Gary James' Interview With Gary Walker Of
The Walker Brothers
They were a Los Angeles group in the mid-1960s that everyone thought was a British group. That's because they up and moved their act to England in 1965 at the height of the British Invasion. They enjoyed a considerable amount of sucess in England with Top Ten albums and singles. Here in America they are best known for their hits, "Make It Easy On Yourself" (#16 in 1965) and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore" (#13 in 1966). That group was The Walker Brothers. We spoke with Walker Brothers' drummer Gary Walker about life as a Rock star in the mid-1960s in England.
Q - Gary, what part of Los Angeles are you from?
A - I was born in a place called Glendale, California and it was famous for two people, me and the other was a guy called John Wayne. His father had a shop down by the main street. I never got to see him, but we always would hear about him because he went to Glendale High School where he was a star football player. You could probably walk from your car to where you are now and my best friend, Dean Gerard, lived on some of this same street and nobody knew it was gonna be this famous as it turned out. We were quite proud about that 'cause Glendale wasn't like Los Angeles or some of the other cities. It was just a small city. If you were going to film something, that would be a great location for it. So, not bad coming from that.
Q - Before I go into your past, I should ask, are you still involved in music today?
A - I'll tell you what happened; we still get calls. John has passed away, one of the members of the group, John Walker. It's just Scott and I now. They keep asking us to come out and do something, more so with Scott because he was the lead singer. Of course, he turns it down and doesn't want to do any of that. I started doing other things. I don't know what he's doing. I think he's trying to record certain people that are a little unusual I call it. (laughs) He never seems to go right down the main track. Same like when we did an album called "Nightflights", I think in about 1978. It was probably the best album we ever did. It was the first album that I ever had a couple of tracks on that I could sing. It was the only album that was the worst selling album we ever had. (laughs) The record company kept pulling it back. We asked them one time, "Why are you pulling this album back?" David Bowie loved it. All the people that knew loved it because it was so unusual and different writing. It was far ahead of its time. They pulled it back because it wasn't Blues. It wasn't Rock 'n' Roll. There was not a category for it. They could not find a place to put it. They had difficulty getting air play, more so in America, even though we did get a great response from America from disc jockeys and they thought it was really great. If The Beatles had done it, there probably wouldn't have been a problem. It was a shame it didn't go because we had a lot more to do to go forward with. Of course, I think we finally said we can go and sing a straight ballad or whatever, but that wasn't the direction of the group. The group was to move forward and when that didn't do it, maybe we moved too far forward. (laughs) We then decided to go our own ways and do what we want, and that's how I think it happens with all the groups really. The only ones that held it together have been The Rolling Stones, but there could be money involved. (laughs) So, that was it really.
Q - Even The Stones have hit a brick wall, creatively speaking. They recently released an album of Blues covers.
A - You know what the draw back is? The drawback is when that Rolling Stones' album comes on you hear his (Mick Jagger's) voice and you know who it is. After thirty, forty, fifty thousand years, you got that. Of course I imagine they're in a terrible position unless they go back to doing Chuck Berry or something else. I know them. They had an apartment with John, who was in our group. I knew Bill Wyman. It was hard for them to do anything and the record company was, "Don't fix it if it ain't broke." Of course the record company is right. You got a thousand fans and now you've got a hundred because you've changed your thing. But, we always did it for the music and never for the money.
Q - Only The Beatles could change their music and look and still retain their fans. Nobody else could do that.
A - I totally agree with you. They would have to do something like that and they weren't too scared. That became very important to us and The Stones and David Bowie and everybody. They didn't just do a Blues number. They started pushing it and everything else and that made us all kind of think about our music and maybe changing things around and doing a different thing. They had a little more luxury because they were pretty far ahead, but they didn't go too far out. That was good. I think we have to blame everything on them.
Q - You were good friends with Brian Jones?
A - Yes. I would meet Brian because there was a club we would go to around the corner from where I lived. You could listen to music and drink.
Q - What was the name of the club?
A - I can't remember the name of the club.
Q - Would it have been the Scotch Of St. James?
A - The Scotch Of St. James was in the period of time, the place where I first kind of met The Beatles. We all sat at one table. I sat with George Harrison. Lennon sat across from us. I remember talking to George Harrison and all he talked about was religion 'cause he really got obsessed with this religion kick. I mean, it was fine. I didn't mind it, but that was all we talked about.
Q - What year was that? 1967?
A - Yeah. '66, '67. Lennon was fine. No problem. He was probably the best of the crowd. The only one who was a creep was McCartney.
Q - What?! Everybody has a nice word to say about Paul!
A - Who does?
Q - Everyone I've ever spoken to about Paul and/or The Beatles. I've been told he was Mr. P.R. He was the leader of The Beatles.
A - No. That's not true. He was the one in the forefront with the pretty face and did everything in the high voice. If you had to pin down a leader, all four of 'em had a say about everything. But once they hit America, the pretty boy came across and that was it. Eventually, as you go down the line, you'll see that George comes forward. And of course the most popular one will become John Lennon. I mean, that's kind of show biz. That's just the way it goes.
Q - That's kind of strange what you're saying. John Lennon told TV host Tom Snyder in 1975 that it was Paul who was the most popular.
A - Yeah. That's right. He's totally correct. The reason I mentioned that was the way he looked and his image, where Ringo and the others kind of looked normal, didn't they? He looked more like an outstanding star. He always was. That was the thing with him. He's probably still the same now. But, I have not seen him for a long time because I don't go to the clubs anymore or do anything and probably he doesn't either.
Q - Let me understand, you didn't like Paul McCartney?
A - I didn't get along with him.
Q - Why?
A - Because I think he thought he was Paul McCartney, which he was. But he came across as kind of rude. Somebody who was a show off, which I think you kind of have to be in music anyway, but you didn't get that with Ringo. You could meet him out in the street. Lennon, no problem. You could talk to him about anything like you and I are talking. Paul was a little more edgy because you'd start talking and somebody would start to change around, the subject or whatever when it got back to Paul. I'm not putting him down, that's just the way he was. We all met each other because we were all in the same business. I mean The Stones, us. The thing you did here in England was you'd go do the songs and then they'd set up a tour and you'd go do the tour and hopefully that tour would promote the album and the fans would get to see you. But in the meantime, almost five days out of the week, we would all go to clubs. They were not nightclubs. They were more like a Disco club. They served drinks. We'd all go to a place like Scotch Of St. James and then some other club would become fashionable and we'd go there. Most of the time they'd give you free drinks because they'd want you in there and they wanted people to see you in there and hopefully that would bring other people in there.
Q - If you were a tourist in England at that time, you'd have to have had a paid membership to get in there, wouldn't you?
A - Yeah. That's correct. We never needed any of that of course. We'd come in jeans, but a lot of people had the tie on. It'd didn't matter if you came in in your swimming trunks because of who you were and you came there.
Q - So, you were this guy from Glendale, California who moves to England in what year?
A - '64, '65. I can't remember.
Q - The next thing you know you're in a club, sitting at a table with all four of The Beatles. You know how famous they were. I don't know how I would've handled that.
A - I wouldn't have been able to handle it right away. For some reason the three of us sat down, John, Scott and myself, and said we're not going to go into the clubs, like The Stones and everybody did, for at least six months, until we got a little bit bigger, a little more well known. And of course after that, when we did go into the clubs and saw everybody, they would come and sit with us at our table and talk to us. I don't think we did it for that. I think we were trying to get on a different level. Then we started meeting everybody and there wasn't any problem because we were all in the same business doing different things. The stuff we did, all the pretty ballads, when we were in America playing the clubs in Hollywood and Los Angeles, we never played those pretty songs. It was all Blues and shuffles. You might play one or two of 'em, but everybody came to these discos and nightclubs to dance. So they didn't want any slow songs. You had to play "Green Onions" and all these things and that's what we mainly did. Scott never leant his voice on any of this because he had this pretty, nice voice. John was the lead singer. I didn't sing at all. He could do all these tunes. Scott, every now and then, would do a ballad. We were really good as a trio because Scott was a great bass player. He was probably the third best bass player in Los Angeles.
Q - Going back to my second question, you're not involved in anything musically at this time?
A - No, I'm not. I wish I was. For some reason you lose your energy for it. I don't know how to describe it.
Q - When you moved to England in the mid-1960s, it was probably the center of the music business and fashion as well.
A - Everything.
Q - But, you continued to stay in England. How come you didn't come back to the U.S.?
A - I went back because my parents passed away now and Dean, my best friend since I was five years old and I grew up with, has passed away now. So, there is no reason for me to go back there 'cause I've seen most of it and everything else. And of course I'm pretty well settled here and I love it here. I've got a son and a good wife. I'm trying to think about writing this book at the moment, nothing about any of this. It's more like about a detective from the old days, Philip Marlow I call him, an old private eye. I'll see if I ever get around to it. When you're younger, you just sit down and do these and we wouldn't even start working until about eleven or twelve or one at night. I remember I stayed up 'til about 3:30 A.M. or 4 A.M. and for some reason I was looking out the window and it was dark and I said I better go to sleep or I'd go to a club and come back and it was dark. So, I went to sleep and when I woke up it was still dark. I slept though all the daylight into the dark and I'm telling you, it really scared me. If you try it once you'll know what I mean. You go to sleep in the dark and wake up in the dark. So, I set the alarm, but that's the only time I had something unusual happen. (laughs)
Q - To me, Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones. He was the most unusual looking, actually the best looking guy in the group, the best dressed and the most musical. He put the group together and he named the group. What kind of guy was Brian Jones?
A - When I first met him I was here with a guy called P.J. Proby, who was starting to get very big here. For some reason we went to somebody's house in Kinghtbridge, a big place with a great big table in the dining room and P.J. was sitting on one side and across from him was Brian Jones on the other side. That's where I first met him and I didn't get to talk to him because I was really nobody. Him and P.J. talked. Brian Jones said something and P.J. said, "Oh, let's go onstage and fight it out." P.J. was an immense talent. Of course, it never came about. Funny enough, I was in a place just outside of London and this Rolls came up, a duel headlight, 1955-1956, and Brian Jones was in it. He got out and I said hello. Everybody knew everybody. He said, "You wanna buy a car?", 'cause he was selling the car. I wanted to buy it, but I didn't have the money. (laughs) That was it I think. We used to see Mick Jagger and the rest. Of course none of us seem to do anything now.
Q - You never had an opportunity to talk with Brian Jones about what he was thinking, what his plans were for the future?
A - No. That would never come across. I would sit with him and we'd talk about music. I don't think there was any inkling that anything was going to happen with The Rolling Stones to go a certain way because they're still going, aren't they?
Q - More or less.
A - Yeah.
Q - You knew a lot of people, Gary!
A - I knew David Bowie when he was known as Davy Jones. We would go up to London to Wardour Street, which was like a Tim Pan Alley where they have all the publishing, and I would see him. He said, "Can you loan me some money?" So, I'd give him ten Pounds of money and he didn't have any money. Then later I moved out to King's Road outside of London and a lot of people lived on this road. It was quite a famous road and I used to go on to Marc Bolan's house and play drums. We, Scott and myself, came around there. Marc Bolan didn't know we could play. Scott started playing the bass and I'd start playing the drums and he stopped playing and said, "I cannot believe you guys can play." Of course we'd been playing for ten years or whatever, right? (laughs) It was such a shock to him. I think he just thought they put the orchestra in there and Scott sings the line and that's the end of it.
Q - Today, you don't have to have a good voice. There are software programs that take care of that. And you can program the music. How times have changed!
A - Yeah. The public wants to hear a certain thing. If you start changing around, they'll leave you. I think they'll also leave you because you're growing up and they're growing up and of course as you're growing up everything changes, doesn't it?
Q - Yes, it does. Music doesn't become as important to you anymore.
A - Of course in that period of time I think that was the only thing that counted here, in America and probably anywhere. I mean, I had some success in Japan where I was one of the most popular people there even with those crummy little songs I did. It was kind of a shock. I don't know why it happened or how it happened. When we did a couple of State shows all I did was jump around the stage like an idiot, but the Japanese seemed to love it. But, that's show biz.
Q - Were you in the original version or line-up of The Standells?
A - Yeah.
Q - And you left before they had that big hit, "Dirty Water"?
A - Yeah. They were real upset and I don't blame 'em. I said I'm going with P.J. Proby to England to play the drums and I wanted to go to England anyway. I didn't know how it would go or what it would turn into. Of course they were upset and of course they got another drummer, Dick Dodd, who was quite famous. He was in a thing they called The Mickey Mouse Club, which was a massive television show by Disney that went all over America. He became the drummer in there. I always kept in touch with a guy called Gary McMillan, who was the bass player. He's passed away now. I would always talk to him. They went that way and of course I came here and went this way. Proby was a little bit of trouble at first 'cause he had a little bit of drink problem we'll say. (laughs) And that was it really. And then things went on from there. That's when I decided to go back and get the other two. This was different 'cause all Americans had short hair. They all had long hair and looked halfway decent. Scott had a different voice. That's what was meant to be or how things worked out.
Q - We were talking about The Beatles earlier. Is it true that Brian Epstein approached you about managing the group?
A - Yes. He had two offices, I can't remember where it was. Anyway, it was the Beatle office. It was him and Robert Stigwood. Epstein was fine. Stigwood was a creep. (laughs) He was strictly business. I went in to see him (Epstein) in the office with Stigwood. So, both of them were in there. As I left and was going out to get the elevator and go down the hall, Esptein came out and said, "It doesn't matter what Stigwood says. I like the group and I want the group. What I'll do is send for your father (my father), all right?" I said, "Okay." "I'll fly him over on Monday," (Esptein said). I said "Okay. We'll get this sorted and get all the contracts." And he died on Sunday.
Q - Why did you need your father to look at the contracts?
A - I wanted my father to come over just to be on the safe side, to check everything. It probably wasn't necessary, but I guess it was.
Q - You're talking about The Walker Brothers?
A - It was The Gary Walker Group and he thought the group was really good and they all looked good. I don't know what would've happened or where we would be now.
Q - Why wasn't it The Walker Brothers?
A - 'Cause Scott said he'd never work with Brian Epstein.
Q - Why?
A - 'Cause we'd be taking Beatles money. I don't think that's true, but it probably was. (laughs) For some reason, that's why he didn't want to do it. He thought we could never move ahead if you're in that same school with them. They're number one, right?
Q - Right.
A - We were trying to get somewhere. They had the power to block it then, didn't they? You think of this stuff when you're younger and foolish. (laughs)
Q - At one point, your fan club in England was bigger than The Beatles. How did that happen?
A - I have no idea how it happened. You had to do the TV shows and we were lucky enough to do them. They only took The Beatles, The Stones, us. And of course this gave you the exposure you needed and the biggest thing was we were doing the ballads, the pretty songs, the romantic songs. I think the younger girls identified with that. We would walk around King's Road in jeans. I remember we were walking down King's Road in England here and there was a lady selling flowers. She must've been about sixty-five or seventy and we were twenty-three years old or so. She stopped us and wanted us to sign an autograph. Scott was totally shocked by this. It wasn't all the kids, it was the adults who were exposed to television and she knew who we were. This was like walking down some street in New York and having somebody stop you and ask you to do this and you couldn't relate to. We would go out a lot. We'd go to the movies 'cause we liked them. So, that was the first time we thought about it. We didn't think about it seriously. We thought it was a bit bizarre. It would've been fine if it was somebody eighteen, nineteen, but it wasn't. It was someone a little bit older. Things progressed from there and we wanted to go see a movie 'cause we liked the cinema as I told you. Then, as it got worse after the movie started we had to come around to the side door of the movie theatre and they would let us in there in the dark to sit down and watch the movie. If we went in there before, they couldn't show the movie because of the fans and it just got totally out of hand.
Q - A few years back I interviewed Kathy Young, who was married to Johnny, and she said you couldn't go anywhere, a movie theatre or a restaurant without being mobbed. You're saying that is absolutely true.
A - Yeah. It is absolutely true. We're not saying totally big mobbing. Five or six would see you and anybody else in the area would see you and they'd come around and there'd be about fifteen or twenty people. My father came over and I was going to show him the tour of London and all these famous landmarks, Buckingham Palace. So, I took my father to The Tower Of London and somebody spotted me and they had to shut the Tower down. There was about eighty or ninety people after they knew I was there, who were coming up and saying, "I'm afraid you're going to have to leave." So, I had to go into the Tower, which they couldn't get into, where I went in and wait. And that was it. They said if you ever come in here again you let us know and we can prepare for all this. I never went there again anyway. But it would probably be the same if Paul McCartney was walking down the street in New York.
Q - That's funny you should say that. I was told that in 1967, on a Sunday, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger could walk down the street in London and not be bothered.
A - Yeah.
Q - They couldn't do that in New York City then and certainly not today. They would be mobbed. Maybe they could walk down the streets of London, but not in the United States.
A - I was in my car, going up to this place on King's Road where a lot of shops and restaurants are, and I would see John Lennon walking with Yoko when it was that period of time. They might beep the horn and wave, but he was walking straight down the street, no problem.
Q - When you were mobbed by fans, what is it that they wanted? Did they want an autograph? Did they want to pull your hair out? Did they want to tear your clothes off?
A - Yes. All the stuff you're saying, they did. They all wanted to touch you.
Q - Just girls, right? Or girls and guys?
A - Just girls so far. They'd pull on your hair and you'd tell 'em to cut it out. I finally got away one time 'cause I was nice to 'em and I later found out one of 'em took my watch. You wouldn't know it at the time because of everybody doing everything. I never felt it leave. That was probably the worst one. All you had to do, say we were going to a restaurant, we'd pull the car up to the door and we just had to get from the car into the restaurant and that was it. That's how we kind of had to do everything in the end. They always seemed to know where you were going and what you were doing. I don't know how. They had their own little private eye I think. (laughs)
Q - I guess so. On the early recordings of The Walker Brothers, session men like "Big" Jim Sullivan and Alan Parker were used. How did you feel about that?
A - Oh, fine. No problem. The thing was, when we played as a trio it would be the three of us. Towards the end they wanted Scott and John to hold the guitar 'cause they might take a picture of 'em. It seemed to be important to the fans that you played on everything. I never played on any of those big sessions. After they were done I knew what to play because I knew the tune, but those were all done by session people. They had to try and get them done because they were very expensive to do. You're paying twenty-five Pounds, or whatever it is, a session man. Scott and John would go in after the tracks were done and sing the vocals. That was kind of it.
Q - Your second single was produced by Nick Venet, who also produced The Beach Boys. You got him to produce the single because of your association with P.J. Proby?
A - No. When Scott and John were by their self, he saw them in a club and wanted to record them. They never got recorded until it came to the time period you're talking about. I picked the "Love Her" song. Scott said he picked it, but he didn't. I picked it. He recorded it and then he came to England with it and then he went back. I don't remember what happened after all that time. I think "Love Her" went to about 22. It didn't go any higher. But when they started seeing us on television and what we looked like with the long hair, that's what kind of saved us and moved us on. You didn't see Americans looking like that, you know, Bobby Rydell and the rest. They were all different. That's how it kind of got stuck in the ballads. They don't want to change stuff around when it's working. And of course we changed around when we did the "Nightflight" and that was the best thing we'd ever done and of course it was the worst selling, if that means anything. It's just a shame it didn't get out there. It was such an interesting, different, miles ahead of anything anybody else in anything they were doing.
Q - In 1967, The Walker Brothers toured with Jimi Hendrix.
A - Wait, wait, wait. He toured with us.
Q - He opened for you?
A - Yeah. I'll tell you where we saw him and how it all came about. I was asked to go to a club with Paul McCartney and somebody else to see this guy and the guy was Jimi Hendrix. I knew the drummer, Mitch (Mitchell), and later I knew Noel (Redding) when we did a tour and put Hendrix on it. We went to see him and we thought it was really good, but we'd seen that type of artist in L.A. before. Great guitarist, great singer and great everything else. We all got along fine. It was a bizarre tour. It was like Frank Sinatra and The Beatles.
Q - They did put diverse acts on the same bill in the 1960s and 1970s, something they don't do today and it's unfortunate.
A - Yeah. Englebert Humperdinck was on this. It really takes your breath away. I used to talk to him. Finally he said, "What am I going to do here?" Scott liked him and he was a good singer and had a bit of class. First thing I said was, "Take off that coat and roll your sleeves up and unbutton that shirt. It didn't help. It helped a bit. Quite a few came to see him, but he kept saying he didn't know what he was doing on that tour. I said if you can get on tour with us being very popular, the place would be packed and you would get the exposure.
Q - What was Hendrix like?
A - He was a gentleman. I never heard him swear. We'd sit around and talk about the South and the people he played with. Once he got on the stage of course he went into this routine which made him very popular and you wouldn't have thought talking to him that that was coming and that's how it went. He started getting bigger and bigger.
Q - The following year, 1968, The Walker Brothers broke up. Was that because the tours weren't there? Record sales were down?
A - No. It got to this same stage I think with The Beatles where Lennon left. Scott wanted to do certain things. John wanted to do certain things and I wanted to do certain things and of course we had a vehicle with the record company to do these things. But when you're with Phillips or whatever the company is, they want you to do the Walker Brothers thing and the same as they want you to do the Beatle thing or the Stones thing. We wanted to do something else. The record companies want you to sing "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine" again and again and again. From an artist's point of view, it's no good. Otherwise you might as well get somebody else to sing 'em.
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