Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Walker’s “Improv in A-minor” live in the Bronson Caves Griffith Park, LA

When my son recommended that I listen to Karen Dalton, I didn’t realize how much I’d like her and (again) be disappointed with myself that I hadn’t known of her already.

As often happens, the “discovery” of one thing leads to another and Dalton led to Peter Walker, someone who was also part of the folk revival of the early 1960s.

With Peter Walker the wonderful thing is, beside his own peripatetic story, is how many other well-known 60s musicians he crossed paths with.

This little blog post isn’t meant to be a biography, but merely an overview. I will include several links in this piece if you’re interested in more.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Boston > San Francisco

Walker was born in Boston in 1938 into a musical family. His father played folk guitar, his mother a classical pianist. He didn’t play guitar in public until 1959, when he traveled to San Francisco.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Intersections

Here is an example of one of those musical intersections. In San Francisco, he taught some guitar to Jim Gurley who later became guitarist with Big Brother and the Holding Company.”

And it was there that Walker first heard Ravi Shankar play and became fascinated with raga.

Walker later he studied with Ravi Shankar (alongside George Harrison and Donovan–more intersections) and with sarad virtuoso Ali Akbar Khah.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Flamenco

A musician with his ears open to all sounds, Walker “discovered” flamenco. He traveled to Spain to learn. He found that the Indian raga and the flamenco had similarities.

In a Jennifer Kelly interview for the Dusted Features site, Walker said,  In both raga and flamenco, the music creates an effect. If you play a predetermined series of notes, it will have a predetermined effect. So it was the process of creating that effect that fascinated me,” he says. “You get a drone, you get a wall of sound going, and then you play melodies into it, which are entertaining or rhythmically changing.

Islam’s influence in both places also connects the styles.  Muslim conquerors in Delhi sent musician captives back to their outposts in Granada.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Timothy Leary

Another intersection was Timothy Leary.  In 1965, Timothy Leary felt that Walker’s music would dovetail nicely with the LSD experience and Walker became the music director at a the estate Leary rented in Millbrook, NY.

The site was 2,500 acres and included a 64-room Bavarian baroque mansion and gatehouse that wealthy William “Billy” Mellon Hitchcock (benefiting from a trust fund that in 1963 was giving him $15,000 a week) had bought for $500,000

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Rainy Day Raga

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Vanguard released Walker’s first album, Rainy Day Raga, in 1966.

Matthew Greenwald’s AllMusic review states, “Exploring a tonal range that would be best described as the perfect L.S.D. soundtrack, this album is a gentle, evocative affair, and often recalls some of the passages that Stephen Stills would use for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” among others. Aided by Dylan session veteran Bruce Langhorn on percussion (and by others as well), this is a fine document of a space in time when ragas were just becoming popular in Western music. In a certain way, Walker was a visionary, and this album shows it.”

Second Poem to Karmela or Gypsies Are Important album came out in 1968.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

FBI

As is too often the case, activists come under the undercover scrutiny of government agencies. In the aftermath of the Robert Kennedy assassination, Walker had volunteered to be the caretaker of the White House photo collection that that Jacques Lowe had done for the Kennedy family. At the same time, Walker was involved in the “Americans for Biafra Relief” committee formed by Ted Kennedy.

At one point, an overly ambitious agent looking to score some points planted drugs in the loft. Luckily, Walker found them (and flushed them) before anyone else did and Walker’s friendly connections vouched for his integrity when the planted accused Walker of the drug stash anyway.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

William Kunstler

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

In 1970, Walker was living (insert briefly again) in Detroit where he lived at the Garwood Mansion. He met radical lawyer William Kunstler who was in town to speak about in injustices of the American justice system, particularly as it related to the then-recently imprisoned John Sinclair who had been given a 10-year sentence for giving an undercover agent 2 joints.  (At the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Abbie Hoffman had famously bolted on stage during the Who’s set in an attempt to rouse the crowd to Sinclair’s cause.)

In 2013, Delmore Recording Society released Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms?, a album Walker had recorded in 1969, but “lost” for decades. Kunstler and Walker appear together on the album cover in a picture taken at Garwood Mansion.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Family

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Getting out of the counter-cultural limelight, Walker moved to Woodstock, NY. He married and began to raise a family. He left the traveling performance scene behind, only playing locally, particularly Ron Merians’s the Joyous Lake.

A “few” others played at the Joyous Lake as well…

Walker did not leave the learning scene, particularly the flamenco.

Jennifer Kelly again quoted Walker: So much of music is an expression of feeling. You tell a story with the music but you really, unless it’s an empty character study, it’s more about your feelings. Some guy in Mexico told me, ‘You make me feel the way you do when you play.’ Well, that’s part of the magic of it. That’s what makes it so worthy of pursuit, to be able to do that.

And traveling didn’t end. He designed campers for pick up trucks and with one drove through out the country and often into Mexico.

Using those same mechanical skills, at another point, he lived in Aspen, Colorado in charge of a taxi fleet.

When his children were school age, he moved to NYC. He also went to school and earned a paralegal certificate.

He went to Spain to continue to improve his guitar skills.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

2008

Fortunately for Walker, he was still alive forty years after his second album and Tompkins Square Records released his third album, Echo of My Soul. So many other “unknown” master guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho had died.

Pat Sullivan’s AllMusic review said that the album “… represents a break with the eastern influences of Walker’s ‘60’s output and heralds his latest obsession with flamenco. With the same dedication he brought to earlier collaborations with Ravi Shankar, the New Yorker has immersed himself in the Spanish guitar idiom and has come to be accepted by its vanguard musicians. This new-found mastery resonates throughout ECHOES OF MY SOUL, a beautifully played opus perfect for any fan of flamenco or avant acoustic music.”

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Karen Dalton/2015

As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was Karen Dalton’s story that led me to Peter Walker. They had met in Greenwich Village. Dalton’s story is a sad one.  One that ended with her dying of AIDS, but being cared for by Peter Walker at his Woodstock, NY home in  1993.

Dalton gave Walker intellectual property rights, among which was Dalton’s books of lyrics, which was also stuffed with illustrations. It took a long time before her writings found voices, but in 2015 Tompkins Square Records released Remembering Mountains. On it several songwriters put Dalton’s haunting words to music.

Walker wrote the liner notes.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Catastrophe

On October 22, 2018 fire destroyed Walker’s home, the Ark. Despite trying to rescue his dog (and nearly dying in the attempt), the dog died. The fire destroyed all his belongings including guitars and memorabilia.

Investigators determined an overturned candle caused the fire.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist Walker.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker
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Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Unknown  legend Karen Dalton

July 19, 1937 – March 19, 1993
All that shines is not truth
All that glitters does not shine
Rare beauty rarely shines, I find

Karen Dalton

Katie’s Been Gone  sung by Dan LaFortune written by Bob Dylan and The Band

“My favorite singer in the place was Karen Dalton,” writes Bob Dylan on p.12 of Chronicles: Volume One. “She was a tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky, and sultry. I’d actually met her before, run across her the previous summer outside Denver in a mountain pass town in a folk club. Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday’s and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it. I sang with her a couple of times.”

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Ego

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

I like to think (foolishly) that I’m familiar with all the names of important performers from the 1960s.  Of course, “important” is a relative term.

Karen Dalton meets few of the typical measures of importance. She only recorded two studio albums and one of those she didn’t realize she was recording.

At a time when singer-songwriters were emerging as the leaders, she covered others’ songs.

Her voice was not particularly unique, yet as Dylan said above, it could have a Billie Holiday quality to it.

Authentic

In a TIMELINE site article, Peter Stampfel, who played in Dalton’s backup band in the 70s and was a member of the Holy Modal Rounders, wrote in the liner notes to a Dalton reissue that she was “the only folk singer I ever met with an authentic ‘folk’ background. She came to the folk music scene under her own steam, as opposed to being ‘discovered’ and introduced to it by people already involved in it.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Cherokee/Irish

Karen Cariker was born in Bonham, TX and raised in Enid, Oklahoma. Her mother may have had some Cherokee blood.  Her father a descendant of the Irish. Her first marriage was to Don Dalton.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Greenwich Village

In the early 60s she lived in Greenwich Village amongst the many folk musicians gathering there. She played the twelve string guitar and the banjo. At times she lived in Colorado. She later married Richard Tucker.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Of the two albums, the first was It’s So Hard to Tell Who’s Going to Love You the Best released in 1969 on Capitol. Producer Nik Venet had tried unsuccessfully to record Dalton, so he invited her to a Fred Neil session and asked her to cut Neil’s “Little Bit of Rain” for his own private archives. She cut the entire album that night, most of the tracks in one take.

It was was re-released by Koch Records on CD in 1996

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Dalton’s recorded her second album, In My Own Time (1971) at Bearsville Studios and originally released by Woodstock Festival promoter Michael Lang‘s label, Just Sunshine Records. The album was produced and arranged by Harvey Brooks, who played bass on it. Piano player Richard Bell guested. Fred Neil (“She sure can sing the shit out of the blues”) wrote the liner notes, and Elliot Landy took the cover photos.

The album’s title is no accident (not that any are). Dalton did things at her own pace and the album was recorded over two years (1970 and 1071).

At AllMusic, Thom Jurek praised the albuma more polished effort than her cozy, somewhat more raw debut… If one can only possess one of Karen Dalton’s albums, In My Own Time is the one. It creates a sound world that is simply unlike any other; it pushes the singer outside her comfort zone and therefore brings listeners to the place Dalton actually occupied as a singer. Without apology or concern for technique, she could make any song her own, creating a personal narrative that could reach outside the song itself, moving through her person and becoming the truth for the listener.

Check out her cover of Percy Sledge;s “When A Man Loves A Woman”

Or her cover of Paul Butterfield‘s In My Own Dream.

Lang arranged for Dalton and band to tour Europe as the opening act for Santana. An odd opener for sure. Her life became an unhealthy one.

The album was reissued in 2006 and  Nick Cave wrote in its liner notes: “All of us in the Bad Seeds were huge Karen Dalton fans…  She’s a blues singer to me. It’s full of idiosyncrasies that you can’t repeat – it’s in her voice and it’s just extraordinary. She is my absolute favorite blues singer – female blues singer.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Cotton Eyed Joe

Joe Loop was one of the proprietors of The Attic, a short-lived Boulder, Colorado folk club. During its time, The Attic had several artists on their way to fame: David Crosby, Tim Hardin, and John Phillips.

In 1962 he recorded Dalton there.  Those tapes remained unreleased until 2007  when they became part of a 2 CD compilation called Cotton Eyed Joe, which was one one of the albums cut as well.

It was the first music of Dalton’s released since her 1971 In My Own Time.

From the Austin Chronicle: Delmore Recordings’ Mark Linn, who guided Cotton Eyed Joe onto the market and played an enormous role in this story, ultimately delivered the most poignant reflection on Dalton.

There’s a small amount of people that have the original records [who] were intensely affected by them – by her voice,” he offers. “I think you can really feel the pain. She lived a hard musician’s life. It wasn’t about trendiness or stardom. It was about playing music.

“She wasn’t really made for her time.”

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Woodstock

From the same TIMELINE article above: After years in New York, Dalton relocated to rural Colorado, where she and her third husband lived in a tiny cabin in the near-abandoned town of Summerville. There, she descended further into her addictions. Eventually, she made her way back to upstate New York, where she lived in a trailer near the town of Woodstock. According to the biographical quotes and notes at the beginning of Karen Dalton: Songs, Poems, and Writings, Dalton was struggling with drugs and was HIV positive in the 1980s. The combination made her “fragile as a wisp.” Still, she commuted to the city, “worked at low pay jobs, and struggled to stay alive.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Death

Given her musical anonymity, it is not surprising that a haze surrounds Dalton’s death.  The story was often that she died homeless on the streets of New York.

Not true. In a 2008 PopMatter interview, Dalton friend Joe Loop explained, “ She was actually staying in a house owned by Peter Walker — a guitar player who lives up in Woodstock …. She was staying at his house — had been for quite some time — she was there when I got a hold of her. And, she told me, matter-of-factly, when I called her that she was “staying in this cabin this guy got me to croak in.” Those were her words. We chatted and all that. Her son Lee was with her, taking care of her. And, actually, when she passed away, Peter Walker was with her in the room.”

She died of AIDS.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Remembering Mountains

In 2015, Tomkins Square Records released Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton.

After she died, a number of writings or perhaps poems or perhaps lyrics without music were found. These words were given to several women to interpret.

According to a Pitchfork account: “Remembering Mountains is maybe the closest we’ll ever get to hearing Dalton’s own articulations of heartache, although plenty was communicated on her first two records, regardless of whether the words there were her own. Still, there’s a palpable narrative here, a sense of loss and stillness, and it reanimates Dalton, if only for a moment. It’s good to have her back.”

Here is Patty Griffin’s All That Shines Is Not Truth. An NPR article said:  She [Griffin] recorded “All That Shines” in an Austin church, filling both the structure and the song to the brim with swooping gospel vocals, piano and organ. 

All that shines is not truth
All that glitters does not shine
Real beauty rarely glitters so I find
Real beauty rarely glitters so I find

Broken diamonds on the floor
Fractured beauty into violence
Muddy waters that’s for sure
Despite the mist

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Peter Walker

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

As often happens, delving into the life of one interesting person leads to another equally interesting person. Peter Walker, the person who sheltered Karen Dalton during her last days, still lives in Woodstock, NY.

In October 2018, his home–The Ark–burned down with all of its contents—including his guitars and items from his numerous world travels

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to assist Walker.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton
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