60s Music

The Walker Brothers – American stars in the UK

The Walker Brothers
The Walker Brothers. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

A short introduction of the Walker Brothers

More popular in the United Kingdom than in their homeland, the Walker Brothers were a 1960s-1970s American pop trio who were the perfect contrast for the British Invasion in the US. Lead vocalist/bassist Scott Walker, drummer/vocalist Gary Walker and vocalist/guitarist John Walker had previously been in other groups before forming their own in Los Angeles, California in 1964. Though obviously unrelated, they dubbed themselves as The Walker Brothers; John Walker was then taking the lead vocals in their early days.

The three Americans became popular in the UK for a time. The “Brothers” achieved a string of other hits (almost all of them were covers) such as “My Ship Is Coming In” and two #1 UK singles “Make It Easy On Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”. However, the changing musical climate, pressures of fame as well as differences among the band members caused them to split in 1968. All three individual members pursued solo careers, but they reunited for a short while during 1970s, where they released their last successful single “No Regrets.” John Walker died in 2011.

 

The formation of the “Brothers”

The Walker Brothers were formed in Los Angeles, California in 1964. Originally, the band was called The Walker Brothers Trio consisting of lead vocalist/guitarist John Walker (born John Joseph Maus in 1943 in New York – died in 2011), bassist and harmony vocalist Scott Engel (born on January 9, 1943 in Hamilton, Ohio) and drummer Al “Tiny” Schneider.

Around the same time Engel and Maus met drummer Gary Leeds aka Gary Walker (born in 1942 in Glendale, California) who persuaded them that they form a new group and then try their luck in England. Obviously, Maus, Leeds and Engel were totally unrelated to each other and their names weren’t even Walker. However, they still kept the “Walker Brothers” as the stage moniker. Engel by now had become Scott Walker.

 

 

The Walker Brothers’ success in the UK

In the Walker Brothers’ early days, it was John Walker who had been singing the lead vocals. When they landed in the UK in 1965, they secured a recording contract with Philips Records. One of the earliest singles that put the Walker Brothers on the map was “Love Her,” which made to the UK Top 20 that same year. It was sung by Scott Walker, who would be slowly assuming lead vocal duties.

For a time, the Californian trio became really famous in the UK – in fact, their popularity there strongly rivaled that of the Beatles. The Walker Brothers also saw some chart action in the US, but there it was only of comparatively minor impact. It was no surprise, since the Walker Brothers’ ballads that feature lush, grand pop arrangements with a somewhat Euro-centric feel would really be more at home in the UK.

 

The most significant Walker Brothers hits in the 1960s include their cover of Bacharach-David’s “Make It Easy on Yourself (#1 UK, #16 US), “My Ship is Coming In” (#3 UK, #63 US), “(Baby) You Don’t Have to Tell Me” (#13 UK), “Another Tear Falls” (#13 UK) and perhaps their signature tune “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (#1 UK, #13 US). All of the hits were sung by Scott Walker.The most significant Walker Brothers hits in the 1960s include their cover of Bacharach-David’s “Make It Easy on Yourself (#1 UK, #16 US), “My Ship is Coming In” (#3 UK, #63 US), “(Baby) You Don’t Have to Tell Me” (#13 UK), “Another Tear Falls” (#13 UK) and perhaps their signature tune “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (#1 UK, #13 US). All of the hits were sung by Scott Walker.

 

A unique contrast to the British Invasion

These “brothers” provided a perfect contrast in the British Invasion phenomenon. Whereas British Invasion groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were lording over in the US music scene, the American Walker Brothers were achieving much more fame and success in the British Isles than in their native country. The group’s songs and appeal caught the UK by storm, and they were seen as teen idols. All of the Walker Brothers had good looks, but it was Scott, by now the band’s lead vocalist, who was naturally elevated into the spotlight because of his swooning and sensual baritone voice.

 

 

The Walker Brothers’ split, and the members’ individual careers

But as pop music then was moving forward, the Walker Brothers’ material, all of a sudden, started to sound old-fashioned. In addition to that, tensions and pressures of stardom and “artistic differences” further strained them; these factors eventually led to their disbandment in 1968.

All three individual members pursued solo careers. Gary Walker founded his own group Gary Walker and the Rain, and has continued performing up to now.

John Walker also formed his own backing band. He had also participated in nostalgic musical tours before taking up a later career in customising guitars and operating his own recording studio in in California. He also continued writing songs for other artists and for his own music publishing company. He died in 2011 in Los Angeles, California, due to liver cancer.

Scott Walker so far has had the most significant achievements. He interpreted Brel songs and Broadway tunes before moving on to increasingly experimental and avant-garde material as evidenced by his last three albums (The Drift, Tilt, and 2012’s Bisch Bosch). He is now considered a cult figure and a big influence to many artists such as David Bowie, Marc Almond and many indie acts (Pulp, The Divine Comedy, Richard Hawley, the Tindersticks, Billy Mackenzie/The Associates, Radiohead, etc.). He has been living in the UK since the height of the Walker Brothers’ popularity.

 

The Walkers Brothers’ brief reunion

The Walker Brothers briefly reunited in the 1970s with some success, releasing the 1976 album No Regrets which reached #49 on the UK album chart. Its title track was also successful, and was to be their last Top 10 UK hit single at #7.

Later albums Lines (1976) and Nite Flights (1978) both failed, effectively ending the Walker Brothers for good. Nite Flights, however, opened new a whole new chapter for Scott Walker’s future (as well as radical) direction of his solo work.

 

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