John Walker & The Walker Brothers
Most people don’t know this, but I grew up training myself to be a visual artist, mostly drawing and painting, and by the time I was in High School, I had been teaching myself to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, which in the mid 90s was a fairly advanced thing, as most people didn’t even own computers yet. I was also teaching myself to be a web programmer and designer, and had been running a small business designing and maintaining web pages for people and businesses. At that time, web sites were basically done by hand, that is to say, hand typed in Notepad, as there weren’t any html editors that I was aware of. The internet barely had anything useful on it, and searching for anything was usually pretty time consuming. Corporate-made web sites were boring, but there was a small force of hard core web designers out there doing some really amazing things, really getting creative with their work. Web sites made by these folks were really a work of art, and as I got into this world, it allowed me to use my skills in photography and graphic design to make visually interesting web sites.
I was also playing guitar in some bands, and had been writing songs with a friend from school. I remember jamming in her laundry room, and when the song finished, I heard music coming from the garage. It didn’t sound like someone playing a stereo, it sounded like someone was in there jamming too. I asked my friend what that was, and she replied “oh yeah that’s my dad. He’s a really good guitar player, he was in a band in the 60s”. At which point my eyes perked up, and I asked “what band would that be?”
Her response was “The Walker Brothers”
I didn’t recognize the name, but as soon as I got home I did a little research and realized that their big hit in the States was played fairly regularly on the radio, and I knew it well. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.”
It was really hard to find any of their stuff at any of the local record stores. Music Trader (a local chain that had new and used records, CDs, and tapes) had a couple of used Scott Walker CDs, but that was about it.
That summer, my family had decided to vacation is Paris for a couple of weeks, since my Mom had a friend that owned an apartment directly next to Nôtre Dame de Paris. While we were there, we ventured down to Bordeaux, where there was a large record store, which must have been a Virgin Records or something like that. Inside I was able to find a “Greatest Hits” CD of The Walker Brothers. That allowed me to familiarize myself more with their work. Remember, at this time, the internet was barely useful, and listening to music on the internet wasn’t really possible. Internet speeds were too slow for streaming music, and file sizes for audio files were too big for most servers available back then. Keep in mind that 20MB was an outstanding server size, and MP3s really weren’t a thing yet. So the only way to research music was to go out and find a record. Some streaming technology was starting to emerge. Windows Media Player and Real Player were two examples of really poor quality, proprietary systems that were extremely buggy and unreliable.
Fast forward to more songwriting with my friend. By this time I had become better acquainted with her parents, and her father, John, had taken a liking to me. I was over at their home quite a bit, and he was impressed with my work with web design and graphics. The fact that I was running the official Audrey Hepburn Foundation web site at this point also looked good for me. So he approached me about helping him out with his web site. It turns out that he had a pretty nice recording studio in his garage, and he had been writing and recording songs in order to make a come-back.
So we worked together building his web site and album cover, and he was very involved with how he wanted the graphics to look. He had a professional photographer take some photos of him, and we came up with a theme that we would use for the web site and album. John came over to my house and worked side by side with me on every detail on multiple occasions. We would edit photos, choose fonts, play with the layout. He was very particular about everything, but also had a great deal of trust for me and my opinions.
Finally the time came where he was done mixing and mastering his album, and we were ready to get them duplicated, printed, and packaged. He had a deal with record stores in the UK (where most of his fan base was, and where he was going to launch his comeback), and we made ads for magazines. I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently all of the CDs that he had printed for this album “You” had been stolen or lost on their way to the UK, which caused a huge setback for him, and I guess resulted in a big falling out between John and his principal investor. I didn’t learn about this until I read the book that he and former band mate Gary (Leeds) Walker would later publish. But John gave me a copy of the CD before he sent them out, so I was lucky to have one.
By this time, my life was changing a great deal. I was graduating from High School and going into College, as well as working in a local sign-making shop. I started driving and got my first car, and soon after I would move out of my parents house. John didn’t have any work for me so I didn’t hear from him much, though we would be in touch from time to time.
Meanwhile I was very busy with my life, and was managing a couple of local bands on top of everything else. It’s hard for me to imagine how I managed at this time, because I was so busy and also so incredibly poor! I would be in school in the morning, and have to go straight to work afterwards until the shop would close. Then I’d go home and work on homework, with the bands, or on any other number of things until bed time.
In late 2003, John had another album he had put together for a tour that he was participating in called the Silver 60s Tour, which was essentially an all-star group of 60s megastars that got together as a band, playing all of their hits. As usual, John had a pretty good idea of what it was that he wanted for his album artwork, it was basically up to me to smooth out the edges and put everything together for printing. He had a photo picked out for the cover, which was a black & white photo of him with his guitar and a big smile on his face. The photo was taken with a medium format camera, so it was already an even square, which I think is what made it stand out to him as an ideal album cover. Once I was done with it, I sent him the artwork for printing. I never got a copy of this one, but I think I liked it’s simplicity over the previous albums artwork.
At this point, and unbeknownst to me, things had gotten bumpy in his family life and a lot had changed. They had moved to Washington, and I guess the marriage had fallen apart. I don’t know any of these details because it wasn’t any of my business. I just remember finding out because I called his Washington home and asked for him, and his wife simply said “don’t call here anymore” and hung up.
So apparently John had moved to Los Angeles, and was getting his life together there. I remember meeting with him and his new girlfriend Cynthia at a Marie Calendars back down in Carmel Mountain where he sort of filled me in on what was going on. We also sat in my car listening to the new CD. Not long after, he would be on tour in the UK, and my life would again take a big turn.
After four years of putting myself through community college, and my focuses largely having been on working with local bands, I realized that it was time to do something with myself other than working jobs that didn’t have much future, spending time with rather dysfunctional bands where no money was being made, and seemingly not moving forward in my own life. So I took a look at what I had been doing, and being a fine artist was not it. But I had spent so much time trying to make music demos, and having them made, that it seemed to me that engineering records might be an outlet worth exploring. So, with the suggestion of a friend from France (that’s another story, but let’s just say that I had been taking French classes and wanted to be fluent in the language), I enrolled and was accepted into a recording arts school in France. I wouldn’t realize how lucky I was until later, because this would be an incredibly unique background to have for someone in the United States, going into the field that I would end up in.
While in France, John and Cynthia came to visit when the tour was over. I guess the tour had become an annual or semi annual thing by this point. I was living in Nice, France, and John wanted to spend a small vacation in his old stomping ground after his tour, which happened to be where I was living. So he first went to Germany, where he has a pretty hard core fan base (his fan club is actually run by people there), and they let him borrow a car and drive to the south of France with it!
So John and Cynthia stayed at a BnB in Nice that we found, which was rather nice (I’d end up recommending it to a number of visitors over the years), and we toured around town together discussing what we had been up to. John gave me a new CD that he had released, this time he had done the cover artwork himself. We went to an Irish pub in the old part of Nice called O’Haras, where I introduced him to the proprietors, whom I had become good friends with. They were pretty excited to meet him since they were big music lovers. We also went to Cannes, where the film festival happened to be going on, and took a day trip to Monte Carlo. Their stay was brief, but we managed to pack a lot in. One of these days I’ll have to dig out the photos that I took.
That was the last time that I saw John. It must have been the spring or summer of 2006. He continued touring and would go on to write his book with Gary called “No Regrets”. I stayed in France for another year, then would continue my education for a year in the United States, before interning and working in a recording studio in Oakland, California. After about a year there, I moved to Los Angeles, and began my career as a Production Sound Mixer.
One day in 2011, I had this strange urge to listen to The Walker Brothers, so as I drove out to Santa Paula for a two-week job that I was starting, I listened to that greatest hits CD that I had purchased twelve years earlier, when I went to France for the first time. While working, I kept that CD in the player on repeat for the entire two weeks. Then when I got home, I learned that John had passed away on the day that I had had that urge to listen to his music. I can’t explain what that feeling was, but what a strange thing to suddenly decide to listen to it, and later learn that he had passed that very day.
I was very sad, and it really hit me hard. At this point I also learned about the book he and Gary had written, and ordered myself a copy. I really learned a great deal about John and his career from that book. He didn’t talk a lot about his past with me while we were spending a lot of time together. I guess we were so focused on what we were doing that it didn’t come up much. I remember trying to get him to remember all the record releases that he was a part of, so that we could put up a discography on his web site, but it never happened. He said that he had made so many recordings, that he couldn’t remember them all.
Since Johns passing, I’ve really become a big fan of The Walker Brothers, as well as his solo work. I think that, although I was mainly interested in music from the 60s at the time when I met him, I wasn’t old enough to appreciate his current music. At the very least, I didn’t have a taste for it. I liked “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” because, aside from it being a great song, I was familiar with it from the radio. But after playing that greatest hits CD on repeat in my car for probably a few months, I really began to become a big fan. I regret not having been so when John was alive. I feel like there are so many things that I would have liked to talk to him about.
I’d also like to mention that, although I have long since lost touch with his family, that I really enjoyed their company. They were a lot of fun, and although they probably attach me to being a part of their families falling out in some way, I’ve never stopped feeling like I played a part in it unknowingly. I was just doing what I do, helping John get his career going again. I had no idea what that would do to them. But I also don’t know any of the circumstances surrounding that, only what I can guess, and what John wrote in his book. At the end of the day, I look back fondly on those early days when I would be having fun writing music with his daughter, hanging out with his wife, and talking shop with him. Those were some good times, and I miss everyone a great deal.
For your consideration, I’ve included some links below of some resources if you the reader are interested.