(“Surfin and Drivin” plays)
(Interviewer) We are here today with Walter Egan for purposes of identification.
(Egan) Oh, hi.
(Interviewer) Hi. Getting ready to embark on another set of live shows and we’ll spend about an hour with you today. Before we start talking about bands and that sort of thing, I was reading over some of the stuff and talking just a minute ago about your tunes on the radio now. Do you have any special feelings about that? When you hear your tune on the radio, do you, uh, does it go around in a little circle each time or something?
(Egan) You know, there’s a complex process that goes on. First of all, it’s amazing to hear your own song, but hearing it immediately is almost like hearing it in your own kind of, uh, little movie or something. It doesn’t really relate to the rest of the world because you hear it as you did in the studio and you hear it very, being very close to it, somehow you have to distance yourself from it in order to... you know, sometimes when you start the car and it comes on immediately that’s when its great you know, in odd places like in restaurants or something. No, I have real good emotions about it, I feel very good about it. It’s.. and it’s neat, it’s uh, catching up to everything that I really, I guess idolized in a lot of ways when I was a kid you know. Being able to make the music is neat. And also the fact that people are picking up on the influences that I, uh, really feel strongly, like, uh, Buddy Holly and the early rock influences that come through, especially in “Magnet and Steel,” which is a stroll. Which was a popular dance back in the early days of rock and roll.
That was written during the sessions for the Fundamental Roll album and it was first written in my head. I have various methods of writing songs. Sometimes when I’m driving, if I don’t have a radio or if the radio isn’t producing well, I turn it off and, you know, will work on little melodies or songs or, you know, whatever. And that happened to be that… that night. It was very late driving home on the Pomona freeway and I just got the idea for the song from, uh, I guess the experiences of the night, doing the exciting vocals for “Tunnel of Love.” And, uh, later on the “Magnet and Steel” idea came out of… I had all the verses written and everything and I had the idea there but it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t strong enough. We needed concrete imagery and then the idea for the magnet just popped in my head as I was going by this large hydro-electric magnet.
(“Magnet and Steel” plays)
(Egan) “Magnet and Steel” sort of came in sections. I had the basic chord structure, then it occurred to me that it was almost a stroll and I added a stroll beat. And then the magnet part of it came in and that was, you know, the fulfillment of the song, I guess.
(“Magnet and Steel” continues)
(Interviewer) And your folks encouraged you; I thought that might be important to point out.
(Egan) Yes, they did. Uh, I happen to be an only child so I think that has a lot to do with it because, uh, you know, they kind of indulge you. And I was very lucky to have them indulge me, I guess. I got my first guitar when I was in high school, about sixteen, I got a Stratocaster, which was a nice one to start with and then, uh, played in surfing bands in high school with it.
(Egan) Yes the Malibooz. B-O- O- Z.
(Interviewer) Your heart was in the west even then?
(Egan) Oh definitely. You know, The Beach Boys were prime consideration. But it was always a fantasy thing. Me and my friend John Zambetti, we went to school together and, uh, he was the lead guitarist in The Malibooz and I was the rhythm guitarist and we shared the vocals, you know. And uh… when we did vocals. We actually, uh, played for about a year without any vocals. We were an instrumental band to start with and, uh, “Louie, Louie” was the first song I ever sung. And, uh, I don’t know, I think, uh, that being able to play and not worry about whether it’s the greatest music or whatever… At the time it was to us but, you know, listening to it objectively now it might be a little raucous. But, at the time, it’s all a fantasy out of “Hard Day’s Night” or something. Or seeing Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show or something like that. It’s like, getting out there and doing it and on whatever level you’re doing it. We were the only band in our high school for a long time so it was great. You know, we were the local, uh, band. Big status, you know.
(Interviewer) Like the phone company.
(Egan) Monopoly, yes.
(Interviewer) And, um, Sageworth was a band that followed sometime after?
(Egan) Right. Well three of the members of The Malibooz, the fourth one was a year older and he left early and we had a couple of bass players but myself and John and our drummer Tom Scarp went to Georgetown University and continued our surfing ways down there. Until, um, well I guess it was for about a year before we changed our name as the, uh, consciousness explosion caught up to us and, uh, Malibooz wasn’t quite appropriate at the time. So we changed our name to Sageworth and Drums, which is two words, not three. Sage… Sageworth is one word not two. Sage Worth, you see. Many people make that mistake. Anyway…
(Interviewer) I’ll be careful, yeah.
(Egan) I want the world to know! Anyway, um, yeah, then we got more into the San Francisco sound. We were still in California, we just moved north in our consciousness and, uh, were doing longer jams and that’s when Annie McLoone joined the group. And so…
(Here my record pops a bit and possibly skips a small portion of the interview)
(Interviewer) That was some sort of communal situation? Was there some sort of reputation, I understand, attributed to these things?
(Egan) Well in Washington D.C. it’s a very interesting situation. There’s a place called Georgetown which is like a small town within a big city and there’s a real good local support for bands there and there are a lot of places to play. It’s, you know, there are about six or seven schools in the immediate area and so there’s a big following for the music. And at that time, which was the early ‘70s there was, uh, you know, there were factions that supported a group called Claude Jones (I think that’s what he says anyway) who were the local Grateful Dead or you know and it was like we were the Airplane ‘cause we had the female vocalist and, you know, we did some Airplane stuff. Everybody had their own little niche but it was a self contained scene there, and so, as things went on, we felt we had to move and, this came after we got out of school… so about ’72 and we decided to move to Boston because of three places to go, which were New York, L.A., or Boston, it seemed like Boston afforded the most work for a band that wasn’t really… really that well known outside of its own area and, uh, seemed more comfortable than New York. New York is really… threatening in a lot of ways and L.A. was just too far away. And so…
(Interviewer) Sageworth also was a spot where you ran into people that, that still remain friends and players today.
(Egan) Oh, in D.C. yeah.
(Interviewer) Linda Rostadt…
(Egan) We crossed paths, yeah. Well it’s interesting because we were a fairly well known local group and we were able to play on bills with people and get to know them and also we played in this club that was right across the street from The Cellar Door where Linda Ronstadt was gonna play… 1970 I think in December I think it was, and, uh, she came in with her band and they really liked our band and we got to know them and hung out and went back to the house and sung, you know, Merle Haggard songs or something and, uh, and it was kind of that contact that brought me to California. It wasn’t really Linda so much as her tour manager at the time, who was a guy named Chris Darrow, who has, uh, a strong cult following around the world. You know, he worked in the Kaleidoscope and, uh, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and it was… at that time he wanted to produce Sageworth and bring us out to California and we followed it through up to a point where the contract was not the one we wanted. They wanted all our publishing etcetera, etcetera which was something that was important to me to keep. And so, we just kept in contact, kept friends. Later on, in 1972, around this time of our moving from D.C. to, uh, Boston we played in New York and a guy named Paul Colby who ran The Bitter End, now The Other End, wanted to manage the band. And so he brought us in there on the opening act of a three act bill at the club which is unheard of. You always had two acts and we had Sandy Denny was the headliner; Jackson Browne was just promoting his first album. So we got to know him there and so it was like, you know, it’s interesting and meeting these people at that time and then coming out later on and now it seems like they’re all pretty much on the top of it. Which was, uh, not the case then.
(Interviewer) But you, you took their, uh, influences to heart, ‘cause that, that… to heart, you know, to heart.
(Egan) Yeah. Yes. We played with them later.
(Interviewer) Because that changed the shape of the music for you at that time.
(Egan) Oh sure. I was very, uh, easily influenced by a lot of things and I’ve been writing songs since I was about sixteen so I felt like I was a songwriter and I would pick up influences as a songwriter and just figure ‘Well I’m going to write a song like this and see what happens.’ And you learn how to do something by doing that, maybe, and then you can apply it to something else, you know, and there are many songs that people will never hear that are just… it’s almost practice or craft after something… something to do and get you to a point where you can write a better one. Anyway, so I have a tendency to do that, I guess, at times. And so, you know, I think Jackson Browne is probably the best at what he does which is kind of a poetic feeling into a more or less rock format. And, uh, for awhile I was trying to do things like that and trying to do very intellectual kind of music during this time with Sageworth and some of it’s pretty embarrassing and some of it’s interesting, I guess, historically speaking, but… it’s evolution, I guess. And you evolve through periods of writing and you know, you meet people and see what they’re doing really well and try to understand what they’re doing and see what… how it applies to you. As a matter of fact, later on when I came out to California, I worked with Jackson for about a month rehearsing for the Late for the Sky (I think that’s what he says) tour and it came down to me being just a background vocalist which is not what I intended to be and it wasn’t working out well and we both felt that, you know. He said ‘Well, you know...” and I said “Okay, see ya later.” But I learned a lot of things by doing that. I learned even though he was a really great writer for what he was doing it wasn’t exactly what I felt was in me and it maybe steered me more in the direction that I’m in now by learning that and also by learning that, uh, you should sort of do what you do best.
(“Sweet South Breeze” plays)
(Egan) Being laid back is nice when you want to go to sleep but maybe for rock ‘n’ roll it should be a little bit more raw or kind of a vital sound, you know, which is what I like about the early rock records. It seems to come across in some of the early Elvis songs. He might just be playing an acoustic guitar and a slap bass and you know a snare drum but it’s an amazing feel that comes out of it. And that’s something that I guess more subconsciously I started to, uh, get inside of me and this whole toughening up of the sound I think that sort of preceded me coming to California that kind of kept me from trying to infiltrate maybe getting into like The Eagles, Ronstaadt, Jackson Browne I think too much and sort of made me realize my own identity was more of a rock and roll kind of feel.
(“Sweet South Breeze” continues)
(Interviewer) So you finally made it, huh?
(Egan) Yeah. Yeah…
(Interviewer) To California?
(Egan) Yes and, uh, I started writing a whole lot of songs that were later to become what I did on my first album, a lot of them: “Only the Lucky” and “Where’s the Party?” and “She’s So Tough” and “You Make Me Feel So Good” were all written during that time and, uh…
(Interviewer) Would all end up on Fundamental Roll, yeah.
(Egan) Yeah, at the time I came to California, which was April of ’74, I came out here just as another friend of mine, Emmylou Harris, was starting to get her deal so I… see she had done a song of mine called “Hearts on Fire” on her Return of the Grievous Angel album with Gram Parsons and, uh, so I figured well that seems like a good time to come out here… she’s starting to get a deal and, you know, I had that connection, even though I wasn’t… well I sort of had it in my mind maybe I should try and do what Gram was doing now that he wasn’t around but, when I got out here I realized that maybe that wasn’t me either. There was a lot of shedding of the outer skins I guess during this time. And, so, I came to California in April of ’74 and I was here for ten days and about five days into those ten days Chris Darrow, who I was staying with, he was just about to go to England to do this tour with Man, which had just broke up, and his record company kind of rescinded his tour support and so I became…
(Interviewer) No band, huh?
(Egan) Yes, his band went to greener pastures and I became the best bargain around and I said ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to go’ so after this big heavy six months of trying to get myself psych… not trying to get myself, but you know, making the decision to come to California and doing that whole thing, I arrived here and quickly turned around and flew back to England you know… So, it was an interesting situation but I was there for a month and we toured all through Scotland and Wales and Britain and I got to go to Paris for about three days just to, uh, walk around.
(Interviewer) That was your first time in Europe?
(Egan) Right. And it was really a ‘neat’ experience, as they say. (laughs)
(Interviewer) Wheels? Did that… That seemed like was sort of a, a quickie band, yeah?
(Egan) Well, it wasn’t quite as quick as it, uh, may have seemed. We rehearsed for almost a year and, uh, well see… Well the connection was Chris Darrow helped me put this band together. He knew a couple of people out in Claremont, which is where he lived and I was staying with him, who were real good writers and they were pickers sitting around and so he formed this band, kind of. Well it was originally just a group that tried to get songs to people ‘cause we’re all writing songs and Chris was kind of loosely tying together… playing drums and uh, we eventually did this tape, with him producing it, in Salt Lake City where we did each three of our own songs and tried to get it to people. And then it was through that tape that we got involved with Chris’s A&R man at United Artists at that time whose name was Greg Lewerke and he tried to help us get the deal going with this tape and as it evolved we got another drummer and another bass player and became a band through this year, it was 1975, and, uh, went on to record two or three other demo sessions at a place called Sound City in Van Nuys which was to serve as a very interesting fateful point later on but at the time it was just a studio in Van Nuys and we just went out there and, uh, cut a bunch of the songs which were written by me mainly and, but I didn’t sing them. I was playing lead guitar and I was writing songs and being very comfortable sort of in that position you know, and Earl Shackleford and Dave Malard (spelling?)were the other singers in the band and they were singing my songs. And so we went through this year of rehearsal with Wheels, never really gigging. Finally gigging late around December but we really, you know, they were working other jobs and I was just trying to scrape by by playing, I was playing bass in a different band, a country band, at the time at a place called The Golden Elk, it was quite a place. Anyway, uh, so, as ’76 came in we were at a point where we had to do something and these demos didn’t seem to be getting us the deal that we wanted, so a guy named Andrew Lauder, who was with United Artists in England, A&R head or something like that. (laughs) He was the head of A&R there and he came over to visit and he was with Greg and they came down to see us at The Troubadour. We were doing a Hoot Night at the Troubadour as Wheels and they came in and, uh, we played about five songs: “Only the Lucky” and, uh, “Waiting for Love” and “Where’s the Party?” and “She’s So Tough.” Um, and probably one or two other ones. A couple by the other guys, but a lot of songs were written by me that I sang on two… I sang “Only the Lucky” and “She’s So Tough.” Anyway, so after that, instead of offering the band a deal, he offered me a record contract which was not exactly what I had been looking for at the time and sort of took me by surprise, especially since I was crashing in the livingroom of the two other guys in the band. But… you know, it was kind of… What I came to California to do is to make a record somehow, and, you know, here was the opportunity so there was no way that I could turn it down and they realized that and I wouldn’t have… if it was reversed, I wouldn’t have held them back, I don’t think.
(“Only the Lucky” plays)
(Egan) Musicians are kind of a fluid state, you know. In a band like Sageworth you know you’re solidly together for five, six years, or even longer as a continuation of another band. You know, and there was a whole… a very heavy commitment into that and being out in California and just sort of getting us together, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go through another five years’ process, you know… so… but Yes! That’s what started the whole record thing into motion
(“Only the Lucky” continues)
END OF SIDE ONE
Transcript of Side Two
The Walter Egan Interview Album