Peter Walker

How did you start up and which were your beginnings?

My mother was a concert pianist who also played professional clarinet and sax. My father played guitar and mandolin. I played many instruments starting with guitar. By the early 60’s I was jamming with American folk and country musicians from the “Grand Ol Opry” on armonica and deeply immersed in guitar, flamenco, and ragas with the musicians that came through Cambridge. Joan Baez, José Feliciano, Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, Sonny Terry, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Josh White Jr., Karen Dalton, Buffy St. Marie, Sandy Bull, Hamza El Din were all part of the rich panorama of talent that came through Cambridge in the early 60’s.

You did Cambridge and the Village. Which of them you’d say it had an opener path in order to develop your guitar expression?

Cambridge had the musicians and the jamming exchange of musical ideas, but living and studying in Spain changed my playing and my life. The village in the mid 60’s was the gateway to having new music heard and recorded.

I read an interview with the Native American actress/songwriter Sharmagne Sylbert and she placed you in California with the Orient Express, a band with Bruce Langhorne and Lowell George…

I played regularly with Bruce Langhorne in NY, and rehearsed for a few weeks in LA with Lowell George for a group benefit for the “Diggers” under the name “the fabulous flipped out no-names”, which was promoted by the Beatles press agent Derek Taylor. I enjoyed playing with Lowell. He was a great talent. I also played a lot with Colin Walcott during those years but never released a record with him.

You directed, musical-wise, the Timothy Leary “Celebrations”. Can you explain, what were they exactly?

I met Tim Leary through mutual friends at Harvard. The “Celebrations” were exactly that. 5000 people at a time would come together to hear Tim talk about “the liberation of the mind” and I composed, arranged and played the music that went with it. Tim Leary was a great mind. His free thinking about internal personal freedom and his interest in inner and outer space exploration stretched the imagination in healthy ways.

Did you know or see playing other guitar soloists as John Fahey, Robbie Basho or Sandy Bull?

I admired John Fahey, met Robbie Basho, and hung out and played with Sandy Bull. I met Sandy during the Cambridge days, and often saw and played with him in NY. I met Hamza El Din (the oud player) through Sandy. Sandy Bull was a true pioneer on the path of Fusion.

When were you dealt by Vanguard Records and how did you meet the producer Sam Charters?

I met Maynard Solomon (the head of Vanguard) in 1965 and recorded in 1966 – Sam Charters was assigned by Vanguard.

In “Rainy Day Raga” you were backed by a great personnel…

Bruce Langhorne, Monte Dunn, Jeremy Steig and I were working regularly together in midtown gigs before and after the “Rainy day Raga” sessions. You could hear us almost any night on WBAI radio in NY. Also played many benefits together. The album was a great moment in time captured on vinyl. Passionate musicians creating quite beautiful moments and then shifting to a driving musical energy force. Jeremy was great on flute. Monte -on acoustic guitar- “filled in the holes” and added a steel string driving force and Bruce was great playing African tambourines. It really was one of the first “Fusion” albums.

Were there any concerts for presenting “Rainy Day Raga” live?

We played it often with the same people before during and after the Vanguard sessions. It was my usual “pick up” band (the guys I usually played with.) Some gigs were solo, but when a band was required I always used the same people until we all went our separate ways in life.

Did you know Fred Neil in the Village before you arrived in Woodstock?

Freddy would come into my shop in Boston in the early 60s. There were many musical circles then. I think I first met Fred at the Golden Vanity in Boston in 1960. Joan Baez was working there and at the Club 47 in Cambridge, so was Freddy.

By the late 60’s you also settled down in Woodstock…

My memories are like dreams, poorly articulated but warm and fuzzy with images of Freddy’s cabin that Howard Solomon built for him in Woodstock. Howard was a good man and a real friend. I remember Fred sitting in a circle passing tunes around, I remember a session with Karen Dalton and Tim Hardin, a ¨Power Summit¨ along with Monte Dunn – great artists who supported other artist’s. At this point 9n my life to achieve the alocadde, like Freddy, of being an Artist’s Artist.

Did you attend any of Fred’s recordings?

The only recording session of Freddy that I ever attended was the ¨Sessions¨. I have thinking about the “sessions” with Freddy. It was (for me) almost surreal. LA was wrapped in one of those fog like mists, that made the round (record shaped) Capitol Records Building. Look like a Dali Painting from the Hollywood Freeway. I remember approaching the building, it was the third night of what had been continuous, with breaks for food and a little sleep, and word had gotten around the city that something special was happening.

Approaching the doors to the huge first floor studio I could see a sea of heads inside. The place looked enormous, it seemed like if they were several hundred people there. The room was almost dark except for a pool of light in the center. Fred Neil was sitting in a straight backed armless chair with mikes in front and was bent over his instrument with all the people standing and watching in rapt absolute silence. Freddy’s mellow voice was casting a spell over all those there and it seemed over the city of Los Angeles as well. Looking around I saw other musicians, actors, exotic “birds of the night”, Music lovers, Fans, Industry Pros, ordinary people from every spectrum of the “60s World”.

We all shared that marvellous experience that night and as you can see we still talk about it today. Three days ago I was approached by a man at the “Feria de Mundo” (Worlds Fair of Flamenco, Córdoba) who had heard me play in a cave in Granada years ago and told me the neighborhood still talks about “la noche del Alto” (the night of the tall one). These moments are the special one in a musicians life. Reflecting in later years it is the memory of these moments that shines brightest in our thoughts. I think of Freddy and sometimes play his cds in my huge studio and the place is all the more cavernous and empty without his physical presence. His spirit is alive and well in his music and he is an inspiration to do more recording.

Toni Ruiz
November, 2004