Original Signal Recordings/Power Ballad
Once described stylistically (by me) as a likely love child born out of a getaway ski weekend in Aspen between Elton John and Paul Stanley — later to be adopted by Brian Wilson and only exposed (musically) to Abbey Road, Pet Sounds, and Something, Anything — Butch Walker is regarded by some industry insiders as pop music’s Messiah.
Admittedly, Butch once lived hand to mouth, playing guitar and fronting various mid-level bands throughout the early and mid ’90s. However, the value of his industry stock skyrocketed in 1999 when he scored his first bona fide hit, “Freak of the Week” while fronting the band Marvelous 3. By the 2000s he had evolved into the industry’s golden child, writing and producing hits for such big name acts as Avril Lavigne and Pink. In November 2008 he released his fourth solo record and his MySpace hits now number in the millions.
Okay, so he possesses mighty, super-human powers, but can Butch Walker actually save the world?
I first met Butch in 1991 during his earliest big league incarnation as the 22-year-old guitarist for arena rock hopeful, Southgang. Originally known as Byte the Bullet, Southgang migrated from Rome, Georgia to Los Angeles around 1990. With plenty of catchy tunes and loads of era-appropriate image, Southgang snatched one of the last major label record deals given to beautiful white kids with long hair and tight pants, just before the Seattle syndicate pulled the plug on rock and roll.
In those days I was the frontman for the award-winning indie band Dead Serios. Southgang and Dead Serios were both managed at the time by Jerry “Pops” Landers, so Butch and I crossed paths a few times during our younger years. I remember sitting next to him on Southgang’s tour bus one night shortly after he got his first tattoo in July 1991. It was still fresh, covered with Neosporin and he was visibly babying it. I knew that Pops hated tattoos so I asked Butch what he thought Pops was going to say about it.
“Fuck Pops!” he snapped back with split-second reflexes.
“Wow,” I thought to myself. “This guy has a fucking attitude!”
I’ve continued to follow Butch’s career over the years — from Southgang, to The Floyds, to Marvelous 3, to his recent string of critically acclaimed solo records. And his current offering, Sycamore Meadows is perhaps the most personal and compelling work of his impressive 20-year career.
When recently asked, “How’s Butch?” backstage at a hair band concert in NJ, longtime tour manager Chris Dillon just shook his head and replied, “Butch wants to be Bob Dylan now.” So I guess that comment led me to expect Sycamore Meadows to be more like Blood on the Tracks or Blonde on Blonde revisited. However, with the exception of the acoustic guitar/ harmonica combo on “A Song for the Metalheads,” I really don’t notice any other similarities. In fact, the record’s rootsy opening track, “The Weight of Her” actually smacks of Tom Petty circa ’79 and the soaring “Closer to the Truth and Farther from the Sky” sounds like it could have been an outtake from Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run sessions. But there are a lot of familiar sounds on this record. From the “It’s a Small World-like” sing-a-long chorus on “The 3 Kids in Brooklyn” to the Hall and Oates-ish “She’s Gone” back-up vocals on “Summer Scarves,” Sycamore Meadows feels like a new “old friend.”
But Butch’s greatest asset has never been his hooky, earworm melodies, his seemingly unlimited multi-instrumental abilities, or his talent as a producer. Butch Walker’s greatest asset is his ability to tell a riveting and compelling story. For years I’ve been captivated by the characters in his songs and Sycamore Meadows contains some of his best tales yet. “Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought of You” and “Atlanta” beautifully showcase a songwriter who is truly in a league of his own.
So, the question still remains — with all of his mighty, super-human powers and unequaled talent, can Butch Walker save the world? Eh, probably not!
Butch Walker: www.butchwalker.com