Artist Biography: Walter Egan
It was no accident when, assessing the merits of Walter Egan's debut album on Columbia Records, Fundamental Roll, the overwhelming majority of our domestic rock critics seized favorably upon comparisons between Walter and one of his own idols, Buddy Holly. No doubt the same bunch will find Walter's second album, Not Shy (released February, 1978), cut even closer to the bone, more raw, yet intentionally sparser; more adventurous as Walter steps out from behind the layers of production color that characterized the first Lp; and more sophisticated owing to the confidence gained by working on the road and in the studio for nearly a year with the same musicians.
"I think the type of music the Beatles did," he says, "and the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones to a certain degree, and before that Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, and Elvis and Little Richard and Chuck Berry -- that's what rock 'n' roll is. And to me, at this point, that's the best way of doing it."
To that end, Not Shy swings easily from the Diamonds stroll tempo of twenty years ago (in "Magnet and Steel") and the "super trashy early Motown straight 4/4 snare drum sound" (of "Finally Find a Girlfriend") -- to the Zen subtlety of "Just the Wanting" (his first "real step into ballad-writing) and the temperate memories of "Hot Summer Nights," whose background vocals deftly reintroduce key members of Walter's bands-gone-by.
Another song, "Blond in the Blue T-Bird," begs his eternal quest: Where does fantasy and reality begin? In this case, the thin line that separates the two is Sunset Boulevard, with its caravans of mobile nubiles. "I'm always wondering where they're coming from," he says, "and where they're going. The fantasy almost became reality just this once -- but the girl wasn't blonde and it wasn't a T-Bird... she was a brunette in a Vega."
Walter's candid, disarming nature has always paralleled his love for rock 'n' roll. His parents were artistic people in New York's advertising field, and encouraged their only child's independence. Although his first guitar was a basic Mickey Mouse job, he still vividly recalls "chills up and down my spine seeing Elvis Presely on Ed Sullivan the first time, a big moment in my life -- where is all this music coming from, what's it all about?" After school, he'd religiously rush home for American Bandstand, "and what was a little interest became a passion." At night he did his homework listening to WINS and Murray the K, switching back and forth to WMGM.
Walter's best friend, John Zambetti, who'd been taking electric guitar lessons in Manhattan, told him he could "join the band" if he bought an electric guitar -- and in March, 1964, the Malibooz were born. "Of course nobody else was doing it, believing in it and getting off on the fantasy of it, so we became the Beatles of our high school." Meanwhile, he captained the high school baseball team as its pitcher, and became editor of the literary magazine in his senior year.
Inspired by the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," he wrote his first full-fledged rock tune that September, "Teen Age Morgue." He and Zambetti bounced their own compositions off each other through high school; in fact "Surfin' and Drivin'" from Fundamental Roll was written by Zambetti in 1965. They even hawked a demo single around the Brill Building circuit.
In the fall of 1966, the Malibooz' core enrolled en masse at Georgetown U. in Washington, D.C. Within a year, Zambetti opted for medical school and the Malibooz transformed into Sageworth, the real origins of the Walter Egan odyssey.
Heavily influenced by the West Coast psychedelic bands, Sageworth boasted two lead singers and two lead guitarists. Their communal lifestyle, focused on Wisconsin Avenue's notorious Sageworth House, afforded them a controversial reputation around the community. The House played host to every local musician from Roy Buchanan and Emmylou Harris, to Nils Lofgren and countless others.
One weekend, when Sageworth was playing at the Apple Pie, Linda Ronstadt was playing across the street at the Cellar Door. Her tour manager was Chris Darrow, a repsected folk-artist in his own right, and a friendship was struck with Walter that thrives today. Further, Walter co-wrote "Hearts on Fire" with Ronstadt's bassist Tom Guidera, which Gram Parsons later recorded on his "Grevious Angel" album. Parsons, in fact, had first sung with Emmylou in the Sageworth House kitchen, after Chris Hillman introduced the two during a Flying Burrito Brothers local date. Walter's friendship with Parsons continued until his untimely death, a disappointing blow for the burgeoning country-rock scene.
In 1970, Walter graduated Georgetown with a B.A. in Fine Arts, a sculpting major. "My forte was metal sculpture, it was immediate release, you didn't have to chip away at stone or wait for the clay to bake." Sageworth had adapted itself to the softer C&W-rooted sound, with an eye towards a recording deal. But they weren't willing to take the gamble (championed by Walter) of venturing to Los Angeles without a firm contract. Instead, they migrated to Boston in 1972, assuming that New England's colleges would provide ample work. Encountering the hard-working rhythm and blue of Geils and the James Montgomery Band, Sageworth's sound changed yet a third time.
After the usual bouts with managers and rejected demos, Sageworth disbanded in late 1973. Walter took up Chris Darrow's long-standing offer t omove to Claremont, California, in April, 1974. In May, the two toured the U.K., Darrow booked to open for the Welsh band Man, with Walter accompanying on guitar and vocals.
Returning to Claremont, he rented a house with no TV and no phone. That summer and fall he wrote virtually all the songs on Fundamental Roll and Not Shy. He also formed a new band called Wheels. It was while cutting a demo tape with the group that he met Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. They were impressed with his talent and encouraged him to pursue a solo career -- thus Buckingham/Nicks/Duane Scott produced Fundamental Roll.
Now, with the release of Not Shy, Walter continues to draw even closer to his rock 'n' roll roots. Produced by Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac soundman Richard Dashut and Walter, the album features Tom Moncrieff, lead guitar; John Selk, bass; Mike Huey, drums; Stephen Hague, keyboards; and Annie McLoone, background vocals -- plus guest appearances by Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood. The album's design, a collage of his career photographs, chornicles Walter's past while also gently hinting at the future.
"I really enjoy what I'm doing," he says. "I always feel that life is an evolution of things, that I can do a lot more than what I'm doing now, that I'll get a chance to do it when it comes. Know what I mean?" He once wrote in one of his journals, "My main ambition in life is to be able to write and to be able to travel."
"Basically, I believe I've acheived both so far. Let's just see what happens."