SCOTT WALKER 1943 – 2019

March 25th, 2019

Today we have lost a musical genius and giant, and the greatest interpreter of the songs of Jacques Brel: Scott Walker.

If you have never heard of Scott Walker then I feel I must turn you on to my all time favorite singer. His recorded works are not for everyone’s tastes. My wife can’t stand any of his music; she associates his sound with Frank Sinatra (whose work I like; especially his Capitol years) and her parent’s generation of singers. But Scott and his work are much deeper and more mysterious than that older generation of singers who just crooned many of the same classic standards without the depth those songs deserved.

OK; here’s my Scott pitch. DON’T start your listening with his recent CDs (many Scott fans find them unlistenable; I beg to differ)! Ease into his more experimental stuff by beginning chronologically with The Walker Brothers, followed by Scott’s solo work and the work of the reformed Walker Brothers. Hopefully, Scott’s Climate of the Hunter, Tilt and The Drift will then make perfect, painful, poetic sense.

You’ll either be grateful to me forever — or you’ll agree with my wife.

If you ever listen to oldies pop radio, you’ve heard his early work. While Scott never had a solo hit in the United States, he had two massive North American hits when he was with the Walker Brothers (they weren’t really brothers): “Make It Easy On Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.”

Noel Scott Engel (Scott Walker’s real name) began as Eddie Fisher’s (yes, Carrie’s dad) protegé. Scott made recordings as a teen that sound like Fisher — don’t buy those! Later Scott attended my alma mater, the Chouinard Art Institute (aka CalArts; he went there years before me. I’d like to know if he attended Chouinard while Jackie DeShannon or Rick Griffin were there). Scott played bass for The Routers (they had a stomping hit with “Let’s Go!”) before hooking up with John Maus and then Gary Leeds to form the Walker Brothers.

Scott began his serious songwriting while he was with the Walkers. I highly recommend picking up either the The Walker Brothers – After the Lights Go Out or The Walker Brothers – Singles + CDs (the second one is a double CD). They both contain the big Walker Brothers hits as well as a nice selection of Scott-authored songs.

When I first heard the Walker Brothers I brushed them off as being Righteous Brothers clones. The Walkers had pretty much lifted Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” style for their hit recordings. It was a review in the Los Angeles Times, however and especially the constant urging of my best art school friend and UK Scott fanatic, Sue Foster, that made me give Scott’s work a second listen. The reviewer compared Scott not only to the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley, but to Arthur Brown as well. Being a big Arthur Brown nut (don’t get me started), that did the trick. I gave Scott another chance and my life was changed (much for the better) forever.

After three hit LPs with the Walker Brothers, Scott went solo. The music press thought his career was finished. “Why, it’s John Walker who’s the talented member of the group!” they chorused. How wrong they were. Scott 1 (1967) was a roaring hit in the UK and Europe. It was followed by the critically acclaimed and highly successful Scott 2 (1968) and Scott 3 (1969). The boldness of “Jackie”, Scott’s first single from Scott 2, caused the record to be banned by the BBC (the line that bothered them the most, apparently, was the one about “authentic queers and phony virgins”). Scott became acknowledged as the finest interpreter of Jacques Brel songs (all of Scott’s Brel work is contained on those three CDs) in the world (Brel himself would immediately send Scott his latest compositions before he sent them anywhere else, hoping that Scott would record them). There are a couple of MOR songs on the first two LPs but by Scott 3, nearly everything was penned by either Brel or Scott himself. I think that perhaps the saddest song I have ever heard is Scott’s interpretation of Brel’s “If You Go Away.” It is the perfect musical and ultimate lyrical encapsulation of False Hopes after the devastating and sudden demise of a relationship.

For over twelve years running (during the late 60s and throughout the 70s), Scott was voted Best Male Vocalist in the New Musical Express annual poll, consistently beating out the likes of Robert Plant, Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and, well … any of the other giant pop stars of the time.

The bravery of Scott in the pop world is unsurpassed; he went much farther than the Rolling Stones in his examination of the darker sides of life. Who else would have the guts to include this lyric on a mainstream pop album: “I swear on the wet head of my first case of gonorrhea” (from Brel’s “Next”)?

Scott’s songs have the power to instantly convey what it feels like to walk the wet cobblestones of an old European city on a bleak, misty dawn or dusk. He sings about whores, desperate lovers, the devastation of war, transvestites, Bergman, Stalin and a boy named Billy floating high in the sky with a string tied to his underwear. The pre-vocal opening to “Big Louise” exactly captures the mood aurally that I try to evoke visually in my serious paintings. Put that track on, look at a good reproduction (or, better yet, the original oil painting) of “Destiny in the Depths” (the sperm whale attacking the giant squid), and you will be emotionally transported to exactly where I would like you to be when you’re perusing my work.

“Big Louise” also has one of my favorite evocative Scott lyrics: “She’s a haunted house and her windows are broken…”

Scott released what many fans consider his masterwork (he wrote every song on the 1969 LP), Scott 4, and it tanked. Perhaps it was because he released the LP under his real name, Noel Scott Engel, which might have confused his “Scott Walker” audience. Perhaps it was because he had already released Scott 3 and Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs From His TV Series (a disappointing collection of MOR standards) within the same year as Scott 4. Or the fans may have been put off by the two songs that feature Scott’s Ella Fitzgerald-ish scat singing. Whatever it was, the record didn’t chart and Scott was devastated.

I personally think that Scott’s first four solo CDs should be a proud component of every serious music collection. To give you an excellent sampling of those four LPs, pick up the Scott Walker – Boy Child CD on Fontana (with liner notes by Scott fan Marc Almond) or the CD with the not-too-subtle title Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker (compiled by Scott fan Julian Cope).

After the failure of Scott 4, Scott buckled under the pressure to sing more mainstream standards and did so for a few LPs (he has refused to allow some of those LPs to appear on CD).

In 1975 the Walker Brothers reformed and had a big UK & European hit with Tom Rush’s “No Regrets” (from the album of the same title). Their next LP was Lines which did not have the same success as “No Regrets”. Guessing that the hit may have been a lucky fluke, Scott convinced the group to really go for it, artistically, on their third LP, arguing that it might be their only chance to do what they really wanted to do without artistic restriction. The result, Nite Flights, was terrifying and stunning. Scott really began breaking new, unexplored artistic ground as both a singer and composer.

Going solo again, Scott continued down this path and slowly (Scott created one album about every twelve years) pushed the boundaries of expression even harder and farther. Upon hearing one of Scott’s new solo works, Brian Eno, no slouch himself when it comes to experimentation, phoned his fellow avant-gardists and said something to the effect of, “We think what we’re doing is bold and daring? HA! We haven’t even come close to what Scott has accomplished. We’re mere dabblers in comparison.”

On his 1995 CD Tilt Scott managed to convey the sounds of thousands of diseased locusts as part of the back-up to his vocals.

In 1998 Scott wrote and produced the score for the film Pola X. In 2003 Scott was awarded a prestigious award for his contributions to music from Q magazine. There had been only two previous recipients: Phil Spector and Brian Eno.

In 2000 he was selected to be the guest curator of the Meltdown Music Festival. In 2006 he was awarded the MOJO Icon Award from MOJO magazine. On his highly acclaimed 2006 CD (it was #2 on the Metacritic chart upon its release in June 2006 and still at #12 by the end of September of that year), The Drift, Scott had his drummer play one song’s rhythms on a side of raw meat. Personally, I consider Scott the most daring and experimental musical composer since Igor Stravinsky. Scott is creating powerful emotional “songs” deliberately devoid of melody, songs that are sheer expressions of mood (usually of harrowing desperation, angst or the most painful periods of loneliness). They are unnerving shouts in the darkness by a soul suffering deep anguish and pain.

There is an excellent 2006 documentary on Scott, Scott Walker: 30th Century Man, that is available on DVD and blu-ray. It is produced by David Bowie (a huge Scott fan; Bowie said his only unrealized goal in life was to work with Scott Walker). The filmmakers made outstanding choices when it came to pairing their visuals with Scott’s music.

In 2007, Scott released the instrumental CD And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? In 2011 he wrote the score for Jean Cocteau‘s 1932 play Duet For One. His last solo album was 2012’s Bisch Bosch. In 2014 he collaborated with the experiment drone metal duo Sunn O for Soused. Scott’s last recorded film scores were for The Childhood of a Leader (2015) and the Natalie Portman music pic Vox Lux (2018).

Scott’s death is a staggering loss to the music world. His music has sustained me since I first fell in love with it in 1968. I still begin every rainy day by playing “It’s Raining Today” from Scott 3. I know that I will now never have the opportunity to meet Scott, express how much his music has meant to me — and ask him about his time at my alma mater, Chouinard.

This fine sunny spring day is suddenly less fine and less sunny.

Fantastic Worlds: Second Printing!

March 13th, 2019

I got great news over this last weekend when I was guesting at the great San Diego ComicFest. I found out that Fantastic Worlds – The Art of William Stout has gone into a second printing. Yay! And thanks to all of you who bought my book! I sold out of them at ComicFest and just ordered more from my publisher, Insight Editions.

William Stout Podcasts!

March 4th, 2019

This posting is to alert my friends and fans to two really fun recent podcasts.

The first one I did was for Monster Party, a great show that celebrates the cinematic monsters we all know and love, as well as their creators. I think you’ll be swept away and entertained by the enthusiasm in the room that night. Here’s the address:
http://monsterpartypodcast.libsyn.com/the-weird-worlds-of-william-stout-with-william-stout

The second one is part of the series hosted by my long time friends Josh Olsen (Josh was my art department production assistant on Masters of the Universe. He was also nominated for an Oscar for his A History of Violence screenplay) and the great director and film buff Joe Dante (if you watch any of Joe’s early pictures there’s a good chance you’ll see some of my art or posters as set dressing in some scenes). The series is titled The Movies That Made Me. It’s not conversations about their guests’ work in films; it’s about the movies that inspired them or some of their favorite films that you might have missed. This show is a treasure trove for film buffs, especially as I try to stump the encyclopedia of film that is Joe Dante! Listen to our lively chat at: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/trailers-from-hell/the-movies-that-made-me

Let me know what you think! I find both to be a really fun listen.

Two Stout Important Stout Originals For Sale!

March 2nd, 2019

My dear friend, film director Kirk Thatcher, is putting two works of mine up for sale. I consider both to be outstanding and important examples of my work (so much so that both are included in my recent book retrospective Fantastic Worlds – The Art of William Stout).

The first I did as a collaboration in 1991 with Harvey Kurtzman. It was the proposed wraparound cover for the (never published) deluxe edition of Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures (p. 54 in Fantastic Worlds). Harvey drew a rough for me of the front cover image. I then enlarged, penciled, inked and colored it, and also added the left half of the picture (which would have functioned as the back cover). Harvey told me himself how astounded he was that I had captured every nuance he had intended in his sketch. Kirk is asking $17, 500.00 for this beautifully framed piece.

The other is also a favorite of mine. It’s a finished 1980 ink and watercolor drawing of a Chasmosaurus from THE DINOSAURS – A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era (p. 232 in Fantastic Worlds). It was part of my first traveling museum exhibition, Dinosaurs Past and Present, a group show that was the first museum exhibition examining the history of paleoart and the depiction of dinosaurs. This particular piece was singled out by the art critic for National Public Radio when she reviewed the exhibition when it was at The Smithsonian. I don’t know what Kirk is asking for this piece.

If you have any interest in either of these two pieces, let me know and I’ll put you in contact with Kirk.

Rave Review in Imagine FX!

February 11th, 2019

I am pleased to report that the current issue of the UK art magazine Imagine FX has a full-page, absolutely glowing review of my book Fantastic Visions: The Art of William Stout. They gave it five stars, their highest rating. Woo hoo!

Signing Today!

January 12th, 2019

Today (Saturday, January 12) I will be signing (and drawing in) my Fantastic Worlds books at Stuart Ng Books in Torrance from 2:00 – 4:00 PM.

If you haven’t been to Stuart Ng’s shop, it’s an art lovers paradise. Stuart is the only bookseller I know who regularly travels to Europe to replenish his stock of fabulous art books and graphic novels that are nearly impossible to find on these shores. Plus, Stuart has always strongly supported the southern California art and animation community. He was one of the first collectors to buy and commission my art.

Here’s his shop’s address:
Stuart Ng Books
20655 S. Western Avenue #104
Torrance, CA 90501

See you there!

Happy New Year!

December 31st, 2018

Wrong year, of course — but you get the idea….(This is my imagining of what it would look like if the great J. C. Leyendecker painted zombies).

I am currently booking guest appearances at shows across the country so that I can sell, promote and sign copies of Fantastic Visions – The Art of William Stout. This will probably be my last big American tour (I’m getting on in years, my friends, and lugging hundreds of pounds of books from city to city is really beginning to get old…), so if you’ve always wanted to meet me or get something signed, 2019 may be your last chance. Check out the Appearances section on this website from time to time, as I’m still taking bookings for 2019.

There’s at least one East Coast booking (Baltimore) so far. I’d have attended Big Apple in New York but it conflicted with San Diego Comic Fest.

I’d love to meet every single one of you!

WOW! Almost 60% off!

December 20th, 2018

WOW! The price for Fantastic Worlds – The Art of William Stout is less than $32 on Amazon! That’s almost 60% off! Plus, if you spend about $4.00 more you can get next day shipping! I don’t know how they do it…

Pacific Ocean

December 12th, 2018

In 1968, on the advice of some friends whose musical tastes I trusted, I went to the Gazzarri’s nightclub on the Sunset Strip to see the soul band Pacific Ocean. I had heard great things about their charismatic lead singer, Eddie James.

Pacific Ocean was a terrific L. A. brown-eyed soul band. Throughout their performance Eddie would often execute what we used to call “legitimate splits”; that is, he would do the splits, hit the floor and then pop back up onto his feet without using his hands. Previous to Eddie James, I had only seen that trick executed by another James: James Brown.

Mr. James sang with great intensity, occasionally punctuating his vocals with what sounded like a banshee inhaling a scream. Examples of this vocal trick are included in a few of the LP’s songs.

I still have my vinyl self-titled LP of Pacific Ocean (on VMC Records). I assumed it would never be released on CD due to its obscurity. Lo and behold, Pacific Ocean has just been released on CD by the Early Dawn music label.

Most of the cuts on Pacific Ocean are covers of classic soul songs. Here is the original track running order, which somehow got screwed up on the CD release:
1) “16 Tons”
2) “Road to Hell”
3) “My Shrink”
4) “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
5) “Tracks of My Tears”
6) “I Can’t Stand It”
7) “I Wanna Testify”
8) “99 1/2”
9) “Mickey’s Monkey”

I held out hope for a CD release, as there was one important element I thought might make this LP rise back to the surface of our collective musical consciousness. Eddie James sang and entertained with the same ferocious intensity that he later brought to a successful acting career, a career in which he began using his full name: Edward James Olmos.

Big Brother & The Holding Company

December 3rd, 2018

If you’re a fan of Janis Joplin (who isn’t?) or her band Big Brother & The Holding Company, I would like to bring to your attention a brand new CD of old music.

Columbia Legacy has just released Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills, a two-disc set of 30 songs from the Janis Joplin/Cheap Thrills period of Big Brother & The Holding Company. The set mainly consists of studio recordings of the songs recorded live for what became the LP known as Cheap Thrills. Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills was the original title of the album (I had always heard it was originally Sex, Drugs & Cheap Thrills). That title was rejected by the powers-that-be at Columbia for being too outrageous. CBS shortened it to just “Cheap Thrills“.

The liner notes are terrific. There are two fascinating and revealing essays by drummer Dave Getz, one on how the famous Robert Crumb cover came to be. I was surprised to find out what was intended by Robert to be the back cover ended up as the front cover. His original front cover (rejected by the band) was a cartoon drawing of the band but with photographs for the heads, hearkening back to a form of pop art practiced on a regular basis by Sixteen magazine on their covers back then.

The other liners essay is by Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane (like I have to remind you what band she was in). Grace provides a well-written and thoughtful commentary on Big Brother and that optimistic era.

The music is fantastic. I thought there might be a huge loss of energy with the band in the studio without the presence of an adoring audience. There’s not. The band blasts through these cuts with intense ferocity. There are 29 outtakes on these two CDs (25 previously unreleased) plus a bonus live recording of “Ball and Chain”.

Big Brother has always been my favorite backing band for Janis. I think their majestic rawness perfectly matched her intense vocal style. My friend and guitarist James Demeter was amused when one day I described the Big Brother guitar sound as being like hearing the screams and bellows of colossal wounded dinosaurs in a ferocious death battle. There are some spectacular examples of this on Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills.

I highly recommend this wonderful time trip into the past, a reminder of how great Big Brother & The Holding Company were in their prime. You won’t regret the purchase.

Rock on!