Not to be confused with the British band of the same name, this outfit featured the talents of singer/percussionist Oliver Walrus (aka Gary Levine). Levine was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Moving to California, he took the name Oliver Walrus (if you've ever seen a picture of the guy, you'll see why), and began playing percussion at various clubs and recording sessions. In the early-1970s he also formed a band - Walrus.
So here's a career synopsis in Walrus' own words:
"My career began in the 70's with my band Oliver Walrus ... We played the circuits of Los Angeles including the infamous Troubadour and the Whiskey. I was discovered and signed with Chess Janus Records who had known artist(s) like Bo Didley, Chuck Berry and Jimmy Hendrix among others. I recorded my first album in 1972. My song 'Climb, Climb, Climb' was my first top 10 record on the billboard charts [no idea what that means]. My main music background consists of heavy funk that I fused with rock and pop. I am proud to say that I have a huge fan base still building."
By the time Walrus and company went into the studio to record 1972's cleverly titled "Walrus", the band showcased the talents of percussionist Warren Bryant, keyboard player Mark Fiedler, guitarist Robert Franklin, bassist Michael Herring, and drummer Warren "Bugs" Pemberton. Produced by Robert Adcock (Joseph Long credited as executive producer), the album typically gets labeled as a slice of horn rock which undoubtedly turns off a big chunk of the potential audience. True, tracks like 'Let Me Save You' and 'Freedom' featured some horn arrangements, but with the exception of 'You Can't Shine', this wasn't anything like a BS&T, or Chicago album. Namesake Walrus had an interesting, if not particularly commercial voice - imagine a gruffer version of Meatloaf and you'll be in the right aural neighborhood. As a band these guys were actually quite tight, though producer Adcock's penchant for adding shrill female backing singers to virtually every track didn't help the proceedings.
- The album opened up with a strange R&B-tinged number that's always reminded me of a weird hybrid between Delaney and Bonnie and David Clayton Thomas and BS&T. Imagine Clayton-Thomas singing with a bad head cold and you'd get a feel for what 'Let Me Save You' sounded like. rating: ** stars
- Crazy Things' was a breezy, mid-tempo number, boasting a nice melody and an uplifting lyric. Walrus' voice sounded much more comfortable and likeable on this one. If some would have stripped off the irritating female backing singers, this one would have had some commercial potential. rating: **** stars
- Opening up with some cool Franklin 'scratch' guitar, 'You Can't Shine' was the track that probably came the closest to the BS&T school of horn rock. Once again Walrus' voice was interesting, though on this one you were left to wonder whether he was going to actually make it through the track. Franklin also turned in a cool, guitar solo - anyone know what the effect was? rating: *** stars
- Once you got over the opening horns 'Freedom' was actually a decent rocker with Walrus displaying his best blues voice. Shame about the irritating female backing vocalists. rating: ** stars
- The best song on side one, 'Climb, Climb, Climb' was also the most conventional rocker. Opening up with a great Franklin lead guitar, Walrus' raspy voice proved surprisingly well suited to the genre. Would have made a nice FM hit. rating: **** stars
- Side two started with the atypical county-fied 'Bakersfield Boogie Boy'. Sung by either Franklin, or Herring, this one sounded like an Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen outtake. Didn't do much for me. rating: ** stars
- A straightforward rocker, 'Nobody's Pearl' was another track that featured either Franklin, or Herring on lead vocals. Franklin turned in another nice solo, but the song would have been even better without the horns. rating: *** stars
- Hum, hearing 'Clap Together' you were left to wonder how Up with People get on this album? Just kidding though the poppy, uplifting lyrics certainly made you wonderer. rating: *** stars
- A mindless and routine blues shuffle, 'Sweet Thing' was made even worse by the upfront horns and those blasted female backing singers. Terrible. The only thing the song had going for it was Franklin's guitar work, but that wasn't enough to salvage the track. rating: * star
- An up tempo Gospel flavored number, 'Pass It On' sounded like it was copped from the Blues Brothers soundtrack. I guess it was enthusiastic, but it sounded like hundreds of other Gospel songs. rating: * star
- Wow, 'Friends with My Neighbors' sounded like something a Sesame Street character might have sung ... part civics lesson, part nod to Oliver himself. Funny in a goofy fashion. rating: *** stars
Sporting one of the year's ugliest covers (blame photographer Tom Wilkes) certainly didn't do a great deal to boost sales !
"After the album was released the band appears to have called it a day, though his musical career took a couple of unexpected turns.
This is just speculation on my part, but producer Long may have taken the master tapes from the Walrus sessions and sold them to Morris Levy. That's based on the fact Levy's Tiger Lily label released an Oliver Walrus solo album in 1977 - "Me, Myself & I" (Tiger Lily catalog number TL-14038).
Walrus subsequently focused his attention on DJing, finding in steady niche at Gibby's/Bogies Niteclub in Los Angeles where he eventually became the club's talent manager. Suffering from diabeties and on dialysis, Walrus passed on in October, 2006. For anyone interested, I found a copy of his obituary online:
Gary A. "Oliver Walrus" Levine. The world was blessed to have known this dynamic musician, visionary and humanitarian. Gary passed peacefully Sunday, Oct. 29, 2006, at the tender age of 60. Gary is survived by his wife, of 35 years, Betty; daughters, Adora Weiss, Denise Graham, both of Nevada, and Renie Price of California; sons, Roger and Michael Masterson, both of California, and Brian Masterson of Nevada; his parents, Gertrude and Walter Levine of California; sisters, Rochelle Fern of Van Nuys, Calif., and Jolene Clark of Culver City, Calif.; brother, Jack Levine of Yuba City, Calif.; 16 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and friends worldwide. Memorial services will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, at King David Memorial Chapel, 2697 Eldorado Lane. Graveside service will be held in California.
From RYM (rdten1)