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The publicity-shy former pop idol, whose Stockhausian reinvention led to some of the most acclaimed albums of the past century, leaves "a legacy of extraordinary music"
By Jon Chapple on 25 Mar 2019
Singer-songwriter Scott Walker, who found fame first as one third of ’60s heartthrobs the Walker Brothers, and later as an unconventional, cerebral solo performer, composer and producer, has passed away aged 76.
Walker’s passing was announced this morning (25 March) by his label 4AD, which describes American-born Walker (real name Noel Scott Engel) as a “unique and challenging titan at the forefront of British music”. “Audacious and questioning, he has produced works that dare to explore human vulnerability and the godless darkness encircling it,” continues the statement from 4AD, which represented Walker during his experimental late-career renaissance. No cause of death has been announced.
Born in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1943, Walker achieved success in the mid-1960s as frontman of the Walker Brothers, alongside John Maus (aka John Walker) and Gary Leeds (Gary Walker). The trio – which had UK number ones with ‘Make it Easy on Yourself’ and ‘The Sun ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)’ – bucked the prevailing trend of British groups achieving success in America (the so-called British invasion) by attaining their greatest success in the UK, and Scott became a British citizen in 1970.
Following the break-up of the Walker Brothers, Walker released a string of critically acclaimed, but increasingly commercially lacklustre, solo albums – most notably 1967’s Scott, 1968’s Scott 2 and 1969’s Scott 3 and Scott 4, all regarded as baroque-pop classics – before retreating to the periphery of the music business following a brief Walker Brothers reunion in 1975–78.
Later releases, most recently 2014’s Soused, a collaborative effort with experimental metal band Sunn O))), are increasingly avant-garde; the Guardian journalist Simon Hattenstone described the direction of Walker’s output from the mid-80s onwards, particularly following his reemergence in 1995, with Tilt, as being akin to “Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen.”
“He was a sweet, kind, lovely man with a great sense of humour”
He rarely performed live, partially due to severe nerves, and declined to appear at 2017’s BBC Prom celebrating his music, saying he’d never dream of listening to his old songs (though he did meet with performer Jarvis Cocker beforehand).
“Of all the people I managed, he was definitely special,” recalls Ed Bicknell, who managed Walker from 1982 to 1990. “He was a sweet, kind, lovely man with a great sense of humour, and no ‘side’ to him. An extraordinary voice and an underrated songwriter who was never concerned with commercial success. Truly an original.
“The four albums he made for Philips, Scott 1, 2, 3 and 4, are classics. It was an absolute privilege to have worked with him. I loved him, actually; a very sad day.”
“From teen idol to cultural icon, Scott leaves to future generations a legacy of extraordinary music,” continues the tribute by 4AD. “A brilliant lyricist with a haunting singing voice, he has been one of the most revered innovators at the sharp end of creative music, whose influence on many artists has been freely acknowledged. The scope and dynamism of his vision have added dimension to both film and dance, and he has stunned audiences with music whose composition transcends genre and whose sheer originality defies pigeonholing. […]
“We are honoured to have worked with Scott for the last 15 years of his life.”
Walker is survived by his daughter, Lee, his granddaughter, Emmi-Lee, and his partner, Beverly.