The Walker Brothers - Biography
The Walker Brothers were a Southern California pop trio, known for creating heavily produced ballads that were wildly successful in the UK and Germany—and modestly successful in North America—in the mid-1960s and again in the 1970s. The Los Angeles-based group’s brand of orchestrated pop rock—lush Phil Spector-esque wall-of-sound arrangements, centered around singer Scott Walker’s low baritone voice—scored big with tracks like “My Ship is Coming In” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).” The latter song became an immense #1 hit in England and charted in America as well, climbing to #16. The adoration for The Walker Brothers was rampant with teenage girls in swinging London, and their run of hits in the mid-’60s—which also included the song “Make It Easy On Yourself,” a #1 hit in England—made interesting counterpoints to The Beatles and Rolling Stones in terms of popularity. Today, the group is remembered enigmatically as an explosive fad of the era that retains a cult following—mostly due to teen idol Scott Walker, who is more known recently for his English language version of Jacques Brel’s campy song, “Jacky.”
Formed in 1964, all of three members—Scott Engel (vocals/bass), Gary Leeds (drums/vocals) and John Maus (guitar/vocals)—had experience in other groups. Already with a name in Hollywood music circles, primarily with The Routers, who scored a hit in 1962 with “Let’s Go (Pony),” Engel began playing in Maus’ band at nightspots on the Sunset Strip. Maus and Engel soon met Leeds, who had just returned from a British tour with P.J. Proby. They selected the name The Walker Brothers randomly (none of the members are related) and began to record demos with the intention of alerting British labels. While still in Los Angeles, the band had a cameo appearance in the film Beach Ball—which also featured acts like The Righteous Brothers, The Four Seasons and The Supremes—where they performed the song, “Doin’ The Jerk.”
Leeds—previously a member of garage rock band The Standells—regaled his new friends with stories of “swinging London,” and he persuaded them to relocate overseas on his father’s dime, just as blues-infused rock & roll was gaining steam. The made the move in early 1965, and once there made waves immediately via playing the club circuit.
Very soon after arriving, The Walker Brothers—coveted for their look and sound—signed to Philips Records and released their first song, “Pretty Girls Everywhere.” Sung by Maus, the single did reasonably well but was not the chart-topping success the label was looking for. Philips did a follow-up single with Engel’s baritone at the fore—a b-side confection by The Everly Brothers called, “Love Her”—which would prove to be The Walker Brothers first major hit on the UK charts. It also solidified Engel’s place as the singer of the group.
The British youth were going crazy for The Walker Brothers’ music circa 1965, which was aided by the arrangements created by Ivor Raymonde (famous for his work with Julio Iglesias and Dusty Springfield) and Reg Guest (who added the classical dimensions). With a head of steam and hit songs under the belts, The Walker Brothers collectively adopted the last name “Walker” as part of the bargain—and to this day Scott Engel continues to go by his handle, Scott Walker.
The initial full-length album the band released on Smash Records was Introducing the Walker Brothers (1965), a record that—though it contains the original composition, “You’re All Around Me”—is not considered one of their strongest efforts. The album was comprised mainly of cover songs of popular rock tunes from America, such as “Doin’ the Jerk” and “Land of 1000 Dances.” However, their fortunes changed by late 1965, when they scored their first #1 hit on the UK charts with the Burt Bacharach-penned ballad, “Make It Easy On Yourself.”
The Walker Brothers’ popularity quickly reached its zenith when they followed up with two more successful ballads—“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine,” which hit #3 in England and also charted in the US, and the 1966 song, “My Ship is Coming In,” which was recorded by soul singer Jimmy Radcliffe a year earlier and went to #1 on the UK charts. The fans were particularly rabid for the teen idol Scott Walker, who, with a nervous disposition, didn’t always welcome the attention. He would eventually suffer nervous breakdowns and attempt suicide due to the microscope of fame.
Now rivaling The Beatles proportions in England, the group released their second album, Portrait (1966) on Fontana, another rousing success. The album opened with the song “In My Room,” which foreshadowed Scott Walker’s later solo work, as well as renditions of jazz standards like, “Just for a Thrill” and “Summertime,” and even a version of Curtis Mayfield’s, “People Get Ready.”
The next year saw The Walker Brothers release their third album, Images (1967 Mercury), which is often cited as their best. Scott Walker began to show off his songwriting prowess by penning the songs “Orpheus” and “Genevieve,” two of the classics from the album. Taking cues from French artist, Jacques Brel—something that would later consumer Scott’s solo albums—Images carried a heavy influence from the Dutch-born singer/songwriter. Another highlight from the album was John Walker’s, “I Can’t Let It Happen To You.”
By late in 1967, the surging popularity that had catapulted The Walker Brothers into the same conversation as The Beatles began to fade just as suddenly. This abrupt downturn, interspersed with unstable relationships within the band, ultimately led to their dismantling in 1968. By that time, Scott Walker was already beginning to have a successful solo career in England, releasing Scott 1, 2 and 3 to close out the decade. With the pressures of stardom taking a toll on him, he suffered a series of nervous breakdowns, which found him recovering within the confines of a monastery on the Isle of Wight.
The Walker Brothers did reunite for another recording and a series of concerts in 1975. They released the album, No Regrets (1975 Columbia), which yielded another top ten hit with the Tom Rush song, “No Regrets,” but split up again in 1978 when their album Nite Flights—which featured four tracks written by Scott—tanked commercially. They also did a tour of Japan in the late 1980s and recorded a live record there.