At the end of this month (February 2009), John Walker, one of the original members of the chart-topping group joins the Solid Silver Sixties tour, playing venues all over the UK until the last week of May. We spoke to John at his home in California ahead of the tour:
MR: Good morning Mr Walker, I hear that we're going to be seeing you back over here shortly.
John Walker: Yes you are, I'm doing the Solid Silver Sixties Tour, which starts at the end of February, and goes on for a long time.
MR: Is it about six weeks?
JW: I think it's about that, I know there's over 60 shows. That's a few more than I normally do, but there you go.
MR: Have you been back to the UK since the Sixties?
JW: Oh yeah, well I lived there almost until 1980, off and on. I'd sort of travel around a bit, come back - I always managed to come back, it's my second home, basically.
MR: What persuaded you to come to the UK in the first place?
JW: That was Gary's idea. Gary had been playing drums for PJ Proby, when PJ Proby had his first big hit 'Hold me', that was 1964 I think, and we'd known Gary for years, he played drums in one of the bands in Hollywood, and we were a Hollywood band. Gary worked for PJ Proby and he came back and he saw us playing in this club and he said 'you guys ought to come over to England,' and we never thought anything about it. We were going to go over and have a look because England was all very exciting, you know, with all the British groups coming over to America and everybody was excited about the whole thing.
We thought, we were going to go over there and check it out anyway, but Gary came up with this idea, he was like, ‘yeah just go over there, if you guys actually played there, you'd probably work out really good’.
The funny part about it was that we were a rock'n'roll band and we just signed with Mercury Records and the fellow that produced us came up with this song 'Love her' that we recorded at our second recording and it sort of started the way that we became known for singing ballads. It's sort of strange, but there you have it. And the funny part about it was that it was like, British beat music was what was happening, and here we were, like doing ballads. We didn't think that we'd be successful, particularly with this record, but we were wrong.
MR: I heard that at one point you possibly outstripped the Beatles in popularity...
JW: Well we certainly were as popular for a while, you know it was really an odd thing, the top three groups in England were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Walker Brothers and we sort of switched positions in popularity occasionally.
MR: Well, three gorgeous young American guys, it must have been quite interesting for the English girls...
JW: Well, I'd like to think so.
MR: I heard that you met Scott Engel, as he was then, when you were John Maus, at the Gazzari Club in California, is that right?
JW: Yeah, well Scott and I were playing at Gazzari's, we were like the house band, basically it was a dance club and you played top 40 music all night long, and that was what we did.
MR: How old were you when you met Scott Engel, later Walker?
JW: 20. Well, we actually met really early on, when we were both about 13, because I started out in showbusiness as an actor, I was a child actor. I did commercials and plays and things when I was younger, and I'd met Scott at CBS Studios, he went with a friend of his who was looking for a part, well I was doing the same thing. I got a part and Scott's friend didn't get the part, but Scott got the part, it was kind of weird, because he just went along for the ride as it were. And we met up then, I think we were both about 13 or 14, somewhere around there, very young.
Then I didn't see him again until I was playing up in a place called Pandora's Box in Hollywood and Scott was in a surf group, who were the guest artists in the club that night. He called me up the next day, he said, 'I've got to get out of this surf band, do you need a bass player?' And I said, 'Yeah, well get a drummer,' - cos we had a terrible drummer at the time, so anyway, that's kind of how we sort of formed up and started working together.
MR: And so what prompted the name, The Walker Brothers? Because you know some people still think you really were brothers.
JW: Ah well, no, we weren't really all brothers. No, that was the big lie, for some reason. I think Gary propagated that lie but anyway, what happened was, we got the job in Gazzari's and I wasn't actually old enough to play there, but we weren't going to lose the job, so I got a phoney ID. Don't ask me why I chose the name Walker, but I did. And we didn't have a name for the group. I don't know where the ‘brothers’ things came in, but we were trying to be a cool trio, so it was originally called the Walker Brothers Trio. For some reason we thought that sounded cool, and then of course the record companies shortened it to the Walker Brothers period, and there you go.
MR: What I think was fascinating about swinging London in the 60s was that you were all part of a unique time and place.
JW: Oh yeah! I think it's an amazing thing because I think the sixties, and the mid-sixties, was just an unbelievably cool period of time and London was the coolest place in the world. There was no place in the world like London, it was just the most amazing thing, and yeah, it's like you think of things that have happened in your life that are really fantastically unique and that happened and it was really kind of just amazing to be a part of that.
MR: I can imagine, it's not a phenomenon that's been repeated since, is it?
JW: No. I mean, I don't know, it was just everything, it was fashion, it was like attitude, it was almost like something just happened. Amazing!
MR: When you come back to the UK, what kind of material will you be playing? Will it be mainly Walker Brothers' classics, or will there be some new stuff as well?
JW: Well, I always do new stuff and the Walker Brothers - we had four major hits, we had three big hits in the 60s, Take it Easy, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore and My Ship Is Coming In, I always do those, and then I do No Regrets as well, because in 70s that was a hit, and then, because I still record, I usually do some tracks from one of my solo albums, and also just songs that I like. Kind of a variety of things.
MR: Are you all still in touch?
JW: Yes, Gary and I are in the process of writing a book, which is really kind of interesting, you know there's been so much stuff written about us, and by various people, and most of it's speculation, most of it isn't very correct. So Gary and I decided last year, actually a little over a year ago, we were sitting down talking, and we said, you know, one of these days we're actually going to have to get together and tell people some things that actually did happen, because most of the things that have been written about us, didn't happen. So we're in the process of doing that.
MR: Is there anything else you'd like to tell Saga readers?
JW: Well, I look forward to doing this tour, which is always great fun for me, and I manage to get out and see as many people as I can after the show, which is always great fun. We couldn't do that in the 60s - it wasn't safe!
MR: You'd have been torn limb from limb, wouldn't you?
JW: This is true. But it's kind of fun now, because a lot of people I see and say hello to, you know, a lot of people come up to me and say, 'you know I've waited 40 years to say hello to you in person,' we have a great laugh, we have a great time during the tour, the show is always good and the crowds are always good, so it's a real pleasure. I'm really looking forward to coming over this year.
MR: And it's a generation that knows how to party and have fun.
JW: Oh absolutely, you have to watch your moves!
Solid Silver Sixties Show
Featuring The Searchers, The Merseybeats, Wayne Fontana and John Walker of the Walker Brothers, the tour kicked off in Cardiff on February 27, 2009 and finished in Leicester on May 26, 2009.
An album which coincided with the tour - The Solid Silver 60s - Greatest Hits
was released by the UMTV label on March 2, 2009.
This interview was published before John Walker passed away in May, 2011.