Scott Walker died aged seventy-six on 22nd March 2019. He was survived by his partner Beverly, his daughter Lee and grand-daughter Emmi-Lee.
Scott was born Noel Scott Engel in Hamilton, Ohio, U.S.A, in 1943. His father's work led the family to various successive homes in Ohio, Texas, Colorado and New York, U.S.A. Scott and his mother settled in California in 1959 and Scott was interested in both music and performance and spent time as a child actor and singer in the late 1950s and appeared several times on Fisher's TV series and recorded several songs.
At the time of his arrival in Los Angeles, Scott had already changed both his taste and his direction. Interested in the progressive jazz of Stan Kenton and Bill Evans, he was also a self-confessed "Continental suit-wearing natural enemy of the Californian surfer" and a fan of European cinema, in particular Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Robert Bresson, and the Beat poets. In between attending art school and furthering his interests in cinema and literature, Scott played bass guitar and was proficient enough to get session work in Los Angeles as a teenager.
In 1961, after playing with The Routers, he met guitarist and singer John Maus, who was already using the stage name John Walker as a fake ID to enable him to perform in clubs while under age. At first they formed a new band, Judy and the Gents, backing John Walker's sister Judy Maus, before joining other musicians to tour as The Surfaris. In early 1964, Scott and John Walker began working together as The Walker Brothers, later in the year linking up with drummer Gary Leeds, whose father financed the trio's first trip to the UK.
As a trio, the Walker Brothers cultivated a glossy-haired and handsome familial image. Prompted by Maus, each of the members took " Walker" as their stage surname. Scott continued to use the name Scott Walker thereafter, with the brief exception of returning to his birth name for the original release of his fifth solo album Scott 4, and in songwriting credits. Initially, John served as guitarist and main lead singer of the trio, with Gary on drums and Scott playing bass guitar and mostly singing harmony vocals. By early 1965, the group had made appearances on TV shows Hollywood A Go-Go and Shindig and had made initial recordings, but the start of their real success lay in the future and overseas.
While working as a session drummer, Gary Leeds had recently toured the United Kingdom with P.J. Proby, and persuaded both John and Scott to try their luck with him on the British pop scene. The Walker Brothers arrived in London in early 1965. Their first single, "Pretty Girls Everywhere", with John still as lead singer, crept into the low end of the charts. Their next single, "Love Her" – with Scott's deeper baritone in the lead – was a more substantial chart hit and he became the group's frontman.
The Walker Brothers' next release, "Make It Easy on Yourself", a Bacharach/David ballad, swept to number 1 on the UK Singles Chart on release in August 1965. After hitting again with "My Ship Is Coming In," a number 3 UK hit, their second number 1 , "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More", shot to the top in early 1966 and shortly thereafter their fan club grew to contain more members than the official fan club of The Beatles, though this is no indication that the Walker Brothers' actual fan base was ever larger. In any case, the Walker Brothers, especially lead singer Scott, attained pop star status.
Finding suitable material was always a problem. The Walkers' 1960s sound mixes Phil Spector's "wall of sound" techniques with symphonic orchestrations featuring Britain's top musicians and arrangers, notably Ivor Raymonde. Scott served as effective co-producer of the band's records throughout this period , . ] Many of their earlier numbers had a driving beat, but by Images, their third album, ballads predominated.
By the time of their album 'Images', John Walker's musical influence on the Walker Brothers had waned (although he sang lead on a cover of "Blueberry Hill" and contributed two original compositions) and this led to tensions between him and Scott. For his part, Scott was finding the group a chafing experience. Artistic differences and the stresses stemming from overwhelming pop stardom led to the break-up of the Walker Brothers in 1967, although they reunited briefly for a tour of Japan the following year.
For his solo career, Scott Walker shed the Walker Brothers' mantle and worked in a style clearly glimpsed on Images. Initially, this led to a continuation of his previous band's success. Scott Walker's first four albums, titled Scott in 1967, Scott 2 in 1968, Scott 3 in 1969, and Scott: Scott Scott Walker Sings Songs from his TV Series also in 1969, all sold in large numbers, with Scott 2 topping the British charts.
One of Scott Walker's most popular recordings, the Jacques Brel cover "Jackie" from Scott 2, showcases Scott Walker's style on his early solo albums.
During this period, Scott Walker combined his earlier teen appeal with a darker, more idiosyncratic approach, which had been hinted at in songs like "Orpheus" on the Images album. While his vocal style remained consistent with Walker Brothers, he now drove a fine line between classic ballads, Broadway hits and his own compositions, and also included risqué recordings of Jacques Brel songs , translated by Mort Shuman, who was also responsible for the hit musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Scott Walker's own original songs of this period were influenced by Brel and Léo Ferré as he explored European musical roots while expressing his own American experience and reaching a new maturity as a recording artist.
Scott Walker was also continuing to develop as a producer. In 1968, during the brief Walker Brothers reunion and tour of Japan, he produced a single with the Japanese rock group the Carnabeats, featuring Gary Walker on vocals. Upon his return to the UK, he produced a solo album for the Walker Brothers' musical director and guitarist Terry Smith. In 1968, Scott Scott Walker also produced John Maus's solo single "Woman".
Scott Walker's own relationship with fame, and the concentrated attention which it brought to him, remained a problem as regards his emotional well-being. He became reclusive and somewhat distanced from his audience. In 1968 he threw himself into intense study of contemporary and classical music, which included a sojourn in Quarr Abbey, a monastery on the Isle of Wight, to study Gregorian chant, building on an interest in lieder and classical musical modes.
At the peak of his fame in 1969, Scott Walker was given his own BBC TV series, Scott, featuring solo Scott Walker performances of ballads, big band standards, Brel songs and his own compositions. Footage of the show is currently very rare as recordings were not archived. His fourth solo album – Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from his TV Series – exemplified the problems he was having in failing to balance his own creative work with the demands of the entertainment industry and of his manager Maurice King, who seemed determined to mold his protegé into a new Andy Williams or Frank Sinatra.
After releasing himself from Maurice King, Scott Walker released his fifth solo LP – Scott 4 – in 1969. Compensating for his recent dip into passivity, this was his first record to be made up completely of self-written songs. It has been speculated that Scott Walker's decision to release the album under his birth name contributed to its chart failure. All subsequent re-issues of the album have been released under his stage name.
Scott Walker then entered a period of self-confessed artistic decline, during which he spent five years making records by rote, just to get out of contract and consoling himself with alcohol. His next album, 'Til the Band Comes In' in 1970, showed a pronounced split between its two sides. Side A featured original material while side B consisted almost entirely of cover versions. Subsequent releases saw Scott Walker revert to cover versions of popular film tunes and a serious flirtation with country music. The Moviegoer in 1972, Any Day Now in 1973, Stretch in 1973, and We Had It All in 1974 feature no original material whatsoever.
In the 2006 documentary 'Scott Walker: 30 Century Man', Scott Walker describes these as his "lost years" in terms of creativity.
The Walker Brothers reunited in 1975 to produce three albums. Their first single, a cover of Tom Rush's song "No Regrets", from the album of the same title climbed to number seven in the UK Singles Chart.
With the imminent demise of their record label, the Walkers collaborated on an album of original material that was in stark contrast to the country-flavoured tunes of the previous 1970s albums. The resulting album, Nite Flights, was released in 1978 with each of the 'Brothers' writing and singing their own compositions. The opening four songs were Scott's, the final four John's, while the middle pair were by Gary. The extremely dark and discomforting sound of Scott's songs, particularly "The Electrician", was to prove a forerunner to the direction of his future solo work.
The supporting tour saw the band concentrating on the old hits and ballads and ignoring the songs from their new record. Apparently now fated for a stagnant career on the revival circuit, the Walker Brothers lost heart and interest, compounded by Scott's increasing reluctance to sing live. By the end of 1978, now without a record deal, the group drifted apart again and Scott Walker started a three-year period with no record releases
In 1981, interest in Scott Walker's work was stimulated by the compilation 'Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Scott Walker', containing tracks selected by Julian Cope, which reached number 14 on the UK Independent Chart. Scott Walker subsequently signed with Virgin Records.
In 1984, Scott Walker released his first solo album in ten years, 'Climate of Hunter'. The album furthered the complex and unnerving approach Scott Walker had established on Nite Flights. Many of its eight songs lacked either titles or easily identifiable melody, with only Scott Walker's sonorous voice as the link to previous work. Like Nite Flights before it, Climate of Hunter was met with critical praise but low sales. Plans to tour were made but never came to fruition. A second album for Virgin was rumoured to be in the works but was abandoned after early sessions.
Scott Walker spent the late 1980s away from music, with only a brief cameo appearance in a 1987 Britvic TV advert to maintain his profile. He did not return to public attention until the early 1990s when his solo work and Walker Brothers was critically reappraised again. During this period Scott Walker's first four studio albums were issued on CD for the first time and the compilation album No Regrets – The Best of Scott Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers 1965–1976 hit number 4 on the UK Albums Chart. Scott Walker's own return to current active work was gradual and cautious. In 1992 he co-wrote and co-performed, with Goran Bregovic, the single "Man From Reno" for the soundtrack of the film Toxic Affair. Having signed to Fontana Records, he began work on a new album. In the meantime David Bowie covered Scott's song "Nite Flights" on his Black Tie White Noise album, which also contained the Scott Walker inspired 'You've Been Around'.
Tilt was released in 1995, developing and expanding the working methods explored on Climate of Hunter. Variously described as "an anti-matter collision of rock and modern classical music", as "Samuel Beckett at La Scala" and as "indescribably barren and unutterably bleak... the wind that buffets the gothic cathedrals of everyone's favorite nightmares", it was more consciously avant-garde than its predecessor with Scott Walker now revealed as a fully-fledged modernist composer. Although Scott Walker was backed by a full orchestra again, this time he was also accompanied by alarming percussion and industrial effects; and while album opener "Farmer in the City" was a melodic piece on which Scott Walker exercised his familiar ballad voice, the remaining pieces were harsh and demandingly avant-garde.
Lyrically, subject matter included the life and murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini (and his relationship with Ninetto Davoli), cockfighting, the First Gulf War, a conflation of the trials of Adolf Eichmann and Caroline of Brunswick, and a man talking to the corpse of Che Guevara.
In 1996, Scott Walker recorded the Bob Dylan song "I Threw It All Away" under the direction of Nick Cave for inclusion in the soundtrack for the film To Have and to Hold. In 1998, in a rare return to straightforward balladeering, he recorded the David Arnold song "Only Myself to Blame", for the soundtrack of the Bond film 'The World Is Not Enough' and also wrote and produced the soundtrack for the Léos Carax film 'Pola X', which was released as an album.
In 2000, Scott Walker curated the London South Bank Centre's annual summer live music festival, Meltdown, which has a tradition of celebrity curators. He did not perform at Meltdown himself, but wrote the music for the Richard Alston Dance Project item Thimblerigging.
In October 2003, Scott Walker was given an award for his contribution to music by Q magazine, presented by Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. He received a standing ovation at the presentation. This award had been presented only twice before, the first time to Phil Spector, and the second to Brian Eno. The release of a retrospective box set, 5 Easy Pieces, comprising five themed discs spanning Scott Walker's work with the Walker Brothers, his solo career (including film soundtrack work), and the two pieces composed for Ute Lemper, followed soon after. The British independent label 4AD Records signed Scott Walker in early 2004.
In May 2006, Scott Scott Walker released The Drift, his first new album in eleven years. Critical acclaim for the album garnered a Metacritic score of 85, making it one of the most successfully reviewed albums of 2006.
In both composition and atmosphere, The Drift was a continuation of the surreal, menacing, partially abstract approach displayed on Climate of Hunter and Tilt. It featured jarring contrasts between loud and quiet sections; instrumentation was similar to Tilt in the use of rock instruments and a large orchestra, but the album also interpolated unnerving sound effects such as the distressed braying of a donkey, a demoniac Donald Duck impression, and an orchestral percussionist punching a large cut of raw meat. Lyrical subjects included torture, disease, the relationship and eventual shared death of Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci, and a conflation of the 9/11 attacks with a nightmare shared by Elvis Presley and his dead twin brother Jesse. In contemporary interviews, Scott Walker appeared more at ease with media attention, revealing a wish to produce albums more frequently and hinting at significant changes in the nature of his own material if and when it suits him. Although he mentioned the possibility of touring again with a compact, five-piece band in an interview with The Wire although this never materialised.
In June 2006, Mojo and radio honored Scott Walker with the MOJO Icon Award: "Voted for by Mojo readers and Mojo4music users, the recipient of this award has enjoyed a spectacular career on a global scale". A documentary film, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, was completed in 2006 by New York film director Stephen Kijak (Cinemania and Never Met Picasso). Interviews were recorded with David Bowie (executive producer of the film), Radiohead, Sting, Gavin Friday and many musicians associated with Scott Walker over the years. The World Premiere of Scott Walker: 30 Century Man took place as part of the 50th London Film Festival. When The Independent released its list of "Ten must-see films" at the 50th London Film Festival, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, was among them. A documentary on Scott Walker containing a substantial amount of footage from the film was shown on BBC1 in May 2007 as part of the Imagine... strand, presented by Alan Yentob.
Scott Walker released "Darkness" as part of Plague Songs, an album of songs for the Margate Exodus project, a re-telling of the Book of Exodus, the story of Moses and his search for the Promised Land. Ten singer-songwriters were commissioned by Artangel to write and record a song inspired by one of the ten biblical plagues. Scott Walker's evocation of "Darkness" appears as the ninth.
On 24th September 2007, Scott Walker released And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? as a limited, never-to-be-re-pressed edition. The 24-minute instrumental work was performed by the London Sinfonietta with solo cellist Philip Sheppard as music to a performance by London-based CandoCo Dance Company. From November 13th to 15th, 2008, Drifting and Tilting: The Songs of Scott Walker was staged at The Barbican, in London, U.K. It comprised eight songs, two from Tilt – "Farmer in the City" and "Patriot (a single)" – and the rest from The Drift: "Cossacks Are", "Jesse", "Clara (Benito's Dream)", "Buzzers", "Jolson and Jones" and "Cue". Each song was presented in a music-theatre manner, with the vocal parts taken by a number of singers, including Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn and Dot Allison.
Scott Walker collaborated with Bat for Lashes on the song "The Big Sleep" from her 2009 album Two Suns. He wrote the score for the ROH2 production of Jean Cocteau's 1932 play Duet for One, which was staged in the Linbury Studio in June 2011.
Scott Walker's final solo album, Bish Bosch, was released on 3rd December 2012 and was received with wide critical acclaim.
In 2014 Scott Walker collaborated with experimental drone metal duo Sunn O on a new album. The album, Soused, was released in 2014.
In 2015, Scott Walker composed the score for Brady Corbet's film The Childhood of a Leader; this was followed in 2018 by the score for Corbet's film Vox Lux.