Tributes have been pouring in from across rock and metal for the late Killing Joke guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker, who died on Sunday 26 November, aged 64.
Walker was one of the most influential guitar players of his generation. If players were not trying to crib his electric guitar tone wholesale they were taking notes on riff-writing, seeing what works. On occasion, they’d do both, just as Nirvana did with Come As You Are, the grunge anthem all but echoing the seminal Killing Joke track, Eighties.
Former Killing Joke bassist Martin ‘Youth’ Glover described Walker as a virtuoso, and offered an insight into what working with him would be like.
“Still in shock and hard to believe he is no longer with us. Always seemed indestructible to me. Bullets bounced off him,” he wrote. “He was truly destined to be. No man was cooler than Geordie, one of the very best and most influential guitarists ever.
“He was like Lee Van Cleef meets Terry Thomas via Noel Coward. Very charming, inscrutable and gracious, with a gentle effortless touch, (both on the guitar and making you feel welcome) that is, when he wasn’t shredding you with his razor sharp articulate shrapnel.
“He was a virtuoso gunslinger, both with his music and verbosity. He wouldn’t hesitate to throw his flicknife into the mixing desk and demand a two bar count, not four, for his drop in, which always managed to focus the engineer’s attention! He understood that the chemistry was the rub and that’s actually where the magic and soul was ….in the conflict.”
The virtuosity Youth speaks of is not how we often we talk about genius. There were no solos in Walker’s forty-plus years with Killing Joke. The talent was demonstrated in his riffs, in a tone that was rendered through a 1952 Gibson ES-295 with a Mary Ford pickguard and gold finish, and a stereo amp set up that widened his sound.
Youth, like Walker, joined the band in 1979, a febrile moment for the band in which they had released an EP and their debut album, Requiem within a year.
“He was my teacher, partner and at times a terrifying foe,” continued Youth. “Eternally grateful for the stars colliding that brought our fates together. He is now flying high with The Valkyrie’s, on his way to the halls of Valhalla, where his seat at the table of legends is most certainly assured. He defined a generation or three with his genius.”
Among those generations were players such as Kirk Hammett. Metallica’s cover of The Wait, included on 1987’s The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited, spread Walker’s influence a little further. Hammett was among those musicians who paid tribute to Walker on social media, posting a picture of him and Walker on his Instagram account
“Been playing old songs for old friends all day,” wrote Hammett. “Geordie Walker, RIP. He was a huge influence on me, the way he played that Gibson ES-295… the way he played. My heart goes out to his friends and family, and his music is being played loud as hell. Killing Joke Forever!!!”
It wasn’t just metal players who were paying attention. Killing Joke’s post-punk sound was a vibe unto itself. Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses was paying attention, too. “May you rest in peace Geordie Walker. My thoughts are with his family and the Killing Joke guys,” wrote McKagan on Instagram. “Geordie was a true inventor of a massive sound that has influenced so damn many of us. Man...a damn nice guy to boot. Damn.”
There were the industrial players, too, and those whose who took Walker’s example as further permission, if needed, to stray outside the confines of genre; players such as Steve Von Till of Neurosis.
“Damn, another fallen hero… R.I.P. Geordie Walker of Killing Joke,” he wrote. “I can’t imagine what our musical landscape would look like without those songs, those riffs, that energy, and that tone! Thank you for the decades of inspiration. Fly on!”
“Geordie was a such an influential guitar player and writer,” said Monte Pittman, guitarist of Ministry and session player for Madonna. “His name is synonymous with his style of playing. When a musician of this magnitude passes on, the art they’ve made shines Brighter Than A Thousand Suns. One of the all time greats has moved on. Sending my love and condolences to his family, friends, and bandmates.”
Faith No More posted a collective statement, citing Walker as one good reason why they became musicians in the first place.
“As FNM we may have been musicians and made music together, but without Geordie's influence, who knows what we would have become, no doubt something completely different,” read the statement. “The sound, the flow, the groove, the power. He did what he did for 45+ years without losing his way, maintained a immutable sense of self, and always walked the walk. Musically speaking, he leaves a massive hole. Big respect.”
Sometimes it takes a non-guitarist to notice what makes a guitarist’s sound special. Randy Blythe, frontman of Lamb Of God, and a long-time Killing Joke fan, posted a lengthy tribute to Walker, noting his ability – the band’s ability – to sacrifice individual glory for the collective, to be, as Blythe puts it, “one muscular, perfectly-balanced dark juggernaut”.
“Each band member contributes equally, never crowding the other musicians – this perfect sonic equilibrium is a rarity in bands,” wrote Blythe. “Killing Joke was such an influential band across so many different genres – while not a metal band, they were undeniably HEAVY.
“Recorded music, however brilliant, is one thing, but conveying that power live is another,” he continued. “I took these photos last summer when my band headlined Bloodstock Festival – I had a ton of press that day, but told management months in advance not to bother scheduling me any during KJ, no exceptions, as I simply would not be there – I would be watching Killing Joke. And I was, standing 15 feet away from Geordie’s rig on stage right.
“It was at this show that I really felt the weight and power of his playing in an individual sense. Geordie played an old hollow bodied gold Gibson, not the usual choice of guitars for music this heavy, and he made everything look completely effortless and COOL. As I watched the band move through their set, from Wardance on through to Pandemonium, I increasingly began to wonder… How in the bloody hell is that one man making that one old beat up guitar sound WAY heavier than EVERYONE ELSE HERE COMBINED?
“I’m no guitar nerd, but I’ve been around quite literally some of the best guitar players on earth, and I had NEVER seen one guy make a guitar ROAR like that. Simply unbelievable sound – it didn’t even make sense.”
You can see what Blythe was talking about in the video above.