The Walker Brothers
‘Invaders’ from California
(Visit the Walker Brothers U.K. Discography Page Here)
Two of the three Walkers collaborated on this auto-biography, apparently without the services of the usual ‘ghost’ author. The format for this tale is alternating chapters between John and Gary. Scott is absent from the endeavor which isn’t fully explained.
The alternating hand-off approach works well in the early chapters, when both Walkers (John Maus and Gary Lee Gibson aka “Gary Leeds”), provide a very interesting story of their formative years on the southern California coastline. I enjoy all of these early California-based sagas (Boyce and Hart, Jan and Dean, David Marks, etc.,) because they are full of criss-crossing stories – intriguing and fun!.
The later chapters of “The Walker Brothers” bogged down a bit for me, after their arrival and establishing themselves in Great Britain. The exchanging of parallel narratives becomes a little too redundant for my liking, but still provides some tasty 60’s-era nuggets.
As they story progressive past the Walker’s glory years, their struggle to remain vibrant and in the mainstream follows a familiar theme line… while some quality music was no-doubt produced, the original magic just wasn’t there any more as is almost always the case.
The Early Days (in the U.S.A.)
Gary “Walker”: The Beltones/The Biscaynes/Standells
Gary Lee Gibson was a member of a garage-oriented group in 1956 called “The Beltones” with Gary on drums, Tom Bronheim on guitar and Randy Thomas playing piano. Thomas would go on to become a member of “The Hondells in the 60’s as a touring member vs. being in the studio to record, as “The Hondells” recordings were anchored by professional studio musicians and produced by Gary Usher .
There apparently weren’t any recordings from the Beltones. They were short-lived as Gary moved on to join a sax player by the name of Tom Funk and a bass player – Mike – who’s last name is lost to time in another garage ensemble, “The Biscaynes”. This was 1957.
A few years passed and then Gary would join up with an early version of the Hollywood group “The Standells”. Larry Tamblyn on piano (brother of actor Russ Tamblyn West Side Story/Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, etc.), Tony Valentino on guitar and bass player Gary Lane were members of this early version of the band.
According to Gary Lee they played somewhat as regulars at both “The Peppermint West” and “PJ’s” in Hollywood. That is where he would meet up with “Jet Powers” a rambunctious solo performer who also sang at “The Whiskey-A-Go-Go” in Hollywood. Powers was to become “P.J. Proby” an American transplant to Great Britain who would be accompanied to the British island by Gary (who was now “Gary Leeds”) for a short time – no doubt planting seeds for the future direction that the Walker Brothers would take.
While still in Great Britain, Gary formed the group “Gary Walker and The Rain, which included the future “Bad Finger” member of Joey Molland, Charles Crane and John Lawson. “The Rain” cut several tracks and released two singles in the U.K.
John “Walker”: John & Judy/The Boys in the Neighborhood
John Maus, as Posted here earlier, was a neighbor and friend to David Marks of the Beach Boys, providing guitar instruction to both David and across-the-street neighbor Carl Wilson – both soon-to-be Beach Boys. John, in his teens, was very proficient on the “Stratocaster” guitar – a favorite of the surf bands. At age 17 John was a member of a local and loosely organized “doo wop” group which included Dale Lundbert, Cody Vaught and Tom Alu – none of which apparently went on to any significant fame.
John, on the other hand, teamed up with his older sister, Judy Maus to perform and record as the duo, simply enough “John and Judy”. Their earliest recording was on the California “Aladdin” record label (1958), followed by several recordings on the “Dore” label (1959-1960) and then “Arvee” in 1961 – a label which was anchored by “The Olympics” – a group which managed a handful of national hit records. The brother and sister team managed to get local airplay on L.A. radio stations, and were invited to perform often in Los Angeles.
John and Judy would take on a supporting band in the 1958-1959 time-frame – “The Newports” which include Jimmy Lendennie on drums and Freddie Paterson on guitar. The group would release one record in 1958 on the “Admiral” label. During his earlier youth John landed commercial spots and small roles in the entertainment industry, all-the time keeping with his interest in performing rock-and-roll.
In 1965, about the time “The Walker Brothers” career as “Brits” was taking off, John married pop singer Kathy Young. The book seems to draw their relationship out for many years – or so it seems – but in fact they were together as a married couple for three years – divorcing in 1968. Her biggest claim to fame was her smash hit “A Thousand Stars” accompanied by “The Innocents”, #3 on the Billboard pop charts in 1960. Interestingly the song rose to number 6 on the R&B charts.
Scott “Walker”: Solo career/The Routers/The “Safaris”/The Walker Brother Trio
Scott Engel was introduced into show business via an association with recording star Eddie Fisher. Scott came to the attention of the Orbit record label out of Hollywood, where based on his great voice and tremendous good looks, was targeted as the next “teen sensation”. For all of Orbit’s good intentions, they just didn’t have the promotional muscle to push their would-be star onto the nation’s charts. His third release for Orbit – “Blue Bell” gained the most attention – even as far away as Chicago, but never moved beyond the “hit bound” designation.
Scott’s next stop would be with the California instrumental group “The Routers” in 1961. They hit the big time with “Let’s Go” which streaked to number 19 in the nation in early 1962. Apparently most of the music laid down by “The Routers” from 1962 until 1968 was delivered by studio musicians (think “The Wrecking Crew”) two being Leon Russell and drummer Hal Blaine.
John would meet up with John Maus and would work with him and Judy in their act along with a Spider Webb on drums. They would continue on as “The Newports” but only briefly. The books tells of Scott taking to the road with a group calling themselves “The Safaris” performing that group’s surf tracks (1963). In the book’s telling, there really wasn’t a “real” group of Safari’s – but this just plain isn’t so.
When Scott went with the bogus group for a time – he was joined by a new musical acquaintance, John Stewart. Next, Scott and John Stewart began performing as “The Dalton Brothers” and then – along with John Maus, who by then had taken to calling himself “John Walker” formed a trio – “The Walker Brothers Trio” they added a four member drummer Al Schneider and became the “Walker Brothers” and so the stage was set to make the trip to England.
At the point of the story in “No Regrets” where the Walkers land in Great Britain (Gary, Scott and John) we hear tale after tale of the huge stir they created wherever they went, comparing themselves with perhaps only two “equals” those being The Beatles and The Stones. Their telling paints a picture of both harmony and discord among the three.
It almost seems at times as though – as close as they must have been – they were often out of touch from a reality stand point with was actually transpiring for each individual member. There is no contribution from Scott, who by the book’s telling, seemed to perhaps have some demons. He tended to withdraw and there is a conflicting account of an incident involving Scott where he apparent taped up his dwelling, sealing the doors and windows and then turning on the gas. One Walker discounts this but doesn’t really seem sure of himself, and the other Walker more or less tells the story as solid fact – but not knowing exactly what was plaguing their friend.
If you had never heard of the Walker Brothers, and started with “No Regrets” you would imagine you were learning about a “fab three” rarely matched in the annals of pop music. The Charts tell a bit of different story.
They charted three times in the U.S. with “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” being their pinnacle achievement at number 13. In Great Britain where girls were mobbing their performances, tearing off their clothes, they charted 9 times from 1965 through 1967, with two number 1 records.
They reunited in the mid 1970’s and actually managed a #7 hit appropriately titled “No Regrets”.
There were several solo efforts. Gary Walker released one record on the “Date” label in 1966. Scott Walker released three singles on the Smash label in 1968 and 1969, and Tower Records released a long play and a single with material they had in the can by Scott and John Stewart.
Tower attempted to paint the duo as an assembly of the “Walker Brothers” with an LP release. John Walker would also release a single in 1966 on Smash records.
In the U.K. the lone Walkers would fair better with Gary and John both charting twice, and lead singer Scott with the big voice four times. Scott’s long plays would also make it onto the British charts four times in the 1960’s and then in 1984, 1992 and 1995.
An American Tale
The Walkers had a good run, and “No Regrets” is an interesting read for the U.S. years. But it bogs down as the Great Britain experience goes on and on and in the end I was just happy that the trio emerged as well as they did.
John and Gary came back to the U.S. – and they all just kept seeking that Rainbow and magical Pot of Gold at the end.
John Walker passed away at his home in California in May of 2011 losing a battle with liver cancer. He was 67. Scott remains active in music projects residing to this day in England where he obtained citizenship in 1965.