Happiness is a thing called Troy Walker

Wednesday, Sep 15 1999

Troy Walker? Louella Parsons described him as ”an inspiration.“ Ronald Reagan called him ”a great entertainer.“ Jerry Lee Lewis titled him ”Killer.“ Local wildo Johnny Legend remembers ”playing on a bill with Troy in ‘66 -- it was him, my band and the Seeds, and Troy was weirder than anyone else there.“ A mid-’70s promo flier touted: ”Troy Walker Is Hollywood in Many Ways.“ Sitting inside Walker‘s Hollywood apartment, decorated in resplendent Early Boulevard Deluxe, one can only think, ”Oh, my God, that really is his hair.“

One of this city’s most-outrageous-ever talents, Walker has built a career by smashing every rule that ever threatened to rein him in. He‘s as aggressively forthright in his taboo-shattering persona as he is gifted as a song stylist. Yet over the last 10 years, Walker has made only a handful of live appearances, some at Hollywood rock clubs, others at suburban honky-tonks, all of them riveting and, at times, bizarre. When he struts onto a nightclub floor, a painstakingly coifed roaring fireball of conflict and artistry in 6-inch heels and ostrich boa, audience response is guaranteed. Walker’s mix of intense Orbisonian balladry, scandalous parody (the ”ah-wee-mo-way, ah-wee-mo-way“ chant from ”The Lion Sleeps Tonight“ becomes ”my weenie‘s wet, my weenie’s wet“), wicked vocal impersonations and memorably lewd banter is a thoroughly frantic and simply unforgettable presentation.

Few have plumbed the depths of the Sunset Strip and Hollywood Boulevard as assiduously as Troy Walker. He hit town in 1958, a diminutive, doe-eyed teenage androgyne breathlessly eager for a singing career. He got hot in a hurry, wailing pop, country, soul and rock & roll with genuine passion.

”He was an entertainer, a professional, first of all,“ says Daryl Dragon, who got his start in Walker‘s band years before Dragon’s success with the Captain and Tennille. ”I thought of him as a Redd Foxx, only in the gay area. You didn‘t go to a club back then and expect a gay to be fronting the group, and it was wild because he was a wise guy, like a Don Rickles -- anybody who wised off to him, Troy could top it.“ He was the pretty one with the low voice, with a baritone as big as Frankie Laine’s that could upshift to a razor-edged falsetto, put across with enough voltage to sizzle the cerebellum. Walker‘s was an arresting show -- on and off stage.

Walker had so many run-ins with the Los Angeles Police Department that at one time he knew the names of almost every cop in the Hollywood Division. He ran the Strip with young Cherilyn Sarkisian, later a.k.a. Cher, used everyone from the Beach Boys and Leon Russell to the aforementioned Captain as backup talent, played on bills with Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Tina Turner, and wound up, in the 1970s, working a most unlikely residency at North Hollywood redneck shrine the Palomino, establishing himself as the world’s first and only professional transgender country singer.

Walker‘s life has been played out five nights a week before capacity crowds at long-gone niteries (the Lazy X, the Velvet Room, the Roman Terrace, Pandora’s Box, the Rag Doll), but his radical blend of ribald wit and flamboyant presentation was a few decades ahead of its time. Like a singing Lenny Bruce, Walker‘s irresistible rebuke of 1960s California’s stolid hypocrisy ultimately crippled any chance of breakout acceptance.

Born Richard Walker in Chicago, Illinois, Troy grew up in a large, unstable family and wound up coming of age at Arizona‘s Boys’ Camp: ”I graduated from there, went to the University of Arizona, then went into the United States Air Force,“ he says. ”After a year and a half, I discovered me, sort of, and got worried about it. In Yuma, [arranger-bandleader] Skitch Henderson heard me, took me off base, and I sang as Troy Larson. Then I came out here. I wanted to be a singer, ran out of money real quick, so I hit the Boulevard. I was very stupid and naive, and I think I stayed that way. But I walked into a bar called My Desire, I was only 19, and Keith Ferguson was playing piano, and he said, ‘Hey, pretty, can you sing?’ and he shoved me a mike. The owner came over and offered me 10 bucks a night if I‘d walk in and ask to sing a couple of songs. Same routine every night -- come in off the street and ask to sing, because I was too young to be in there.

“I’ve been singing ever since. I always told people I was a singer, before I really was, and it just happened -- a lovely accident. And because of it, I didn‘t have to compromise myself, didn’t have to do anything but sing. It made life pretty wonderful.”

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