Passed/Failed: John Walker

'If I wasn't playing guitar, I was reading'
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John Walker is the singer-songwriter who in the Sixties and mid-Seventies was one third of The Walker Brothers. The trio was formed in Los Angeles and enjoyed massive hits such as "Make It Easy on Yourself" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore". Born John Maus, he was acting at the age of 12 in the TV series Hello, Mum. He plays all the instrumental parts, except bass and drums, on his new album, You.

Charming! The very first thing that I can recall about Grant School in Redondor Beach, way south of Los Angeles, was the class play, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I was Prince Charming; I was supposed to kiss the Snow White on the hand but I was crazy about the girl and kissed her on the cheek. Three days later she came down with measles and so did I right after.


Beach Boy: When I was 10 I went to Hermosa Beach School, which actually was on the beach. An agent saw me at talent contests (I never won but enjoyed entering) and when I was aged 12, I was acting in Hello, Mum. But at 13 or 14 I got snarled in a contract I couldn't get out of, missed a very good role and just lost interest.

Then I found a guitar – and it was a great obsession. I made records with my sister on small labels. She was at the same school, Inglewood High, and after we played at a school assembly, I didn't have any more trouble with my peers. My hair was too long – crewcuts were in then – and I didn't fit in with school society; but now I was allowed to have long hair because I was the guy who played rock music. In my last year, I became a guitar teacher; one of my students was Carl Wilson – later of the Beach Boys. He could play a bit when I met him and I taught him to play a lot more.

Draught-dodging: I really enjoyed history; I had an excellent teacher who made it very exciting. My two favourite classes were draughts-manship and technical illustration. The hardest was maths; I had to go to summer school to pass at the grade I wanted. Algebra was, like, just brutal; I didn't understand how it worked at all.

I read like a demon. If I wasn't playing guitar I was reading books: strange kid! Despite that, the other problem was English grammar: nouns, pronouns... that was one of the classes I did after I had graduated from high school at 18.

I was set up to go to college – but I had this guitar problem, you see. Instead of college proper I went to El Camino Junior College for a year but got caught up in music. I ended up playing in a club in Hawaii. Hawaii! I wasn't going to turn that down.

Back to bass: After I came back from Hawaii I was playing with my band at a place called Pandora's Box in Hollywood, where I met Scott [Engel, later a Walker Brother], who played bass.

He said, "You've got the world's worst bass player." I said, "Come over and we'll see what we can do." He came over and it was like we'd been playing for 400 years.


Low Tech: Because Scott was going to California Art Institute, I enrolled at Los Angeles Trade Tech for a course in technical illustration. You could get a degree in two years if you were a diligent student.

But while Scott was doing three or four hours of art a day, I was at the Tech from 8am until 3pm; you can't do that and start playing at 9pm and finish at 2am. There's no sleep here. After seven months, that was the end of the Tech.