Interview with DAVE WALKER

May 2008

Dave Walker’s a real blues man. The veteran of many a prominent British band most famous for his stint with SAVOY BROWN, twists and turns of Walker’s walk of life saw him fronting such an unlikely – for Dave – ensemble as BLACK SABBATH. But that’s a mere footnote in his story, while the latest major event in it is "Walking Underwater", the singer’s best album of all. In the bleak beginning, though, nothing predicted this deep dip in the blues.

- Dave, what was the music landscape in a place you were growing up at?

Music was very much controlled by the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, in those days, so what we heard was mostly dance music – for example, Glen Miller, Dorsey Brothers, etcetera, and English imitators. There was also a small amount of ethnic music coming out of Scotland, Wales and Ireland that I was far more interested in, and attracted to.

- How, in your, a Brummie’s, opinion, Birmingham gave birth – at around the same time – to such different bands as, say, BLACK SABBATH and ELO?

There have always been very different ways of approaching what we collectively call “rock and roll” music. In industrial areas like Birmingham and the West Midlands of England, I think that because the environment was so real and essential that this was reflected in the personality of the bands. Let’s not forget that the area also spawned Spencer Davis, Steve Winwood, TRAFFIC, SLADE, THE MOODY BLUES, half of LED ZEPPELIN and yours truly.

- With your strict upbringing, what was your first rock ‘n’ roll experience?

My first exposure to rock ‘n’ roll was on a documentary program on BBC TV and it would be around 1957. The presenter of the program was indicating a brand new kind of music from the USA and the troubling, twitching of the “singer”. The music was rock ‘n’ roll, the song was “Heartbreak Hotel”, and the singer was Elvis Presley. My grandmother turned off the TV halfway through the song and said it was heathen music, but that was it – I had seen and heard enough to change my life.

- Who were your influences as a singer and guitarist?

I was influenced very early on by black American singers, who I think in those days had more air-time in England than in the US, but gladly for us for obvious reasons. So I would have to say Paul Robeson, Hoagy Carmichael – a white guy, – Odetta and Sister Rosseta Tharpe. The women I always thought brought a greater depth of feeling to singing as I think they still do. Guitar players – I would say Lonnie Mack’s. Listen to “The Wham Of That Memphis Man” on Fraternity Records – ‘nough said.

- By the way, how often did you play guitar in various bands you’ve been in?

I only have ever played rhythm guitar as I cannot play a lick of lead. I played rhythm guitar full time in THE REDCAPS, but I do intend to play rhythm guitar a lot more in the new band. I have a good knowledge of chords and have a percussive style of playing, which I perfected through the years playing coffee houses and small theatres.

- Your first band, THE REDCAPS played with THE BEATLES. What have you learnt from those shows?

What I learned from our contact with THE BEATLES was that you never went on after them, as even early on they were certainly a phenomenon. But apart from that and more importantly, it was obvious that they had complete faith in themselves and a unity that most of their contemporaries lacked.

- What determined your drift from rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm-and-blues to the original genre, the blues?

I don’t think I drifted from rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm-and-blues as much as it seems now like a natural progression. For years I felt that because of my colour, race, etcetera, I hadn’t earned the right to sing the blues. But I have realised after almost a lifetime that hardship, disappointment, and broken hearts touch all of us once in a while. Voila le bleus.

- Did Jeff Lynne leave big shoes for you to fill in THE IDLE RACE?

At the time, I don’t remember Jeff’s leaving as being treated as a disaster for the band. Jeff did, however, leave a rich recording legacy. Personally I thought that THE IDLE RACE was far more unique with Jeff, than without him.

- What memories do you have of the late Don Arden?

I felt secure being represented by Don – better the Devil you know than the one you don’t!

- How did you meet Kim Simmonds? Did you leave Birmingham after THE IDLE RACE had broken up?

I met Kim Simmonds after I had jammed one night up in Birmingham, with John Bonham, a couple of guys from FAIRPORT CONVENTION, and Stan Webb from CHICKEN SHACK. Stan was managed at the time by Harry Simmonds who also managed SAVOY BROWN. I was recommended by Stan, and passed the audition! THE IDLE RACE actually coursed on after I left. But yes, I moved to London when I joined SAVOY BROWN.

SAVOY BROWN: Dave and Kim Simmonds on the left

- How come “Denim Demon” and “The Derelict” were the only songs of yours that, respectively, SAVOY and FLEETWOOD MAC recorded? Were there more that you offered to them?

Until fairly recently, my writing has always been pretty sporadic anyway. You also must remember that the bulk of the writing was handled by Kim and Paul Raymond with SAVOY BROWN, and by Christine McVie and Bob Welch with FLEETWOOD MAC. So submitting material was almost a dead issue. “Denim Demon” and “Derelict” were really only used because we needed a bit more materials for the respective albums they appeared on. Both songs you could conceive and write in about ten minutes. No fancy harmonies, stories but no real “message”. I’ve always found stories much more interesting, especially when based on fact.

- How did the autobiographic “Denim Demon” come about?

It was just a song about my first American tour impressions.

- What was so alluring in the MAC that you decided to leave SAVOY BROWN?

FLEETWOOD MAC paid!!!

- With FLEETWOOD MAC in turmoil at the time you joined, how justified do you think were accusation of you pulling the band in the SAVOY BROWN direction?

With my input into the band being so minimal, I don’t see how I could be said to have been pulling anyone anywhere. Although in my opinion it may have been a good idea at the time. FLEETWOOD MAC were always a good blues rock band. Why they quit playing it, I’ll never understand.

- How would you describe your contribution to the MAC?

Minimal.

- Why did HUNGRY FIGHTER, the band you had with Danny Kirwan, was so short-lived?

HUNGRY FIGHTER had great players but no musical identity. You have to remember that this is 1973-1974, and musically things were turning to crap. The oil crisis, no development money from the record companies anymore. Danny Kirwan, bless him, had already started his downward spiral, and it was so painful and sad to watch that I think it permeated the band’s optimism and vision. Alas.

- There was some accident before the HUNGRY FIGHTER’s only gig. What happened?

The road crew who were helping HUNGRY FIGHTER were working the night before our gig at London University with another band. On the way home from that gig, they were involved in a serious road accident in which our roadie, John Knowles, was badly injured, and the equipment we were to use was, by and large, destroyed. We did not play, as the headline band would not loan us any of their gear.

- The band’s drummer was Mac Poole. Did you hear his work in Nick Simper‘s WARHORSE?

No, I did not hear any of Mac’s work with Nick Simper. Mac Poole is a great drummer!

- What made you move to America in the late Seventies?

In view of the above situation and given the fact that I was married to an American woman, to move to America seemed like the next step. Actually, I moved to America in October of 1974.

- Why didn’t you try to start there a new band – of your own – rather than join the established teams?

Actually, the band that evolved out of my meeting the late John Cippolina of QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE was in essence a new band. The band was called MISTRESS, a horrible name but a great group, and it developed new material which lyrically I contributed to.

- With your and Cippolina’s pedigree, why didn’t MISTRESS succeed – with ro without both of you?

Actually, John Cippolina never was a member of MISTRESS. As to MISTRESS’ lack of success, those were the beginnings of the cocaine days!

- Originally that band was called RAVEN, and you made some demos. Is there any chance for these tapes to be released?

With BLACK SABBATH

MISTRESS and RAVEN were two separate entities, although they did share Gregg Douglas as a guitarist. There is a CD of the RAVEN band out there. I think I sing on two of the tracks.

- The short stint with BLACK SABBATH seems the strangest move of your career. Why did you agree to the offer – out of Brummie solidarity? I mean you’re not a metal singer, although SAVOY BROWN’s “Time Does Tell” isn’t so far from what the SABS were doing…

Brummie solidarity is exactly what it was. Actually Tony Iommi for whom I have great regard was helpful in my joining SAVOY BROWN in 1971.

- How?

Tony and BLACK SABBATH were represented at the time by Chrysalis Agency, I believe, and SAVOY BROWN worked out of that office also. Basically, Tony had a word with Harry Simmonds, Kim’s manager, on my behalf.

- Did SABBATH use any of your vocal melodies on “Never Say Die”?

I have no idea, having never heard the album.

- Did Geezer Butler, the main SABBATH lyricist, back out when you came in to let you be the wordsmith?

I didn’t know Geezer was supposed to be the main lyricist. I was the only one writing lyrics, as I recall.

- In what terms did the SABS inform you that your services weren’t needed anymore?

I showed up for rehearsal. As I walked in, the band announced that they were going to the local pub for a meeting and that I was to wait until they got back. When they did, Bill Ward spoke for the band and said, and I quote, “We’re still here, and you’re not”. That was it.

- Were you disillusioned so much in the business that you left music for most of the Eighties?

Actually, after I had been in the US for a year my marriage broke down, and then after MISTRESS and my failure with BLACK SABBATH. I returned to the US from Great Britain and basically became a shiftless hippie for a few years, working on ranches and doing a lot of manual jobs – construction, kitchen work, etcetera. In fact, I don’t think you can call yourself a “blues” singer if you haven’t had a few dish washing jobs! In 1981 I put together THE DAVID WALKER BAND which in its short two-year life included Jim Pugh who has played keyboards with Robert Cray and Etta James now for several years, and Steff Burns who plays with Alice Cooper. Unfortunately, drugs did have a great influence with a couple of us and along with what I will call bad advice, we narrowly missed a major label deal, and we went our separate ways. The band was really excellent, and I think that was what really made me a non-participant musically. Plus the new stuff that was selling in those days was, in my opinion, absolute shit!

- Why did THE DAVID WALKER BAND’s only album never see the light of day?

Drugs…

- There was a rumor you lived with a tribe of Native Americans for some time – true of false?

I didn’t live with a tribe. I lived in Gallup, New Mexico for eleven years. Gallup is a big Indian town. I worked for a guy in Gallup. The work took me out onto the Navajo Reservation a lot and I also had a Pueblo girl friend for three years. She left me for a cop!

- Was it difficult to get back to SAVOY BROWN in 1987, fifteen years after you left the band?

No, in terms of material, as we were doing a lot of our well-known stuff from the late Sixties, early Seventies. Physically it was difficult as I recall for about the first six months or so.

- Why did you re-join in the first place – given Kim Simmond’s not treating you as equal during your first stint with SAVOY?

Someone had told me about a live SAVOY BROWN album. A recording of the band from Central Park in 1972. Anyway, I found the album on Relix Records and liked it. I had been working as an odd-job man, and I decided to contact Kim Simmonds, which I did, he invited me to rejoin the band. The odd-job man was getting old, so I went back.

- What kind of band DONOVAN’S BRAIN are and were you a real part of this band?

They were what I would call “diletante psychadelic” a “noodling” band. No, I was never a member of the band. And I feel that a lot was made out of the fact that I had overdubbed a couple of vocal harmony tracks for them. That was all.

The Denim Demon phase

- “Walking Underwater” is a great collection of vintage, though recently recorded, blues. Do you still find anything new in this music after all these years?

You always find something new in the music, but in this instance I think, through my friends at Iron Horse Entertainment and their encouragement, I have found something new in myself.

- Where does the desperation of the album’s title track come from?

Strange! The nom de plume I use is “Desperate Davey”! It’s autobiographical about me and women I loved and lost.

- “Walking Underwater” seems to be the first record of yours with you co-writing most of the material. Why is it only now that you feel confident as songwriter?

I don’t know if I do feel confident as a songwriter. I just received a lot of encouragement from people on this project, without which I don’t know if I could have done it.

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