December 2000

Robert Walter

Spin Robert Walter's 20th Congress [Money Shot CD] and you might wonder if you've time-traveled into some Austin Powers-meets-Shaft mutant sequel storyline. "The old-school sound of the record has a lot to do with [Fog City Records producer] Dan Prothero," Walter explains. "I've known him for several years, and we're always talking about old records and the sounds we like from them. He's actually the one who did the magic on the tones there. There were all these regional James Brown clones who made a bunch of 45s during the '60s and '70s. That was the sound we were after, with everything really overdriven. All the gear is 30 years old, so that's another reason it sounds that way."

Walter's second outing as bandleader is a delicious, grandma's-recipe stew of meaty organ tones, salty sax, fatback drums, and chewy bass, and he conducted the sessions in yesteryear fashion as well. "We recorded live at Wide Hive studio, in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. It's a little tiny studio. We were right on top of each other in there, which was actually kinda cool." The lack of instrument isolation in the tight quarters contributes to the sweaty live vibe of the steamy recording, which showcases tensely funky grooves like "White Russ," propelled by a white-hot organ tone. "The Hammond is just incredibly cranked to get that sound," Walter reveals. "The Leslie is dimed, the organ's volume pedal is floored, and it's recorded super-hot to analog tape. We'd get it so the needle was actually buried, and it just saturated the tape."

How are these grooves conceived? "I have a little digital 8-track at home, a sampler, and a sequencer," Walter answers. "Most of the time I write around a drum loop. I have a big record collection, and I usually take the loops off vinyl. I try to use breaks I haven't heard sampled before, if possible. They don't end up on the record, of course, but it keeps me out of the rut. Sometimes I write at the piano, and actually write on music paper. Sometimes we write as a band in rehearsal."

Walter has widely varying plans for the future: "I'd love to do some more score music. [Robert and his Greyboy Allstars scored the film Zero Effect.] Maybe someday I'll do an all piano and organ record, kind of in tribute to Ramsey Lewis. I want to try to play organ bass [pedals] and do an organ trio someday. I'd like to make a soul record with a singer, but I haven't found a young Curtis Mayfield type yet. I dunno if I will. He's one of a kind!"

-- Ken Hughes


Check out Robert Walter's website at for more info on the band and the 20th Congress' gig schedule. You can also listen to their entire album online, in stereo and for free!

Article copyright © 2000 Keyboard Magazine. Copyright 2000 by United Entertainment Media, Inc. All rights reserved. A Music Player Network Publication.