Dave Walker has a good set of pipes. Check.
Really bluesy, got that British soulful thing down. Check.
Boring as fuck to listen to. Check.
I really only know him from his time with Savoy Brown in the early 70’s – stuff like “Hellbound Train” comes to mind. But Dave Walker wasn’t what you’d call very creative. The way he clung for life to the pentatonic scale pretty much sums up everything I hate about white men doing blues rock. Like, “Hey man, I gotta wait for you to vamp that chord progression a couple of times, while my head slowly figures out the next 6 notes I’m gonna hit in order.” – A real “by-the-numbers-blues” kind of dude. Yeah, for that time in Savoy Brown, Dave sounded pretty cool. And even as the roots of Sabbath are in the blues, and the Sabs knew Dave from the early days, they were far more progressive and inventive than your local pub band from Birmingham.
So, when the charismatic and melodically creative Ozzy Osbourne first left Sabbath in late 1977, who did they call? “Boring-as-fuck” ‘ol Dave, of course.
Poor Dave. But don’t worry. He won’t read this cause he doesn’t own a computer, so fuck him.. No seriously, I don’t know the guy and this ain’t a personal attack. Seems like he’s a good dude. All I know is you can see Dave’s next melody from a mile away cause it’s the same one you just passed a mile back. And you can’t fill Ozzy’s shoes with that.
Dave only stuck with the Sabs for maybe 2 months. At which time, Ozzy called (or was called – read further) to come back and record the punk-inspired and often overlooked Never Say Die. Which, to me, is a pretty kickass album. Better than Technical Ecstasy for the writing alone. The garagey production and new wave keyboards show the band attempting something new and fresh. Cool! “Hard Road” is a great anthem, and the title track is killer.
But before all that, and despite his brief tenure, fans would get a full frontal of the Dave Walker version of Black Sabbath, to be recorded and documented for all eternity. Yes, in a moment of what can be described only as sheer management brilliance, and with one month’s rehearsal breaking in their new frontman, Black Sabbath performed on a BBC Midlands show called “Look Hear” on January 6, 1978. I mean, it must have been an attempt to test the waters with the public, right? I can’t see a publicist saying “Awesome boys, no one knows you have a new singer. He’s barely played with you, and you haven’t finished even writing the record, so let’s get you on TV to promote nothing so you can show the ENTIRE nation how much awesome chemistry has developed in the past 17 days!”
So, yeah, this was probably more or less a case of gauging audience interest in an Ozzy-less Black Sabbath and nothing more. That, or it was a ploy to get the Ozzman to Comebacketh. Dave himself admitted in interviews that Ozzy was hanging around the whole time he was in the band (hash tag #awkward). Dave was also under the impression that Ozzy didn’t seem too sure of the decision he’d made in leaving.
At the end of the day (literally – at the end of the day on January 6 1978), it was clear that the fans were not interested in this version of Black Sabbath. I’ll go one step further and say it’s perfectly reasonable to speculate that “Iommi and Co.” weren’t interested in this version of Black Sabbath either. Weeks after the TV show aired, Ozzy was officially back, and Never Say Die was recorded. Woohoo! What a happy ending.
The BBC has the “Look Hear” tapes, and I’m sure some of my die-hard collector friends have gotten ahold of them too (Where’s my copy you hoarding a-holes?!? You know I’m good for that shit!), but the only things google-able from this era is one photo Dave took with the band at a writing session, and a screenshot and audio of “Junior’s Eyes” from the BBC appearance. The band also performed “War Pigs” on the show. That’s just gotta be a trainwreck.
The archivist in me is glad this appearance happened, as without it, there’d be literally nothing documented from this very strange era. Fascinating for that fact alone.
… And something cool to note about this performance musically – Dave plays Harmonica, and that shit was badass in Sabbath. Why it wasn’t used more is beyond me. Not a whole lot more, just like, you know, one or two more songs in the repertoire. This slower and heavier version of Junior’s Eyes sounded good with that.