, along with their own show and I'll be the front man and the name on the door I guess. (laughs) We're using that and she has a press kit with all that info on it. I've yet to see it because my computer is broken and I have to get it fixed. So, we're just now trying to get hooked up with some bookings. Katy is hooking me up with some cruise gigs. Nobody is really doing that in Europe, except for one lady who works for a travel agency. She did a Blues Cruise and it was quite successful. So, we're going to try and do our own Blues Cruise thing. We're going to rent out a section of a cruise ship and sell it like a package and I'm going to have some other people on the show also besides Alan, Ben and myself. There's a couple of other people I want to have get involved. So, I'm still looking to be active. I love to sing. I don't want to give it up yet. I want to work in Europe. I want to see Europe. I've never been there.
Q - You should have no problem with cruise lines.
A - Katy is talking to Carnival and they are a huge corporation that owns a lot of these cruise lines. So, it's like the conglomerate corporation thing where you get onboard with them and there's four or five or maybe more cruise ships that are part of their corporation. Now they also have river cruises throughout Europe, which I see on television all the time. Viking does it. That's another avenue we're exploring. We'd like to get into that. It would be fun. It would be great to do.
Q - When Sundazed Records puts out a box set on The Knickerbockers, do you have a say in that? Are you asked to contribute in any way?
A - They've been working I don't know how many years on this box set they've put together. I think it's supposed to be four or five CDs, everything we recorded. I'm still waiting for them to release it. I don't know what the hold up is or why they're taking so long, but it's literally been at least five years since they connected with us. We even did an interview with a writer who's doing the liner notes. He's pretty famous. I can't think of his name. An Italian name. He's written a lot of Rock 'n' Roll liner note stuff and articles. He did a book. Something about Sunset Strip or Rockin' on Sunset. I did a long interview with him. He's supposed to do the liner nots for this box set. As of yet it's still unreleased. I don't know what's going on. I don't know what the hold up is. I can't wait for it to come out. It's supposed to be a really big project. Everything we ever recorded. I would love to have that.
Q - So would your fans!
A - Yeah (laughs).
Q - I remember the first time I heard "Lies" on the radio. I thought to myself, oh, a new Beatle record with John Lennon singing. When you made that record, did you get to make it because your lead singer, Beau Charles, sounded just like John Lennon? Or did you record company insist on a Beatles-like sound?
A - No. What happened was, we were working in upstate New York. We were a cover band and did a really good job on Beatles material. One night Buddy and Beau were up in the hotel room. Buddy said, "I got an idea. You know the first two chords on 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'?" Beau said, "Yeah." "Let's put a word there," and that's how it started. So, it went "Lies" and the Beatles harmonies, because they were familiar with it, fell right into it. John, Beau and Buddy sang the three part lead. They wrote this song. Jerry Fuller got in the mix. He really liked the song and he edited it because we had more parts to it than was later recorded. So, we did a demo on it and sent it to Challenge Records on the West Coast. We weren't even signed when we wrote that song. We had done it in the club a lot. So, Jerry Fuller convinced us to do a record deal with Challenge Records and to come to the West Coast. They hooked us up with a gig in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard at The Red Velvet. We recorded the song about a month after we got there at Sunset Sound. It was on purpose that it sounded like a Beatles record. It was not anything that we were trying to do a tribute. We just sounded like The Beatles. John, Beau and Buddy did all The Beatles cover songs. I was the drummer and I'm telling you, they sounded like The Beatles! (laughs)
Q - What city in Upstate New York were you based out of? Where did you perform?
A - Albany, Schnectady, Troy, Latham, Snyder's Lake. We played in Albany at the time a new club. We played there for three months and just packed it. It was insane. That's when we met Jerry Fuller. He came through on a tour of his own and he was on his way from Buffalo where he'd just been released from the Army and his record company, Challenge Records, wanted him to open up a Four Star publishing branch in New York City. So, he was traveling from Buffalo going down through these little cities promoting his own record and he came across us. We just blew his mind. It was so funny because he was playing with all these dinky bands that were terrible. He said, "It was so bad I was playing guitar." (laughs) He's not a very good guitar player.
Q - Besides Jerry Fuller and The Knickerbockers, who else did Challenge Records have on their label?
A - The only one they had was a guy by the name of Jerry Wallace before us, who had a huge hit called "In The Misty Moonlight". The record label was owned by Gene Autrey. I don't know if they had any other hits or not, but they a very successful publishing company, Four Star Publishing. That's really where they made their money. When we were signed to Challenge Records they actually were re-opening the offices and the label for us. In a way, that worked against us because when they re-opened they had to re-design all their connections and it kind of slowed things down for us when we released "Lies". "Lies" just exploded. It just went crazy. Every radio station in the country was playing it.
Q - And more than once a day!
A - They loved to open their shows with it because it was an explosive sounding record, the pedal to the metal kind of thing. They were playing catch-up in terms of distribution lines and anything having to do with distributing the record, making the damn thing in terms of actually pressing it. They were behind in everything. They had no idea the record was going to take off. In fact, they didn't even want "Lies" to be the "A" side. If it wasn't for B. Mitchell Reid, the famous DJ in L.A. at the time who had seen us at The Red Velvet in Los Angeles; he used to be a fan. He came in to see us all the time. They went up to him and his radio station, KFWB, and said, "Here's The Knickerbockers' new record." He said, "Oh, great." They told him it was "The Coming Generation". That was the obvious "B" side. They were pushing that as the "A" side. Don't ask me why. He said to them, "Didn't you guys record that "Lies" song?" They said, "Oh, yeah. That's the "B" side." He went "Bullshit" and he put it on the air without even listening to it. He just stuck it on the turntable, stuck a needle on it and said, "Here's The Knickerbockers. A brand new group. A brand new record." Boom! And he broke it. We thanked him a thousand times. He never came in The Red Velvet after that where we didn't buy him a lot of his drinks. (laughs)
Q - Would The Red Velvet have been a place for other famous musicians to come in and see you?
A - Yeah. It was a funny situation in L.A. at the time. The Red Velvet was sort of an old, run down place, but it was on Sunset Boulevard. It was sort of a watering hole for people that didn't want to be bothered, you know, famous Rock stars would come in there where they could have a few drinks and tourists didn't know anything about it. So, it was an offbeat kind of place. The Shindig show, which was really big at the time, was where the people on the Shindig show would come and hang out. If you went down the Strip and you went to The Whiskey A Go Go or The Trip, which later became The Playboy Club, Gazzari's, you'd get besieged by fans. This place, nobody know about it. So, we played there. In about three weeks time we were probably the place with celebrities.
Q - Would someone like Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin come in?
A - Oh yeah, all the time. The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson gave me a compliment I'll never forget. He was kind of reclusive at the time. He wasn't really getting out very much. He came into the club and I was playing drums and I saw him immediately, standing in the back of the room. When I got off on the break I came up to the bar and he gestured me over and we talked. He said, "You guys are amazing." We did The Beach Boys' stuff. We did The Beach Boys' stuff good enough to where he said "You guys do this stuff as good as we do in in the studio. We can't do it as good as you guys do live. You guys are amazing. You do my songs better than we do." (laughs) That knocked me out. I couldn't believe it. The whole Beach Boy crew came in all the time. The Four Seasons used to come in. Chicago came in. I mean, it's endless. That's where I met The Righteous Brothers. Later I did the Bill Medley replacement because we used to do their stuff and I sang the Bill Medley role. When Bobby (Hatfield) saw us he would sit in with us and we'd sing together. It was that kind of place. The Lovin' Spoonful used to come in all the time. The guys from Buffalo Springfield came in all the time. At the time it was a real exciting time in the music business. In L.A. there were a lot of TV shows that were being done on music. There was Lloyd Thaxton Presents. There was Dick Clark Where The Action Is, which we became regulars on later. He did his Bandstand show out there too. Casey Kasem (Show). Sam Riddle, who became a big producer later on. There were all these TV shows so everyone in the business that had recordings that were promoting would go to Los Angeles and spend about a week there and get on all those little TV shows. Some of them were national. Some of them were syndicated. We would do these TV shows. It was all part of the routine. So, they would come in to see us.
Q - Did you ever do the Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars?
A - Oh, yeah. We did two Where The Action Is tours. One was with Paul Revere And The Raiders headlining and various other bands. It was mostly the crew from Where The Action Is, Steve Alaimo, Linda Scott, Keith Allison, the dancers, The Knickerbockers and a couple of other bands. The second tour was headlined by The Rascals. We knew then before we went to the West Coast. We had run into The Rascals who were playing in a club in New Jersey not too far from where we were. We used to go see one another. They'd come in and see us. We'd come in and see them. So, they headlined the second tour and they were wild. They were unexpectedly huge hit tours. I don't think they were really prepared for what happened. It was chaos. There were oversold shows, screaming fans. I mean it was nuts. It was a total chaotic whirlwind. You couldn't believe it. One of my friends was Mark Lindsay. You could not hang out with Mark Lindsay in public. It was just impossible. They guy was so recognizable by all these kids. They wouldn't leave him alone.
Q - Was the money any good for The Knickerbockers in those days?
A - Not really. We were told by Challenge Records, who later became our management which we thought we never should have done, but anyway that if we did this Dick Clark TV show, Where The Action Is, it would bring a lot of great exposure. It was becoming a big hit TV show. I was kind of skeptical. I thought I'd be out there making the money then doing this TV show. We wound up grinding away in the studio sometimes ten hours a day, three days a week, putting together all the music, the tracks for Linda Scott, Keith Allison, Steve Alaimo. Sometimes we even did some tracks for The Raiders, just for the TV show and our own tracks. It was all the cover work. Steve Alaimo was the producer. We were the musicians. We were the band. We were like the house band for Where The Action Is. They didn't pay us very much for the TV show. They paid us scale, which at the time was like $1,100 for the band per week, and we put in a lot of hours. Then when we went on tour he only paid us $2,500 a week for the band. Just ridiculous.
Q - Herman's Hermits were paid $200 a week. And that's a band that had two records in the Top Ten. So you were paid more than those guys that's for sure!
A - Yeah. (laughs)
Q - You made out pretty well, all things considered.
A - Yeah. (laughs) I know, but we should've been making five grand a night at the time.
Q - You didn't have Frank Barsalona (Premier Talent) as your agent.
A - Yeah. We needed somebody with a big cigar and a deep voice. (laughs)
Q - Colonel Tom Parker!
A - Yeah. That's right. That's true. Dick Clark was a great guy. He was really, really a nice man, but he was a shrewed businessman who was very tight with the almighty buck. He did not feel that he needed to pay money for people when he was actually giving them exposure on his TV show and putting his name behind it. In some ways it was great fun. I wouldn't do it any other way now because looking back we did have a great time. We had fantastic tours. On the road we had certain bands join us, like The Dave Clark Five. They did a show with us in Memphis. The Raiders joined us in Memphis also. So, we had this one wild show in Memphis where The Dave Clark Five and Paul Revere And The Raiders and The Rascals were all on the show. There was a little bit of a discussion on who should be the headliner. To me, The Rascals were the best players. They were typical East Coast kick-butt musicians. They were very, very tight, very good strong players. The Knickerbockers were better than most of those bands too. We were the typical East Coast band. You didn't work unless you were good. The Dave Clark Five, they were okay. They did what they did okay. Paul Revere And The Raiders were okay. They were a great show band. In fact, there was one show in that tour, Eddie Brigati, the singer with The Rascals said, "What's so good about these guys?" He was a character. (laughs) So I said, "Check 'em out man. C'mon." So we went and stood on the side of the stage and The Raiders came out with their turquoise, velveteen jackets with white pants and brown, knee length boots and the plumed hats. They did their dance steps and Eddie's standing there looking at this and he goes, "Oh yeah. I got it." (laughs) He appreciated the show they put on. They were fantastic. Not only that, they were funny. How many Rock 'n' Roll bands can you say were like The Marx Brothers on stage? (laughs)
Q - They had that going for them, but after the recent death of Paul Revere, Rolling Stone said those actions may prevent them from being inducted into Cleveland's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
A - Oh, that's bullshit.
Q - You don't believe it then?
A - I don't know if it's true or not. They were a classic show group. That's what they did. They had the Rock 'n' Roll star with Mark Lindsay, who was on the cover of every teeny bopper magazine every week for two years. He was a big star. They had great hits. They had "Louie Louie". They had "Kicks". And they had this incredible show. They were huge. Gary, I'm telling you, when they hit the stage, you couldn't hear for ten minutes. Have you ever seen The Beatles live?
Q - Unfortunately, no.
A - Well, I did once, in Seattle. It was like that. When The Raiders hit the stage, every night it was like this sort of where the sound gets so much you can't really hear anything. Your ears go numb from the high-pitched screaming of the teeny bopper girls. You can't hear anything. It's like being too close to an explosion. The screams are so loud it's just amazing. That was every night for a month straight. They were that big. They were like that all over the country. So they should be in the Hall Of Fame more than a lot of other bands. They encompassed all the greatness of Rock 'n' Roll. The visual show, the hits, the star. Phil Volk is a star in his own (right). The guitar player was a real handsome kid.
Q - Remember, they didn't write those hit songs. Maybe the Hall Of Fame is holding that against them.
A - Elvis didn't write all of his hits. A lot of great Rock 'n' Roll artists didn't write their own songs. In fact, that didn't really start until later. There were very few people that did in those days. Chuck Berry was an exception. He wrote all of his own songs. Chuck Berry was a show too. Paul Revere And The Raiders were one of the best shows you could ever see. They were unbelievable live, when you saw them on stage.
Q - You talk about how you met all these people, did you ever meet any of The Beatles?
A - No, I never did. We did a show with The Stones.
Q - When was that?
A - That was right when they were peaking with "Satisfaction". We did a show in Albany, I think at the theatre. I don't remember the name of the theatre, but The Knickerbockers opened for The Stones. You really didn't meet them. They were very reclusive. They came in, went to their dressing room and you never saw them. Then they hit the stage. They weren't very friendly. They weren't hangin' with anybody. They weren't like that. So, I never really met them.
Q - How successful was "Lies"? How far up the charts did it go?
A - Well, due to the problems of the newness of the label, re-opening their distribution points, it went to number one in most markets. Nationally I think it got to 19 and it kind of drifted off. But it was number one everywhere. In Florida it was number one. In the mid-West it was number one. And at different times. It was a co-ordination problem. Challenge wasn't a big power house record company. They had to piece-meal the release and getting the records out to the places to sell them. Like I said, they were playing catch-up. The record just exploded. It was an immediate radio hit. It just jumped from radio station to radio station.
Q - What was the follow-up to "Lies"?
A - It was called "One Track Mind". Again, we had to fight. We didn't want "One Track Mind" to be the follow-up. Beau had written another song called "Just One Girl". "Just One Girl" was similar to "Lies". It was in the same key. It was the same voice, voicing as far as the harmonies went. It was a real exciting song. We thought we did a real good job on the recording of it, but the record company again second-guessing us, put out "One Track Mind". It was a good song. We did a good job on the record and it did fairly well. I still wonder if "Just One Girl" had been released, had it been better received... That's what we wanted to do. It had been written by one of the members of the band. We wanted to write our own material. We didn't want to do other people's stuff.
Q - You'd been doing that for too long!
A - Right. The idea was we worked and everybody was doing cover material to just make a living in the clubs. But once you made it with a hit record, you wanted to be original. You wanted everything you did to be your own. But, Challenge Records was a little bit behind the beat. (laughs)
Q - I don't suppose Challenge Records is still around.
A - No.
Q - Gene Autry passed away. (1998)
A - Yeah. Joe Johnson was the President and I don't know if he's still around or not.