Walter Egan - Romantic Rocker Keeps the Muse Alive
By Sheridan Hill
Walter Egan understands this: he has earned a reputation as a romantic rocker.
When “Magnet and Steel” came out in 1978, it quickly became his signature song and set a plaintive tone that has endured in his music. Stevie Nicks sang background vocals (“for you are a magnet, and I am steel”), and the song resurfaced a few years ago on the soundtracks for Boogie Nights (1997) and Deuce Bigalow (1999).
”I’ve often been tabbed as a teeny bopper in my lyrics, and some of that is because I like surf songs,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I quickly realized that Brian Wilson was a big reason the Beach Boys sounded like they did, and I studied how he put songs together.”
But an affinity for surf music isn’t the only reason that Egan’s lyrics have remained on the romantic side. It’s the way his emotional life shows up in song, one intimate moment after another--- of hope, disappointment and yearning.
”Some people live at the level where everything in your relationships affects your life. Are you loved? Do you love someone? It’s my nature to be concerned with those things. My personal growth has come in a broadening view of what happens to people during and after these relationships they go through.” He paused, then added, “I guess part of my charm lies in my arrested development.”
As a teen-ager growing up in New York, Egan persuaded his parents to buy him a Fender Stratocaster.
”I told them I’d make a lot of money at music,” he said. “I think I made a total of $23 in high school.”
He first surfed into the limelight with his friend Johnny Zambetti in the teen beach rock band, Malibooz, which managed to earn a local following and performed at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.
A year after his debut album, Fundamental Roll (1977), he released Not Shy, which was produced by Lindsey Buckingham and Richard Dashut and included “Magnet and Steel.” Subsequent efforts, such as 1979's Hi-Fi and 1980's The Last Stroll, did not fare as well. In 1981, he reunited with Zambetti to re-form the Malibooz, releasing Malibooz Rule on Rhino later that year. Wild Exhibitions was a 1983 solo release.
Egan’s second big hit was “Hearts on Fire,” recorded by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris on their Grievous Angel album.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Egan turned to sculpting and graphic art, exhibiting his work in SoHo, N.Y., in 1996. He has also written several screenplays he would like to sell and see produced, including one about a trip to the country with a group of high school friends “It’s Lord of the Flies meets Hard Days Night,” he said.
But having a few hits doesn’t pay the bills and like most artists, he finds ways to supplement his income. Nowadays, Egan is a substitute teacher in the Nashville, Tenn., school system.
”Part of it is the craziness of music business,” he said. “You can’t make a budget; you don’t know how much money will ever come in. Substitute teaching works out well except that there’s no work in the summertime and there are no benefits. Sometimes you wonder, why can’t a musician be normal? But what is normal? And a lot of those people you think have it all together really don’t. If I quit the music business, I’d leave myself.”
Egan rejoined Malibooz in 1992 and will appear on the bands fourth CD. He also plays with the Brooklyn Cowboys, a classic country rock band that played at The Garage last month.
”It’s a Sweetheart of the Rodeo Byrds kind of band, like “Hearts on Fire.” I am still very much enamored of that kind of music.” Brooklyn Cowboys also features Buddy Cage, the legendary pedal steel player from New Riders of the Purple Sage, who writes about half the band’s songs. Egan writes the other half.
”People see me as the head figure in the band, but what we’re really doing is bringing all this talent and energy together and making it work so the sum is greater than its separate parts,” Egan said. “I feel all these different streams of music in me. It’s hard to combine them all in one show. When I grew up, doo-wop music was one of the things I loved. My musical life is compartmentalized, playing in these two bands and playing solo: each one is a particular piece of me.”
Egan’s new solo CD, Apocalypso Now, is scheduled for release in mid-June by Redeye Music, an independent distributor in Graham that also put out his previous album, Walternative.
Apocalpyso Now was composed long before Sept. 11, but it rose from Egan’s perspective that, “What if it’s the end of the world? Let’s have a good time.” Instead of lyrics, the CD booklet will include seven of his short-short stories related to the songs.
”Ive always been opposed to putting lyrics on albums, because if you write them down, then people think they’re some kind of poetry. But the poetry of music needs the sounds that go with it. You need the implication of the voice and how it meets the words.”
It’s been several years since he toured under his own name, and he’s excited about the current solo tour. The four-piece band he put together for The Garage performance includes bass player Ed Cain and drummer Ron Kryzinski, who has played with Seals and Crofts and the Everly Brothers. The show will draw material from the new CD as well as the five albums Egan recorded for Columbia and Backstreet Records between 1977 and 1983 with Nicks, Buckingham, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, David Lindley, Dean Torrance, Randy California and Jackson Browne.
”I’ve always felt that I was a rocker, and the energy to get up on stage and jump around and sweat is still in me,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to write the most beautiful song
ever written. And I want to preserve a sense of wonder about things. That’s
real important in a world with so much cynicism. You have to have all those