Santa Barbara Press News, 10/10/02: Urbane Cowboy Band - The Brooklyn Cowboys
By Josef Woodard
Walter Egan is on the phone from the Super 8 in Kalispell, Mont. Yes, that Walter Egan, the one who rode roughshod through the late 1970s hit parade with his fetching pop chart climber "Magnet and Steel." The once-dormant, restlessly creative Egan is back in the saddle, so to speak, in a few bands these days, including the acclaimed "alt country" band called The Brooklyn Cowboys. They'll stop in Santa Barbara for a Sunday afternoon gig at the Creekside Inn on Hollister Avenue, a fittingly rustic venue.
No, he has never been to Montana before, and yes, he grew up in Brooklyn, although he has made his home in Nashville for the past five years. These and several other topics were covered in a phone conversation before sound check at the Kalispell Elks Lodge.
At the moment, Egan, born in 1948 in Jamaica, N.Y., is coming back at music from multiple angles. There is the new CD by the Brooklyn Cowboys, a wonderful satchel of country-rock songs named after his lovely ballad "Dodging Bullets," on the Nashville-based Leap Recordings label. He has a new solo CD, called "Apocalypso Now" and a CD, "Beach Access," by his surf band, the Malibooz, which he's actually been in off and on since high school. "I think I come to all of these things legitimately," Egan says.
That legitimacy certainly includes the country-rock lineage, the mode he was in when he headed west from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in the early '70s, soon after his friend Emmylou Harris. Egan's song "Hearts of Fire" was recorded by Harris and her late partner Graham Parsons, on the classic album "Grievous Angel." As Egan comments, "I had that whole country-rock thing going back then, before my career blossomed out there in the late '70s."
The Brooklyn Cowboys, formed for fun and love in 1997 and now a more serious endeavor, also features singer-songwriter Brian Walschlager and Buddy Cage, former pedal steel guitarist with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. "We're really trying to make this a band, rather than just a bunch of sidemen," Egan says. "A band brings all these different energies to it and sometimes little conflicts arise - I want to do it this way É' Ultimately, what happens when you do that is that you get a better end result."
The band falls neatly in line with the current crop of country and western outsiders, such as Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams and others, who are under the umbrella of "Alt Country." Egan feels comfortable enough with the association but taps into his punster instincts, adding "I like to call it 'walt country.' But other than that, that's pretty much where we are. "For any kind of movement of music, for it to succeed, it needs some kind of a label. When I was in college, it was the San Francisco sound. All of a sudden, there was a scene and it all focused in. I think it's good, as a fan, to have stuff like that. Alt country is emerging from this Americana base. It's interchangeable in a lot of ways, but it provides a forum and a way for people to grab onto something, even though I don't think anybody has defined this too well.
"Alt country, of course, is too rocky for country and too country for rock," Egan continues. "Under that banner, I think we fit right in. As you hear on this new CD, the rock stuff is rockier and the country stuff is country-er. Higher highs, lower lows, mid-ier mids, what we're all striving for in this business of sound."
In the lull periods of his musical life, Egan has taken another day job of raising his two children. Along the way, he has worked in graphic art (his woodcuts have appeared on one of his friend Lindsay Buckingham's albums) and even worked as a substitute teacher in Tennessee.
Still, he says, "I've never been totally out of music. Ever since I wrote my first song when I was 15 years old, music is something that's inside of me. It's one of these things that I do for love, I do it because it's an escape, it's a place to go away from the rest of the world. As I get older, it becomes more and more precious that way."
There was a point, though, when Egan took a turn away from the major label pop scene he had been involved in. His last major label album, 1983's "Wild Exhibition," was for MCA/Backstreet, but its commercial momentum was halted when the label brass changed. According to Egan, when his champion at MCA, Danny Bramson, yielded power to Irving Azoff, "I became the baby with the bathwater. Irving didn't want it to succeed. I suffered under that particular disillusionment one more time of the record business part of it. But during that time, I got married and my son was born, so I was working on what was supposed to be my sixth album."
That album project finally saw the light of day only a couple of years ago, as "The Lost Album." Egan notes, "The cover of 'The Lost Album' has a picture of me holding my son a few days after he was born. It shows the path that I took. But I never gave up playing and I never gave up thinking that I was doing it. It's a crazy business. You've got to be real lucky to maintain some kind of a career in it. I think it's pretty remarkable that I'm out here doing it after that trip on the dark side of the moon there for awhile."
Never underestimate the power of a hit single. Although a hit can dog and unfairly define an artist, especially one as eclectic as Egan, a vehicle with longevity in a quick fix industry clearly has its upside.
"The song 'Magnet and Steel' is amazing to me," he says. "It has a life of its own. It shows up in things without me going soliciting movies. It was in 'Boogie Nights,' in 'Deuce Bigelow' and a movie called 'Overnight Delivery.' People seem to fondly remember it. I certainly never wanted to be a one-hit wonder, and I've tried everything I could do not to be, but I have been labeled that over the years." Getting back out onstage and on tour is tantamount to a second wind for Egan. "The irony of the album title 'Not Shy' (the 1977 album with 'Magnet and Steel') was that I was terribly shy. I heard David Bowie on some show talking about shy he is and how petrified he is about getting onstage, and how his personae were part of that. That is true to a certain degree. Even though the persona I put on, I feel, is pretty much the me who doesn't get out all the time, it still is using muscles that you don't use all the time."