Folk guitarist Peter Walker, heading to Providence, finds music comes from within
by Susan McDonald for The Providence Journal
“If there was any doubt that Peter Walker is and always has been a hippie, it dissolves within the first few minutes of a conversation with him.
There’s the fact that he’s calling from his home base in Woodstock, New York. And that he refers to his music as a religion — “I’m called to prayer three times a day” for practice. Then there’s the way he describes his music as a “manifestation of spiritual reality” that helps him by “getting in contact with spirits.”
If that weren’t enough, he also provided musical accompaniment to Timothy Leary’s LSD explorations in the 1960s.
At 77, this dynamic hippy folk guitarist is still making music because he can’t help himself. His passion for guitar music has sent him packing off to all parts of the world to study with Indian raga and flamenco masters, something he continues to do, albeit less often. A life-long student of the craft, Walker has also become a revered master himself in the genre as he has challenged himself to do more, learn more, return more in the form of his songs.
This is despite the fact Walker is hard pressed to give actual direction when it comes to making music because he doesn’t perform from a set stack of sheet music or refer to old standards when he’s finger picking on his guitars (a Spanish guitar and a steel string American guitar for the Indian sound). His music comes from within, spontaneously and unpredictably so that no concert is ever the same, nor is any impromptu jam session or practice.
“In Spain, they taught me a way of visualizing the fretboard and moving around on it in the scales, letting the music lead me,” he says in a phone interview. “It depends on what emotions are playing from within me.”
An example, he says, was his experience playing music for Carmen Amaya, a Romani flamenco dancer known as the Queen of Gypsies.
“I would have no idea what she was going to sing. I knew the secrets of the chords, just not what the notes were going to be. It’s the art of being in the tune. If I can be in tune with the audience, I can take them along on the trip.”
Flamenco music arose from the Andalusian region of Spain from gypsies who had immigrated from Northern India, so understandably, Walker’s music represents the sounds of each culture. In India, he says, musicians make music that creates a mood for different times of day.
“Generally, I play something in every key — sort of like speaking extemporaneously,” he says with a chuckle. “It’s all about trusting our instincts — it’s about perfection and intonation of the note. Great music has a combination of these elements.”
Known for his Spanish and Indian influences, Walker says he loves music from every country, citing Bulgarian singing, the passion of Baltic music, musicians like Ravi Shankar.
“It creates moments you want to listen,” he says simply.
The son of a classical pianist mother and a father who enjoyed contemporary American folk, Walker was a fixture in Greenwich Village in the mid-1960s. His music evolved after he saw Shankar in concert and began incorporating Eastern raga into his sound. His debut album, “Rainy Day Raga,” was released in 1966, and his follow-up, “Second Poem to Karmela,” a blend of folk, psychedelia and raga, two years later, but he slipped from the performance scene for decades.
In 2008, a new generation of musical admirers — including Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth — coaxed him from retirement and helped him record the albums “A Raga for Peter Walker” and “Echo of My Soul.” Although years had passed, the sound is as enigmatic as ever, with new cuts in the same signature raga style paired with pieces by admirers like James Blackshaw, Steffen Basho-Junghans and Greg Davis.
“I am just inspired to play,” he says. “I play about what’s going on within me. The other day, my dog was being operated on and I wish I had a tape recorder to capture the intensity with which I was playing!”
Peter Walker — who was called “Perhaps the greatest guitarist in the world” by The Beatles’ press agent Derek Taylor — will bring his eclectic sound to Aurora, 276 Westminster St., Providence, on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 8:30 p.m. He will perform with guitarist Glenn Jones. Tickets for the all-ages show are $13. Go to www.auroraprovidence.com for more information.”
McDonald, Susan. “Folk guitarist Peter Walker, heading to Providence, finds music comes from within.” Providence Journal. 4 Oct. 2015 web <http://www.providencejournal.com/article/20151004/ENTERTAINMENTLIFE/151009927/?Start=1>