Living Life In The “Walternative” Lane, Part 1

Walter Egan

By Clark Shelton

I remember the first time I walked into Kimbro’s Cafe on Church Street in Downtown Franklin and heard Walter Egan wailing on his guitar as the band performed a Doors tune. As time went on I got to know one of the most interesting men I have ever met. On February 8th, Walter will be in New York City at Town Hall playing in the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Beatlemania.

Egan, a Franklin resident, has romanced Stevie Nicks, played with Gram Parsons, partied with Belushi, owns a Gold Record, is a substitute teacher, is releasing a new album, has a new art exhibit, and is still in much demand at age 65. His signature mane may have whitened, but his passion for music still burns bright. I was fortunate enough to get some of his time before his trip to NYC and talked to him about his past and the opportunity to play in this event.

WS: Wow, where to start. I guess the best place is when did you first pick up a guitar? Do you remember what brand it was? And then when did you know you were destined to be a rock’n’roll star?
Walter: Ha! The first guitar I picked up was a plastic Mickey Mouse guitar (literally) when I was about 10, on which I did my Elvis routine for the family. But my first real guitar was a gift for my 15th birthday, a Goya F-11, the selling point of which was that it could use steel or nylon strings. Nylon are better for beginners. I eschewed lessons, preferring to teach myself from a Kingston Trio songbook that had little pictures of the chords for each song. Since I was a big Trio fan I could tell if the songs sounded right when I played them. I was invited to play in a band called the Malibooz,  if I could get my hands on an electric. I persuaded my parents that I would be able to pay them back from my band earnings so they bought me a brand new Fender Stratocaster, sunburst, and a Princeton amp. We could be fairly delusional about our abilities so it was around junior year that I started to entertain the idea that I could get used to doing this for a living. But I never felt “destined” to be anything, much less a rockstar. I did start writing songs within the first year of having a guitar though.”

WS: “Magnet and Steel”, which hit Gold status and reached #8 on Billboard in 1978, was written by you and inspired by Stevie Nicks who was with you on your album Fundamental Roll. Can you tell us a little about what it was like to have a gold record? How Stevie became the inspiration? Also, is there any truth to the rumor you sang the song to Chuck Woolery on an episode of Scrabble?
Walter: I was very fortunate to have Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks as producers of my first LP, Fundamental Roll, on Columbia. I fell under Stevie’s spell right from the start. When she was singing the background vocals on my song “Tunnel o’ Love”, it especially hit me, and as I drove home from that session I fell in behind a car on the freeway with the license plate “Not Shy” (the name of the album) and by the time I got home I had finished “Magnet and Steel.”

I have a gold record for that single, but not for any album, alas. In the eighties I was on a couple of game shows, Catch Phrase and Scrabble. Chuck was the host of Scrabble and did not recognize my hit from its title, so I did sing him a few bars. The announcer Charlie Tuna did know who I was and was very nice.

WS: You and Gram Parsons also did some work together. He covered your song “Hearts on Fire” on his album Grievious Angel. You have traveled the country at Gram festivals. Tell us about your friendship.
Walter: I was a huge Byrds fan in the mid sixties, I loved their psychedelic-folk-rock. Then in ’68, they came out with a very traditional country album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. This was a big left, or right, turn for the band and I noticed the name Gram Parsons all over the record. So I followed him from there and became a big fan when he and Chris Hillman came out with the Flying Burrito Brothers’ first LP, Gilded Palace of Sin. In the early 70s, I was playing in a band called Sageworth in the Georgetown area of DC, and we were in the same circuit as EmmyLou Harris with whom we had become friends. The night she was approached by Hillman about singing with Gram she didn’t know who that was, so I played the records for her. The next night Gram came in and I first met him then. They needed a quiet place to try their voices together so I offered my kitchen, The following afternoon they came over and history was made as yours truly sat and watched and listened. He was a very charismatic guy when sober and it was a thrill for me. Even more of a thrill was when he cut “Hearts on Fire!”

Come back tomorrow to read the second half of our interview, about Egan’s upcoming trip to NYC and his current projects.