Scott Walker death: Singer-songwriter and producer who went from The Walker Brothers star to ‘pop’s own Salinger’ dies, aged 76

Legendary musician was at the peak of his fame as a teen idol in The Walker Brothers when he walked away from the spotlight to establish a long-running career as one of the most revered artists of our time

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Monday 25 March 2019 10:21
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Scott Walker performs song 'Jackie'

Scott Walker, the American British singer-songwriter and producer who was once referred to as “pop’s own Salinger”, has died aged 76, his label has confirmed.

Record label 4AD, which was Walker’s musical home for the last 15 years of his life, tweeted: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Scott Walker. Scott was 76 years old and is survived by his daughter, Lee, his granddaughter, Emmi-Lee, and his partner Beverly.”

A statement on the label’s website continued: “For half a century, the genius of the man born Noel Scott Engel has enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of The Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

A teen idol who rose to fame in the Sixties as the lead singer of The Walker Brothers, his early hits included “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” and “Make it Easy on Yourself”.

Walker was born in 1943, the son of an Ohio geologist, and began his music career as a session bassist – changing his name when he joined The Walker Brothers. The band signed to Mercury Records in 1965 before moving to the UK.

The trio were particularly popular in Britain, where they attracted the kind of fan frenzy that drew comparisons to Beatlemania.

However, Walker was not a fan of the spotlight, and withdrew at the height of the band’s commercial success to establish a career as a solo artist, during which time he released a number of critically acclaimed albums, titled simply: Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3 and Scott 4.

He later said it was the pressure of writing his own material at the same time as being in the band that caused him to quit The Walker Boys: “Everyone relied on me,” he told The Guardian in 2018. “I got to work with huge orchestras and good budgets. But after a while, the formula – they still wanted the same thing. I had to figure out how we were going to get a song that’s going to do the same thing. And it wore itself out.”

After disappearing for 10 years, Walker returned to record Nite Flights, a mixture of Walker Brothers tracks and his own solo songs including “The Electrician”.

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Walker’s work in the Nineties drew largely on themes of politics and war, with his cinematic soundscapes drawing further critical acclaim and establishing him as a cultural icon.

Richard Hawley told the BBC in 2017 that Walker was “one of the greatest singers of all time”.

“You think he’s singing something quite simple,” he said. “You think you can sing along in the bath. But when you actually sit down and analyse what he’s doing, it’s unbelievable. It’s also the timbre of his voice, it’s a very thick, treacly, nasal howl – a beautiful howl. He hits you right in your solar plexus or wherever. Not quite the heart, but somewhere very central to the self. He’s one of the greatest singers of all time.”

Walker wrote film scores as well, including “Man from Reno” with Goran Bregovic for the Isabelle Adjani film Toxic Affair. In 1999 he wrote and produced the score for Leo Carax’s Pola X, which starred Guillaume Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve.

He curated London Southbank’s Meltdown festival in 2000. Two years later he worked with his friend Jarvis Cocker to produce Pulp’s album We Love Life. Other works include solo albums The Drift (2006), released on 4AD, and 2012’s Bish Bosch, which was later reimagined as Bish Bosch Ambi-symphonic and presented at the Sydney Opera House.

In a foreword to a book of Walker’s lyrics, Sundog, which was released last year, novelist Eimear McBride wrote: “Walker’s work, as Joyce’s before it, is a complex synaesthesia of thought, feeling, the doings of the physical world and the weight of foreign objects slowly ground together down into diamond.

“It is Pinter-esque in its menace but never shies from naked emotion... This is work that does not speak of danger, it feels like it.”

In 2017, the BBC paid tribute to Walker with a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Thom Yorke was among those singing his praises, calling him “a huge influence on Radiohead and myself, showing me how I could use my voice and words”.

Radiohead’s longtime producer Nigel Godrich said: “So very sad to hear about Scott Walker... truly one of the greats... so unique and a real artist. On my way to work on the first day of recording OK Computer I passed him riding his bike on Chiswick High Street... and when I got to the studio Thom was holding a copy of Scott 4.”

Former Independent music critic and author Simon Price said Walker “set the template for having a brave later career”.

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