CD Feature - Walter Egan: Apocalypso Now
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Walter Egan may very well hold some kind of Guiness Book World Record for the number of bands he has played in over the course of his 40-year career. Read on, then get on the phone and tell Ringo that it's time to add a new all-Starr to his roster.
Born in 1948, Walter Egan was raised in the Forest Hills section of Queens, New York, in a household where his mother played Broadway soundtracks on the record player, while his stepfather bopped along to Dixieland jazz. Both parents worked in advertising in midtown Manhattan, so creativity was part of the family culture. An only child, Walter Egan grew up close to his second cousin, Jim, whom he refers to as his twin. "We were born in the same hospital by the same doctor. Jim came to this world 15 minutes after I had made the scene. We grew up living not far apart in Queens and were like brothers to each other." Friendly competition between the boys spurred their musical inclinations. At 15, Jim got a five-string, longneck Vega "just like Pete Seeger," prompting boy Walter to pester his parents for his own axe.
That summer, Egan was dragged along to Nantucket Island for vacation with his parents, where he broke up the monotony by making experimental home movies and picking out tunes from memory on the rickety Spinet piano in their rental cabin-including selections from "West Side Story." Impressed with his ability to play Bernstein by ear, his parents wanted to give him piano lessons, but he put his foot down and parlayed for the guitar. One trip to Schirmer's Music in Manhattan later, he had that magical first guitar: a six-string Goya F-11, which took both nylon and steel strings. "To this day I remember the aroma of that instrument as I lovingly removed it from its inexpensive case, and that is one great smell. The first song I learned was the old sea chantey "Drunken Sailor" with its glorious D-minor chord."
Soon, Walter and cousin Jim gave performances at home for family and friends, a step up ". . . from our earlier shows, which had us using red, plastic Mickey Mouse guitars (with Mickey's likeness as the body of the instrument) and it featured a little crank on the side which would play the Mouse Club Theme."
Egan joined forces with his best friend from Loyola High School, John Zambetti, who played in a school band called the Moondawgs that specialized in Ventures-style instrumentals. Zambetti urged him to get an electric guitar so that he could join the Moondawgs to make "big money" at the local sock hops. Wisely, Egan's parents produced a new Fender Stratocaster and a Fender Princeton amp, and Egan joined Zambetti's new band, the Malibooz-yep, that's surf music straight outta Queens.
"The lure and appeal of the West Coast has been constant in me since, as a youth, I witnessed the construction of Disneyland on TV." Egan recalls. "Increasingly for me it was a land of dreams and wonder: the sun, the beach, Hollywood. In 1959, I went to LA with my mother on vacation to the "happiest place on earth," and from then on I knew I wanted to return there to live some day. Johnny Z shared my love for all things West and it was focused on surf music and the Beach Boys . . . It would have been the "Malibus," but of course then it would be mispronounced like some kind of bad transportation. Plus being prep school punks the hint of liquor that came with the new spelling was judged as cool. We played all kinds of rock and roll as long as it was instrumental. No one wanted to sing."
After the Malibooz transplanted to Georgetown U in D.C. in 1966, they braved adding vocals, and Egan's first vocal performance was "a mumbled-through" cover of "Louie, Louie" (and is there really any other kind?). Egan became an art major, specializing in sculpture and multi-media prints. By 1967, the Malibooz became, briefly, The True Levelers, then the folk-flavored Sageworth and Drums. They subsequently dropped the "and Drums" and developed a semi-legendary status in the D.C. area. Sageworth broke up in September of '73, and Egan hooked up in Boston with singer Annie McLoone and others to form, Dangerfish, another short-lived ensemble. But the truly fateful connection Egan made from that period was with Emmylou Harris, who recorded his song "Hearts On Fire" with Gram Parsons for her "Grievous Angel" album. Following Harris to California in 1974, Egan formed joined up with yet another band the Ghost Writers, then another called Wheels I, and played bass with the country cover band Silverado. He was even offered Andrew Gold's berth on Linda Ronstadt's band when that lonely boy launched his solo career.
While jamming with the Wheels at one of the legendary "hoot nights" at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, Egan wound up playing with Jackson Browne, which lead to a three-month stretch with Browne and his intro to the burgeoning California Sound. Another hoot night jam got Egan signed to his first deal in 1976. John Zambetti joined him to form the Magneto Band, and by then, Walter Egan was on his way. By the time he released his first album, Fundamental Roll, ". . . I had a great band which consisted of Annie McLoone, John Selk, Mike Huey on drums, Steven Hague on keyboards, and Tom Moncrieff on guitar." Dubbed The Professional Band, they recorded Egan's "Not Shy" album, which included the immortal "Magnet and Steel." Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks lent their talents to "Magnet and Steel," a song Egan wrote for Nicks. That song went all the way to #8 on the Billboard charts in 1978.
Egan did more time with such ensembles as the Rude Band, Endangered Species, the Wallys in the mid-eighties, the One-Eyed Snake Band, even a stint as bass player for Spirit. In the later eighties, he and bass player Dave Chamberlain founded the Egan Chamberlain Band. Exiting L.A. and returning to his hometown of Forest Hills, he had a country-rock band called the Wild Ponies, followed by a gig as lead guitarist for doo woppers Randy and the Rainbows ("Denise," anyone?). He signed up with the Brooklyn Cowboys in 1995 and resurrected the Malibooz, who were voted Best Surf Vocal Group in 1997 by the readers of Surf Music USA magazine. After a brief flirtation with acting, appearing on a number of game shows, his own art show in Soho, and filling in as a Veejay on MTV, Egan married and settled down with his family just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. There he resides, making art, still making music, and occasionally teaching other musicians the ropes. When we looked in on him, he had just returned from entertaining the troops near some of the world's scarier hot spots.