Boseman Daily Chronicle (Montana)

Rockin’ Man: From Walsall, England, to Virginia City Dave Walker continues to make music

By JESSICA MAYRER, Chronicle staff writer

Dave Walker headlined Carnegie Hall as a front man for Savoy Brown, recorded with Fleetwood Mac and rubbed shoulders with members of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles before making his home in a trailer court and paying rent with money earned working in a Four Corners restaurant.

They say, ‘why are you washing dishes?’” he said. “And I say, ‘because I got to.’”

Walker’s life has been one of extremes. After growing up without a father in post-war, blue-collar England he went on to sing in front of thousands, party with rock ‘n’ roll royalty and in the early 1960s share a stage with the Four Seasons, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beatles.

“They took all the pretty girls, which pissed us off,” Walker said.

But the self-described working-class son of Walsall, England, is back on an upward trajectory after hitting one of those gritty lows that makes for great song lyrics. He’s on stage again, forming The Dave Walker Band with local rock ‘n’ roll veterans Mike Gillan, Jim Lewis, Eddie T. and Chris Hall.

“In a really personal and creative way they’ve saved my ass,” Walker said from his two-story cedar home in Virginia City, overlooking the Tobacco Root Mountains.

Walker, 64, has plowed through much of his life in a blur of booze and drugs. But after his mother died two years ago, leaving an inheritance, the Brit got another chance.

He sobered up, formed the band and bought a red Porsche.

“You end up going to these (expletive) therapists,” Walker said. “That Porsche is better than any $90-per-hour (expletive) therapist.”

Last year, The Dave Walker Band released their debut album, “Walking Underwater.” They’re gearing up to play the annual outdoor music festival, Rockin’ the Rivers, on Sunday, Aug. 10.

Walker said he feels uncomfortable with his name center stage in the band’s name. The emphasis, he said, should be on the band, not him.

But his band mates appreciate Walker’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history.

“It’s like an honor. He’s like a legend,” said Eddie T., the Dave Walker Band bassist.

Eddie T.’s first major rock show was Savoy Brown featuring Walker’s bluesy growl on vocals. They performed in 1972 at the Honolulu International Center, he said.

“He’s a great singer. And the stories are great,” Eddie T. said. “He’s like a walking encyclopedia of English rock.”

And Jim Lewis, guitarist for the Dave Walker Band, remembers copying licks from Savoy Brown’s “Street Corner Talking,” LP fronted by Walker more than 30 years ago.

“It’s just kind of amazing, now I’m playing with him,” Lewis said.

Walker still looks like a rocker, with his thin frame, silver earring, brown motorcycle boots, worn Levis, immaculate mustache and long silver hair pulled back. His British accent completes the package.

As the illegitimate child of a “yank,” growing up in hardscrabble, blue-collar Britain, Walker got picked on.

“Sometimes you don’t know whether to weep or to lash out,” Walker said. “I’ve never gotten over it.”

But singing gave him a way out, at least for a little while. At 4 years old he sang “Away in a Manger” at the local Methodist church.

“People who would shun you, suddenly, you had their attention,” he said.

His mother loved to sing “Madame Butterfly.” Growing up, Walker listened to the Glenn Miller Orchestra on the radio and imitated black-faced minstrels like Al Jolson.

“That’s kind of sick, isn’t it?” he asked. “I’d go down on one knee and sing ‘Mammie.’”

“I bet you Eric Clapton would never own up to that,” he said.

By age 15, Walker was playing bars and dancehalls in Birmingham, England, with his first band, the Redcaps.

“The music thing, it really took over everything,” Walker said. “It’s the only thing I actually could do pretty well without too much effort.”

He joined Savoy Brown in 1971, continuing his musical education. Savoy Brown’s bass player, Andy Sylvester, introduced Walker to blues musicians like Freddy King and Jimmy Reed.

Walker went on to record one album with Fleetwood Mac and briefly joined Black Sabbath before leaving the music scene, he said.

“I effectively disappeared in New Mexico for 11 years,” Walker said.

Now, at home in Virginia City, Walker is surrounded by the Navajo rugs and Native American sand paintings he collected while working as a janitor in New Mexico. The Navajo creation story is tacked on a peach-colored wall in his living room above a Fender guitar that sits in the floor.

The vocalist spends a lot of time alone here with his dogs, guitars and pink petunias. He’s been married and divorced three times and has no children, “anywhere,” he said. He made much of the home’s furniture with the planer and saw on the front deck. Birds land on a Walker-made feeder outside. Water trickles into a pond he built to memorialize his mother.

“My mom always liked that kind of thing,” he said. “As much as I hate to admit it, because she was a nutter, we are a lot alike.”

He is a funny character, said Mike Gillan, drummer for the Dave Walker Band. And when he drives the Porsche, folks better watch out.

“He’s kind of crazy, that’s for sure,” Gillan said.

Musicians need to be a bit off kilter, though, Lewis said.

“People want you to be crazy,” Lewis said. “It’s a vicious, happy circle.”

The band is excited to continue playing with Walker, they say.

“He was one of our teachers,” Lewis said. The musicians now aim to impress their teacher.

And they are.

“I’m really lucky to be able to sing with these guys,” Walker said. “They’ve kind of brought me out of my shell.”