Walter Egan Discusses Fleetwood Mac
Walter Egan lost in love, didn't get in the band and turned out only one real hit, but he has remained 'A musician's musician'
Walter Egan lost in love, didn't get in the band and turned out only one real hit, but he has remained 'A musician's musician' By CAROL CAIN Entertainment Editor Walter Egan lost the girl and lost the band. But at least he wreaked one of the most indelible hits of the '70s out of the experience.
It all began in 1976, when the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist asked Lindsey Buckingham to produce his debut solo album. Buckingham, of course, was guitarist for the legendary Fleetwood Mac and, with singer Stevie Nicks, he formed half of one of the most notorious romances in rock 'n' roll history.
Their split was fresh and bitter, and tensions were still high by the time Egan enlisted both Buckingham and Nicks to work on "Fundamental Roll." In Nicks' own estimation, they were "as compatible as a boa constrictor and a rat."
"The only thing they were doing was bickering," Egan recalls from his home in Franklin, Tenn. "There was no pretense of being together, and there was still some question if they could work together. In fact, they came in to work on different days. I felt in the middle. I was the peacemaker."
But he was also vulnerable to Nicks' prodigious talents and charms, and it didn't take him long to fall for his backup singer.
"I didn't know anything about her but I just felt really drawn to her," Egan recalls. "For two weeks, it was great."
And then Nicks made the comparison that was the kiss of death for the relationship. "She said I reminded her of Lindsey," he says, wincing at the memory. "That was not a good thing. I said, 'Let's back off and finish the record.'"
In retrospect, he realizes he was a rebound romance for Nicks and "I put her on a pedestal and idealized her." It could never have lasted.
Adding insult to injury, despite his close ties to Fleetwood Mac, Egan was passed over when Buckingham left the band in 1987. Guitarist Billy Burnette was hired instead.
"I would have done it, I would have enjoyed it and I would have done it well," he says of the invitation that never came. "But they went another way and that's that. You can't make people do what they don't want to do."
Happily - or perhaps amazingly - he remains friends with both Nicks and Buckingham and says that "knowing them certainly has been a highlight of my career." And in 1977, Egan was able to turn his powerful but ill-fated attraction for Nicks into "Magnet and Steel," a career-defining single that remains his biggest hit.
"I'm glad it's lasted so well," says Egan, who will play with The Dinosaurs tonight at Judge Roy Bean's and Saturday at the Garage. "It certainly got played enough at the time to drive people crazy."
More than two decades later, the yearning number has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts. In 1997, the original version (featuring guitar work by Buckingham and background vocals by Nicks) appeared on the soundtrack of "Boogie Nights," while a 1998 remake by Matthew Sweet landed on the "Sabrina The Teen-age Witch" soundtrack.
"It's still a thrill to hear it, whether I'm in the grocery store or the dentist's office," Egan says.
A native of Jamaica, N.Y., Egan, 51, was an only child whose parents divorced when he was 3. He learned to amuse himself by drawing, writing and teaching himself to play guitar, mostly from a Kingston Trio songbook.
He studied art at Georgetown University but never considered himself any one kind of artist. "It was about learning as many ways of expressing myself as possible," he says. So it was no surprise to anyone when he decided to pursue music professionally.
Egan played with bands like the Malibooz and Sageworth and Drums before moving to Los Angeles with Emmylou Harris (another former flame) in the early '70s. She recorded Egan's "Hearts on Fire" with Gram Parsons on his 1973 album "Grievous Angel."
In L.A., Egan backed artists such as Jackson Browne and Don Henley before finally landing his own record deal in 1976. But that wasn't the beginning of a long and prolific career. In fact, he never again enjoyed a hit as big as "Magnet and Steel" and he has released only six albums in 24 years. That includes the 16-year gap between 1983's "Wild Exhibitions" and his latest, 1999's "Walternative."
Why the long hiatus? "A lot of it, frankly, was the business itself," he says. "I was probably out of fashion. And I got married and had my first child. I wanted to be home with my son."
But he never stopped writing or playing, even while he stayed home with his wife, Tammy, an artist and interior designer, and their kids, Walter Jr., 15, and Daphne, 5. He's filled the years with a variety of projects that include writing a screenplay and a still-unpublished autobiography, designing greeting cards, taking bit parts in movies like "Eight Million Ways to Die," staging shows of multimedia artworks and even appearing on TV game shows. That's right; he won money and Rice-A-Roni on Art James' "Catch Phrase" and Chuck Woolery's "Scrabble."
Musically, he continues to record as part of three different bands, the surf rock combo The Malibooz, the country rock outfit the Brooklyn Cowboys, and The Dinosaurs, an eclectic and loose-knit group of friends that he'll perform with here. They include bassist Mark Pfaff, a Mobile native best known for his work with Will and the Bushmen.
"Walter is the last unexploited gem from the old days," Pfaff says of the songwriter who's respected in Nashville circles as "a musician's musician."
Egan also continues to write and record as a solo artist in Nashville, where he moved to escape New York three years ago.
"The city is different than when I grew up there," he says. "If you have tons of money it's great, but not if you live in the real world. It's a hard place to raise kids. I didn't want them to be there, and I didn't want to be there."
Overall he finds Music City - a "small town with a big-town industry" - far friendlier and far less stressful than any other place he's called home.
"It has everything you need," he says, "except the ocean and a good pizzeria."
But his time there hasn't been entirely bucolic. In October 1998, he watched, helpless, as an electrical fire burned his home studio, destroying a lifetime of memories.
"My records were in there, paintings, photographs, stupid stuff from high school - a lot of irreplaceable stuff," he says. "I felt bad but you can't hang on to material things. Fire is nature's way of giving you more space."
In Nashville, he supplements his income as a substitute teacher and works steadily as both a musician and artist. (He did the woodcut print artwork on the sleeve of Buckingham's 1992 album "Out of the Cradle.") Last year he even found time to write, perform and produce the 15 new songs on "Walternative," his most recent solo album.
Critics loved the album, but without a major record label distributing it, chances are you never saw it in stores. In fact, Egan may be one of the most highly respected songwriters you've never heard of.
"I was surprised 'Magnet and Steel' went as far as it did, then I was surprised when others didn't go as far," he reflects. "It's been the mystery of my life."
He knows things might have turned out differently - if only he'd had the kind of all-consuming ambition Lindsey Buckingham did, if only he'd tried harder to write radio-friendly pop songs, if only he'd been more prolific in his recording career.
But would he change a thing? Probably not.
"I wanted to be happy more than I wanted to be famous," he says.
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