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The Walker Brothers

Three brothers on a mission to enhance the world of blue-eyed soul? Well. No. Rather a seasoned trio of like-minded American-born singers/musicians who’d already tested the waters in the early 60s with previous acts before finding fame and fortune. The WALKER BROTHERS; real names:- Scott Engel (vocals/bass), John Maus (vocals/guitar) and Gary Leeds (drums/vocals), drew a croon kinship from the equally unrelated RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS (`You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’, etc) to have major hits in a similar, melodramatic, SPECTOR-esque vein from `Make It Easy On Yourself’ and `The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. Having fully upped-sticks to England, where they’d concentrated on becoming trendy, goody-two-shoes chart-toppers, the US of A deserted them forthwith when flower-power and psychedelia struck a rock chord.
SCOTT WALKER – as he’d come to be called – was the most striking and experienced of the trio. He’d arrived having had an unfruitful solo career as teenager Scott Engel (between 1958-63), while he was also a bassist for instrumental surf crew, The ROUTERS (from 1962), before he briefly teamed up with both The SURFARIS (alongside Maus; on tour only) and schoolchum John Stewart in The Dalton Brothers. Meanwhile, John Walker/Maus was a child actor prior to becoming part of brother/sister recording artists, John And Judy; in 1963, they added Engel and drummer “Spider” Webb, after they adjusted the name to Judy And The Gents. Rounding off the trio, Gary Walker/Leeds had been an integral part of The STANDELLS, and had subsequently spent time in the UK augmenting fellow American star P.J. PROBY; this was helpful in the three’s quest for stardom.
Buoyed by support from Brian Jones (of The ROLLING STONES), and in-vogue with Carnaby Street-styled fashions that had filtered Stateside through a plethora of “British Invasion” bands, The WALKER BROTHERS decided to reverse the policy and take on Old Blighty. When debut 45, `Pretty Girls Everywhere’ (John on lead vox), had failed to generate any significant sales for Smash Records (or indeed, Philips, in the UK), February ’65 marked the month the WB’s took their chance in swinging London.
Armed with a song penned by the Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil team, and arranged by PHIL SPECTOR collaborator JACK NITZSCHE (Nick Venet was its producer back in the States), `Love Her’ became the group’s first Top 20 hit, in Britain! Scott had been afforded lead baritone vox, on this and the group’s follow-up 45, the classic Johnny Franz-produced `Make It Easy On Yourself’. Stemming from the pens of BACHARACH-DAVID and a US-only hit for JERRY BUTLER a few years back, the lads’ re-vamp soared to the top in Britain, paving the way for a stream of other 45s (including UK Top 3, `My Ship Is Coming In’) and the accompanying Top 5 LP, TAKE IT EASY WITH THE WALKER BROTHERS (1965) {*7}; Smash Records in the States released the set as “Introducing The Walker Brothers” with a few tweaks and variations.
Similar in many respects to other “covers” type albums of the day (with the exception of Scott’s lone track, `You’re All Around Me’), the management team pitted the likes of soul classics `Dancing In The Street’, `Land Of 1,000 Dances’ and `There Goes My Baby’ with songs by DYLAN (`Love Minus Zero – No Limit’), RANDY NEWMAN (`I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore’), DAVID GATES (`Girl I Lost In The Rain’) and a couple by Mort Shuman & Doc Pomus; Mort was the man who translated the songs of JACQUES BREL, a Belgian whom Scott came to idolize.
Re-vamping a recent FRANKIE VALLI flop penned by Crewe & Gaudio, `The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ topped the British charts and reached No.13 in the States (their last to enter the Hot 100). As with Top 20 follow-up, `(Baby) You Don’t Have To Tell Me’, both omitted from the group’s Top 3 sophomore set, PORTRAIT (1966) {*6}, but not their compilation-type American counterpart, THE SUN AIN’T GONNA SHINE ANYMORE {*5} – which overlapped only a handful of songs – The WALKER BROTHERS’ formulaic approach received mixed reviews from the critics. Saddled next to recognisable nostalgic staples, `Summertime’, `Old Folks’ and `Just For A Thrill’, Scott’s two pieces `Saturday’s Child’ and `I Can See It Now’ (the latter scribed with Johnny Franz), complemented a tight version of CURTIS MAYFIELD’s `People Get Ready’.
On the back of three exclusive middle-chart UK hits, `Another Tear Falls’ (also by BACHARACH & DAVID), Franz & Scott’s own `Deadlier Than The Male’ and a LORRAINE ELLISON hit, `Stay With Me Baby’, the switch from musical director Ivor Raymonde to Reg Guest on third LP, IMAGES (1967) {*5}, might well’ve been significant. The decision also to bypass a further Top 30 hit, `Walking In The Rain’ (penned by Spector-Mann-Weil), and instead highlight old masters, `Blueberry Hill’ and `Stand By Me’, probably took the edge off Scott’s increasing workload, namely `Experience’, `Orpheus’ and `Genevieve’; it must be said also, that the pen of John Maus was in hand for `I Wanna Know’ and `I Can’t Let It Happen To You’; movie theme extras (`I Will Wait For You’ and `Once Upon A Summertime’) were donated by composer Michel Legrand and Co.
But that was it for the once-mighty WALKER BROTHERS, who split into three factions, the busy SCOTT WALKER becoming a cult-crooner solo star in his own right (although helped by several songs supplied by JACQUES BREL), while JOHN WALKER tried in vain to emulate his former buddy’s musical prowess after one barren Top 30 hit, `Annabella’; several singles and a couple of LPs bombed thereafter. Having already achieved a modicum of success in 1966 when the “Brothers” were in full flow, GARY WALKER moved up to the mic for a few middle-chart volleys, `You Don’t Love Me’ and `Twinkie-Lee’, before he formed The Rain.
As ensuing musical tides turned against Scott and his former compadres by the mid-70s, there was little thought when it came to re-forming The WALKER BROTHERS. Appropriately half-inching a recent TOM RUSH country-folk gem, `No Regrets’, and releasing it in to the UK Top 10 after its parent LP (also entitled NO REGRETS (1975) {*6}), dented the Top 50, the trio were back on course. Co-produced by the main Walker and Geoff Calver at the Marquee Studios in London, and augmented by a raft of the era’s best sessioners (including B.J. Cole, Darryl Runswick and Alan Parker), other outsider songs, among others, were sourced from KRIS KRISTOFFERSON, MICKEY NEWBURY, JANIS IAN, EMMYLOU HARRIS, CURTIS MAYFIELD/JERRY BUTLER.
The need for formula and stability at a time when the music world was crossing over to the other side, more or less put the mockers on the “regretful” follow-up, LINES (1976) {*4}. A blend of country and AOR, most lovers of pop would have already been exposed to meatier and mightier versions of `We’re All Alone’ (by BOZ SCAGGS), `Many Rivers To Cross’ (JIMMY CLIFF), `Brand New Tennessee Waltz’ (JESSE WINCHESTER), et al.
Scott eschewed the lure of the beckoning nostalgia circuit, however, leading the band in a radically commendable and different direction for 1978’s NITE FLIGHTS {*6}, the brothers’ final album together. With Side One almost totally allocated to Scott’s songs (including `The Electrician’, and the title track) – `Death Of Romance’ was by Gary – and Side Two given over to John (on four) and Gary, again (one), The WALKER BROTHERS at least left their mark on the music world as a bona fide group of singer-songwriters.
SCOTT WALKER duly turned to the avant-garde for inspiration, releasing albums of a sporadic and sprawling nature, kicking off in ’84 for Virgin Records, with Climate Of Hunter; it’s unlikely there’ll be another set after his 2012’s neo-classical exercise, Bish Bosch. On a sad note, JOHN WALKER – diagnosed with cancer in 2010 – passed away at his L.A. house on May 7, 2011. The ultimate passing came when the legendary Scott met his maker on March 22, 2019.
© MC Strong 1994-2006 // rev-up MCS Mar2014-May2019

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