Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Interview:-- Walter Egan (Singer/Songwriter)

"We shared our hopes,
our dreams, 
and our goals...
and the fundamental roll."
~ Walter Egan ~

The ecstasy and agony of summer break.
First hellos and last goodbyes.
Worries are small and possibilities are endless.
It's when we realize, maybe for the first time, that time is fleeting and completely out of our hands.
Yes, summers are great. I mean, it's summer after all.  But one never forgets that "special" summer. The one you earmarked for permanent memory burn.  The one you protect.

When discussing "lost gem" albums, Walter Egan's 1978 offering "Not Shy" certainly falls under that category.  With a distinctive California rock sound, Egan delivers hook after glorious hook of "roll-down-the-windows" summer fun. But he does so while gently reminding us just how confusing and frustrating it all can be.  He's made plenty of good music, both before and since, and his last album "Myth America" (2014) is an especially welcome treat.  Walter Egan is a man for all seasons, no doubt...but "Not Shy" will always be June through September.


Casey Chambers:  Your 1978 album "Not Shy" is a pop-rock joy and the closing track..."Hot Summer Nights" is just one of the standout gems.  What do you remember about that song?

Walter Egan:  Well, that's a very interesting story.  The producers for my first album..."Fundamental Roll"...were Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. That would have been 1977.  And I was quite taken by Stevie and all her talents.  We'd be hanging out during those recording sessions and as it evolved, Stevie had this song that Fleetwood Mac didn't want to record.  So, kind of to score points with her, although I really liked the song, too...I told her, 'I'll do it.'  So, I began performing it on my tour.  We were on the road for quite a few months that year.  And it was a good song. It was a big finisher. "Sisters Of The Moon" was the name of the song.

Anyway, so flash forward to the recording of "Not Shy."  When it came time to record what was gonna be the big climax...just as it had been in my live set...the climax of the album was going to be, "Sisters Of The Moon."  Well, Lindsey was the sole producer of my second album at this point...along with myself and Richard Dashut.  And he said, 'I don't think you should record that. Why don't you go home and write a song?' (laughs)  And I was like, 'this is supposed to be the big climax, Lindsey!'  But I took the challenge and went home.  It was in August of 1977.  I was living in Beverly Flat, which at that time was still a funky kinda canyon in the west part of L.A.

And I started reflecting on how the summertime was a time for music. Especially in high school. My formative years.  When we had all that time to spend on music and that's all we did all summer.  I started writing a song about being in bands and sort of reminiscing about the camaraderie of being in a band together.  It was a very personal song.  And it only had three chords...a D minor, a B flat, and an A.  It had this riff and I just kind of got into it.  The next morning, we recorded it.  It wasn't even a whole day old.  And it went on to be the most covered song I'd ever written.

"Hot Summer Nights" - Walter Egan / "Not Shy" (1978)

There were versions in French, Swedish, German, and Japanese.  I did a cover version with new lyrics in the surf band...The Malibooz.  The hit version was by the group...Night...which was Richard Perry's first release on his Planet Records.  They had a Top 20 song with it in 1979.  My version of it was the follow-up to "Magnet And Steel," so you would think that it would've had a great shot.  But by the time Columbia released it, it had sort of passed its prime.  It should have come out right at the end of the summer just as "Magnet..." was peaking.  But it didn't come out until November.  And it just got caught up in the wintertime.  And then it came to life again in 2009 when Eminem used it as part of his comeback single, "We Made You."

Casey Chambers:  How about that!

Walter Egan:  (laughs) So the moral of the story is when Lindsey Buckingham says to go write a song...Go write a song.

Casey Chambers:  That's a great story.  And yeah, I heard your version first, so that's it for my ears.  But how did the band, Night come to record that song anyway?

Walter Egan:  There was a guy who was working in the A&R department at Columbia at the time.  His name's right on the tip of my brain and I can't remember it.  But he, I believe, presented it to Richard Perry.  And here's another weird coincidence.  I had never met Richard Perry during all that time.  I had moved back to New York in the early '90s and got in a band with Richard's brother, Fred.  And we had a band called the Brooklyn Cowboys and we've done some really excellent CDs.  So I got to finally meet him way back in...I guess it was '96 when I got to meet Richard at his house.

Casey Chambers:  That's cool.  After all that time.

Walter Egan:  Yeah, and I kidded him about the modulation that he inserted in the solo.  I thought it was a bit excessive (laughs) and I told him so.  It was fun.  Good times.

Casey Chambers:  Your signature song, "Magnet And Steel" is a beautiful piece of work.

Walter Egan:  Thank you.

Casey Chambers:  Did you know from the beginning you wanted the song to have a kind of doo-wop flavor?

Walter Egan:  Yes.  As a matter of fact, it's very good that you point that out, because that was the seed for that song.  The Stroll was the beat.  That 6/8 kind of thing.  Very '50s feel to the beat.  And I actually have a recording on a cassette that I've transferred of me working out the song and singing many verses that never made the final cut.

But I hadn't gotten the chorus quite right yet.  I believe the lyrics were...'don't turn away now' instead of 'with you I'm not shy.'  I think it was even called "Don't Turn Away Now."  And it was just not a very special lyric.  I hadn't really finished it.

"Fundamental Roll" - Walter Egan (1977)

We had been doing recording sessions for "Fundamental Roll"...a song on there called "Tunnel O' Love."  And Stevie was singing her wailing, banshee, background vocals.  This was at Sound City.  The now famous Sound City.  And that was the night I just went...'oh my God, how am I so lucky?'  Ya know, all the superlatives you could think of about someone falling for Stevie.  In my young youth, at the time, it was just another girl who was very talented. I didn't even know who they were when it was presented to me to have them produce my record.

They were very much a cult item at that point.  But Fleetwood Mac was just starting to break.  So, it was just very amazingly fortunate timing.  They wanted to keep their Buckingham Nicks identity outside of Fleetwood Mac and have this project.  So, Stevie was doing vocals.  I mean if you listen to "Fundamental Roll," it's very much like a Buckingham Nicks/Walter Egan album.  Stevie and Lindsey are just all over it.

Casey Chambers:  No doubt. Good stuff for the lobes.

Walter Egan:  You should check it out again.  It's really amazing.  I hadn't listened to it in a long time and I just kind of revived a couple of those songs from that album.  But I started listening to it and I was like...'Wow!'  It's pretty amazing to think how she's such an icon now and how, at the time, she was just the girl singer in the band. (laughs)  So anyway, I totally fell for her.  On the drive home from Sound City in Van Nuys...I had to drive out to Inland Empire California...around Claremont, which is where I was living.  And as I got on the 101 freeway...and this was about 4:00 a.m. in the morning...there was a Continental with a diamond window.  What they used to call a pimpmobile.

Very tricked out with the lights underneath it and the fringes and all that.  And the license plate on it was NOT SHY.  It said...NOT SHY.  And for whatever reason, that just hit me.  There it was.  It was sitting right in front of me and I just took it.  And by the time I was home in Claremont, I had basically come up with this 'magnet' metaphor.  So, it was this whole weird amazing feedback loop of me falling for Stevie, writing this song about Stevie, and having Stevie perform on it. (laughs)  It just had this kind of amazing magic to it, I guess.  I was lucky enough to sort of date Stevie for about a month in 1976.  And so, ya know, it was quite an adventure for the young lad.

"Magnet And Steel" - Walter Egan / "Not Shy" (1978)

Casey Chambers:  You landed on Boardwalk!  Awesome share.  When you were in the studio recording it, how did you work out the vocal arrangements?

Walter Egan:  The backgrounds on "Magnet And Steel" sort of came to life as we were running the song down in the studio. I don't remember specifically, it just fell together naturally.  It was Lindsey, Stevie, and Annie McLoone singing those parts.  And I think part of it was, I was still very shy about my vocals.  And I suggested that the first line of the chorus...'with you, I'm not shy' the background singers singing it, so I could come in stronger on that second part.

Casey Chambers:  Were you surprised the label chose to push that song out first?

Walter Egan:  That came about kind of late in the process, I think.  It was the oddball song in the mix definitely.  It had part of the "Myth of Sisyphus" on it.  Ya know, the guy pushing the rock up the hill...but never quite getting it up the hill.  Part of that myth fell on me when I became famous for this kind of crooning MOR song.  It's an honest, rock kind of ballad, but it sort of got coupled into that smooth yacht rock stuff.  And yet I was always more of a rocker. I was playing hard edgy songs with good melodies and clever lyrics, I thought.

Casey Chambers:  Oh absolutely.  Still, "Magnet..." is just a great song and it seems to keep gaining fresh legs popping up in movies.

Walter Egan:  It does. It does.  It was in "Boogie Nights" and "Deuce Bigelow."  And "This Is 40" and "Overnight Delivery." That was an interesting one.

Casey Chambers:  It must be a great feeling to watch a movie and have one of your songs sneak into the story.

Walter Egan:  It is very much a surreal event.  Depending on if I'm alone or with somebody.  It's my own little movie.  It's like when I go to the grocery store and it comes on and people are walking around singing along with it.  I just think it's so funny.  I sort of remove myself from the moment.  It's really kind of fun.  I've also been an answer in a number of crossword puzzles, which is even more mystifying to me.  (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  That's very cool.  9 Across: "Not Shy" songwriter. 4 letters. (laughs)  I'd like to jump to another one of your albums..."Wild Exhibitions." (1983)

Walter Egan:  Okay!

Casey Chambers:  One of the gems from that album is "Fool Moon Fire"...and you made a rather entertaining music video to go along with it.

"Wild Exhibitions" - Walter Egan (1983)

Walter Egan:  Thank you. (laughs) "Fool Moon Fire." My last charted single.

Casey Chambers:  Could you talk about that one a little bit?

Walter Egan:  It was filmed around the Silver Lake area in L.A.  There was a theater there we were able to rent.  Some people think I modeled it on "Thriller" but my video came out eight or nine months before the "Thriller" video did.  I don't know that he got the idea from me...but I certainly had the idea.

Casey Chambers:  I didn't know that.  But, yeah, the similarities are definitely there.

Walter Egan:  Well, yeah.  We could have a sour grapes conversation some night and I could tell you about all the things I think have been stolen or borrowed from me.  I mean, there's a lot of stuff like that in this business.  And it's hard.  Hard to draw the line between...'was that taken or was it homage?'  But that song..."Fool Moon Fire" was about me as a night person coming to grips with...kind of a metaphoric werewolf in my soul and thinking other people might have that as well.  And so that was the meaning of the word, 'lycanthropy' in one of the verses...that's the official term for werewolfism.  I think it might be the first song with that word in it to crack the Top 40.  But not the last, because Shakira apparently used it in her "She Wolf" song. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Maybe so, but you still get credit on first dibs, right? (laughs)

Walter Egan:  Exactly!  And we took it literally when it came time to do the video.  Most of the ideas were mine as to how to stage the music in it.  So it was a lot of fun to do.  It was all done on a very small budget.  Most of it was filmed from 4:00 in the afternoon to 6:00 the next morning.  So the whole thing was done in that time frame.

I was on Backstreet Records which was Tom Petty's label.  And that was with MCA which was even though they didn't go through the time lapse of me turning into a werewolf on camera, we were able to use some of the old monster movie footage.  But that was actually me with all the werewolf hair on my face. (laughs) And every hair had been glued on.

It was tedious for that to happen.  And the guy that did the makeup...his friend came in.  And his friend happened to be one of the actors from the old TV show "Leave It To Beaver." (laughs)  Richard Correll.  And that was a very surrealist moment for me, cause I'm a huge fan of the show.

Anyway, we did the shoot.  And as the sun was coming up the next morning, they had to take all the hair off my face to do the transition me being picked up.  And I'm thinking that maybe we should have done that in the beginning because the alcohol solvent that they used to get it off with was just painful. The look on my face at the end of that video when my girlfriend picks me up in the face was just...I was just totally burned out at that point.  I was like, 'good can we get it over with?'

"Fool Moon Fire" - Walter Egan / "Wild Exhibitions" (1983)

Casey Chambers:  A fool moon "face" fire! (laughs)

Walter Egan:  It's funny watching that video now...there's a lot of silly things I remember from it.  But yeah, it was cool.    And that song was doing really well.  It was climbing the charts with a bullet.  Got into the Top 40.  And then all of a sudden, it lost its bullet.  And that coincided with...well...during the run of that record, the presidency of MCA was up for grabs.

The guy who had been president and who was my booster at Tom Petty's Backstreet...his name was Danny Bramson and he wanted to be president at the same time a guy named Irving Azoff wanted to be president.  And Irving has a way of always winning in his own very creepy way.  And so he wound up taking over.  But it was a pretty bitter struggle to see who would be president.  A lot of name calling and stuff.  And so when Danny lost, he was out the door.  I was Danny's project.  And Irving didn't want to have anything to do with anything that Danny had anything to do with.  So, he pulled the plug on "Fool Moon Fire."  And it pissed me off.  Y'know, it's a great record.  It had David Lindley playing electric violin on it.  I think Nicky Hopkins might have even been playing piano on that song.  So it was a really cool record.  And that's the sad story of the music business.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, well to quote another good song on that's..."Such A Shame."  And I mean that sincerely.

Walter Egan:  Very good. Very good. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Here's a fact a few rock fans may not be aware of...Gram Parsons recorded one of your songs.

Walter Egan:  "Hearts On Fire."  That was kind of my calling card when I went to L.A.  That was my success.  I was able to go 'here's what I've done'.  I had written that after spending the day with a guy named Ray Benson, who was the guitar player for Asleep At The Wheel.  I've always kinda had one toe in country rock anyway.  I was very intrigued by Gram Parsons and then I got to meet him.  When he and Emmy sang together for the first was in my kitchen!  So I got to know him.  In a good way.  'Cause he had a very demonic possession thing where he could turn into this really obnoxious person when he would get drunk or really stoned.  And I got to see that part of him later on, too, but that was after he had recorded "Hearts On Fire."  And yeah, I mean that was a big thrill for me. Because it was a breakthrough.  And it was somebody who many ways, really idolized.

"Hearts On Fire" - Gram Parsons / "Grievous Angel" (1974)

Casey Chambers:  Very cool.  Are you still rockin' the stage?

Walter Egan:  I'm still doing it as much as I can.  I've got a really good band.  I'm going out next week to play a concert in Berkeley, California...which is at The Art House on Saturday the 18th.  On the 25th, I'm playing in Miss Pamela Des Barres' backyard in L.A. doing a house concert there for the third year in a row.

Casey Chambers:  Oh man, I bet that'll be insane.  Spill the wine!

Walter Egan:  It's gonna be fun.  And then we're going to play a Malibooz show opening for The Yardbirds on July 21 at the Canyon Club out there. So, even though I live outside of Nashville, I try to get to California as much as possible.  I'm still writing songs. I'm still recording. So yeah, yeah, I'm still alive.  It's my new phrase this year..."I'm still alive."

Casey Chambers:  So fans can expect a new album soon?

Walter Egan:  Indeed.  The last time I did the Berkeley concert, which was two or three years ago, I wound up getting an album out of it.  My last album was called "Myth America" (2014) which I think is kind of a funny title.

"Myth America" - Walter Egan (2014)

Casey Chambers:  Love it.  The title is fun to say and open to interpretation, too.  I've been spinning "Stop Bein' You" off  "Myth..." for a few days now.  I'll put a link to it.  Good stuff.  Walter, this has been a real treat.  I'd like to thank you for all the good music and for taking the time to do this.

Walter Egan:  Yeah, well I appreciate your interest. You have a good evening.

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