Peter Walker :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Guitarist Peter Walker spent decades off the grid, but reemerged in 2006, when he contributed recordings -- alongside James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, Thurston Moore, Steffen Basho-Junghans, and others -- to Tompkins Square’s A Raga for Peter Walker tribute. Since then, a slow but steady stream of Walker material has become available: Two new recordings of Spanish guitar, a previously unheard jam session recorded in Levon Helm’s barn, Long Lost Tapes: 1970, a collection of lost sessions, the sublime Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms, on Delmore Recordings. Now, Light in the Attic and Vanguard Records have teamed to re-release his long out of print sophomore album, 1968’s "second Poem To Karmela" Or Gypsies Are Important.

Teeming with Jim Pepper’s flute and the fluid ragas of from Walker on guitar, sitar, and sarod, the album explores the intersection between 60s psychedelic experimentation and some of the oldest musical traditions in history. A compatriot of Timothy Leary, Walker understood the role of music in his LSD experimentation, and the record taps into some of what might have been heard at one of the Walker-soundtracked “Acid Tests.”

With renewed attention being paid to his records, Walker is performing live in the US once again. He’ll do so on April 11 at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, sharing the stage with Vanguard/Light in the Attic label-mate Bob Frank. The performance ought to make it clear that while Walker was out of the spotlight, he spent his time diligently with a guitar, studying in Spain, exploring the historical connections between folk, Indian music, and Spanish guitar.

Peter Walker :: Second Song

We spoke to Walker from his home in Woodstock, where he spends his time when not playing guitar in Peru.

Aquarium Drunkard: I’m curious about the era just after your Vanguard recordings. You recorded Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms, by yourself. What influenced your decision to record that record solo?

Peter Walker: I learned solo, for one thing. I was solo when I learned to play. I traveled a lot during those years — I still do I guess, but more then — and I lived for several months in Mexico, where I played solo; I lived in North Africa, where I played solo. I studied solo guitar in Spain.

But here in New York, I was able to get a pick-up band. When I traveled they weren’t with me, so I was able to play solo. When I was in the city, I had a band, but when I’m traveling I’m alone. So I wound up writing [the songs on Has Anybody] alone. I’d been playing festivals alone, all through the Midwest. So when I went in the studio I cut the stuff I’d been playing the summer before.

AD: In addition to the re-release of records like Second Poem To Karmela or Gypsies Are Important and Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms? you’ve been working on new material. What does it sound like?

Peter Walker: From 2000 on I went to study Spanish guitar in Spain. What they taught me I’ve been absorbing. It’s a different way of looking at the fret board. My next album is going to be solo guitar, and I’m going to be playing one piece in each key: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Pretty much different modes of the keys. That’s what I do every day. To me it’s fascinating, because I can start in any key or mode and compose something. So that’s what I love to do, that’s what I’m going to record next.

I also want to do an album of tunes on piano. That’s part of my plan. The idea is to do two more albums: one of Spanish guitar, mostly sung tunes from a collection of songs I play piano.

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