Monday, July 09, 2018


      Happy birthday to Sammy Walker July 7th.  Regulars know the blog is only updated on the 9's (9th, 19th, 29th) but a few days late isn't such a much. 

      Since his last mention here, there's been the re-issue of a set of demos he recorded for Warners. It brings up memories of when he was caught between the two swords of "Dylan soundalike" and "Ochs protege." Both stirred some resentment and expectations. If you want an offbeat comparison, how about Tippi Hedren, pronounced the new Grace Kelly and Hitchcock's protege? She made two major films ("The Birds" and "Marnie") and that was about it. Walker had a two-record deal with Warners, and that was also about it. 

     Sammy's first album was for Folkways. Ochs got him the deal, and then pushed to get him on a major label: "“Phil called up Warner, and he was singing some of my lyrics over the phone to (Warner Bros exec) Mo Ostin. But after Phil died, Warner didn't do much to promote my records." Walker's debut on Warners featured album notes that mentioned Phil Ochs, and also Dylan:

      “Influenced by Woody Guthrie, Dylan and Pete Seeger, Sammy made a noncommercial “kitchen” tape for the progressive FM station WBAI, and soon came to the attention of Phil Ochs. Sammy was brought to Folkways Records by Phil, who produced his debut album and considered Sammy his protege. The album was recorded nearly eighteen months ago…it was on the back of Sammy’s first record that Ochs himself wrote: “Sammy walker is the finest songwriter and singer I have co,e across in the last dozen years. I am certain he has a great future ahead of him…” What has emerged is an album both uncalculated and unpretentious. Sammy’s reflective personality and his preponderance as a commentator of life and the environment are greatly realized as is the promise Phil Ochs saw two years ago. In that spirit, this album is dedicated in the memory of Phil Ochs.” 

    Walker’s second and last Warners album was “Blue Ridge Mountain Skyline.” This was 1977, but the 1969 “Nashville Skyline” from Dylan may have still caused some backlash among fans resenting any Dylan “imitator.” As much as fans sought a "new Dylan" after Bob "went electric," they also kept to the idolization of "nobody can be another Dylan." Oddly enough, Walker’s country-tinged sound was a lot more authentic than Bob’s. Bob was from Minnesota, and affected a Guthrie-Okie delivery. Sammy was from Georgia and his twang came naturally. 

    Warners seemed to have counted on Phil Ochs banging some kind of a drum, and having Sammy for an opening act. Without Phil, the Warners publicists pushed others. Sammy’s manager lost interest after failing to get him the role of Woody Guthrie in an upcoming film. The role went to David Carradine instead. There was no Walker tour to support the album: “I didn’t have anybody to help put a tour together for me. Warner Brothers didn't do anything. My manager didn't do anything. I was still a naïve kid, and I didn't know how it worked. I was counting on those people to put things together for me, and nobody did."

    Sammy couldn’t even get on stage for the Phil Ochs tribute concert at the Felt Forum. The evening included famous names such as Tim Hardin, Dave Van Ronk, Bob Gibson, Melanie, Eric Andersen, Tom Rush, Pete Seeger and Odetta. Sammy was going to join Ramblin’ Jack Elliott for “Bound for Glory,” a song Sammy had sung in duet with its author, Mr. Ochs. Jack Elliott, more obnoxious than usual, ignored young Sammy, and made it pretty clear that the spotlight wasn’t big enough for the both of them. The stunned young folksinger wandered out of the venue in tears. 

    After Warners cut him loose, Sammy managed an indie CD once in a very great while. The last album of original material came out in 2008. The latest is a collection of the solo demos he sent Warners. These “Brown Eyed Georgia Darling” demos repeat nine songs that are on Sammy’s first Warners album (fleshed out by producer Nik Venet with a full band). The one demo Warners passed on his “Talkin’ Women’s Lib.” The label apparently replaced that one with two newer songs: “Little New Jersey Town” and “Catcher in the Rye.” Below is a sample demo, the upbeat "I Ain't Got Time." Ramseur's even got a vinyl version for old folkies who still know how to use a needle the right way.

     These are tough times for any indie record label, and the amount of piracy on the Internet, along with free streaming, means that fans have the power to choose when, and if, they "support" anyone by actually buying anything. Indie labels surrender their songs to Spotify, Pandora and YouTube where they are lucky to get a penny a play. In fact, YouTube doesn't even bother to "monetize" an upload until it get 500 or 1000 plays. Sammy's album on YouTube, as you see from the screen capture above, is nowhere near that modest number. What do the artists do? They "keep on keeping on" if they can. The songwriter says "I ain't got time to kill," and keeps writing songs while hoping for a few gigs or some kind of break...while keeping the day job or waiting for the social security check. The royalty check...not so much.  

Sammy Walker solo guitar demo of "I AIN'T GOT TIME TO KILL" to passwords, creepy foreign server, or Paypal donation whining.

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