Jerry Lucky: So Greg, you’ve been around for some time…how and when did you get the idea that selling progressive rock CDs through mail order was going to be a good idea?
Greg Walker: It just kind of developed into a mailorder company and label in the mid-to-late 80's. I first used to sell extra copies of LP's through Goldmine Magazine. I then started building up a mailing list which I used to send out and distribute my first catalog. It grew from there.
JL: When you started, what was your operation like?
GW: My early mailorder catalogs were entirely made up of LP's. It was the perfect time to get started because CD's were just beginning to come out on the market so I was able to grow my inventory with each progressive rock CD release.
JL: Were you always a prog rock fan?
GW: When I was young I really didn't know what prog rock was nor had I heard much of it. I was into AOR with bands like Styx, Supertramp, ELO and the likes.
JL: What are your earliest prog rock memories?
GW: Around the age of 14 or so (circa 1980) I heard Genesis - Foxtrot that my brother picked up and we both were instantly blown away. We thought to ourselves that there must be more stuff out there like this so we started hitting the record stores hard. We were very fortunate to grow up in L.A. where there were a lot of record stores with large import sections and a lot of the store employees/importers were prog heads as well so we learned so much in a short amount of time. I was buying German, Italian and French records at the same time I was buying my first Pink Floyd record. I would come home with a stack of 20 records from all over the world. Everything was so new and exciting. It was a special time in my life.
JL: You were originally involved with the creation of the first prog music festival, ProgFest. How did that idea come together? And what eventually led to its demise?
GW: Back in the early 90's David Overstreet, Gary Whitman and myself had a meeting with the sole purpose of figuring out a way to promote the music we shared and loved. We came up with the idea of a prog festival. We really had no concert organizing experience but that didn't stop us. After the first Progfest in 1993, Gary bowed out and then David after the 1994 event. The third one in 1995 was all on my shoulders and by then I was getting a bit burnt out myself which is why it stopped (along with the financial strain of it). In 1997 Shawn Ahearn wanted a shot at organizing one so we let him use the name. He did another one in 1999 with this time it being up in San Francisco. David and I (with the help of Brian Parker) took it back over and did the very last one in 2000.
JL: You have a regular day job correct?
GW: No. I do Syn-Phonic full-time (and then some). From the late 80's to about 2003 I worked at McDonnell Douglas/Boeing in Long Beach but when we moved from L.A. to Utah I decided to do Syn-Phonic full-time.
JL: So how do you go about stocking the shelves? I’m interested in the process of how you acquire so many titles?
GW: It's not as easy as one would think. You would guess that most of the time bands would come to you to pitch their product but this really doesn't happen very often. Sometimes I just find out about a band on my own through surfing the web and other times from customer inquiries. Labels do a pretty good job of informing me of their releases but if it's a private release it's much more difficult. A lot of times I will email a band about stocking their release and they won't respond. I will have to email over and over again until I get a response and sometimes I never do. I know it sounds crazy but most bands are good at making music but not marketing their product.
JL: Is there a point where you say enough is enough…or I need to stop for a while?
GW: Yeah, I say that practically every day but being a serious prog rock fan is an incurable disease. I also do it for a living.
JL: What’s your personal collection like? Or perhaps you don’t have one?
GW: Yes I do. Above all I am a prog rock fan and a collector before anything. My collection is completely over the top. I have to own every pressing/issue of every prog release whether it be LP (still my favorite) or CD. I also collect7" singles, posters, t-shirts, buttons, press kits etc.... You name it. If it's prog-related I have to own it! I'm 100% certifiably insane.
JL: Back when we were playing vinyl you had a number of great reissues on your own label…what was that like…maybe give us a story on how you came to release the Babylon stuff.
GW: Since it was before CD's took off, my label was made up of vinyl releases. Most of the time I would track down a band by calling information around where the band was from until I reached a band member or someone that knew a member of the band. It's how I tracked down all these bands like Babylon in the pre-internet days. I've got so many stories regarding this. One was that when I found the keyboardist of Lift (Chip Gremillion) he had no idea that their studio recordings were released on LP. They recorded it but because they couldn’t find a record label deal (by 1977 it was really tough finding a label to release prog) they thought they had just been sitting on the recordings all this time. It took me a while on the phone to convince him that a record was released and that I was holding it in my hands. Since he now lived in Palm Springs he came over to my house to witness it himself. It turns out that studio they recorded 'Caverns Of Your Brain' in had a back-up set of masters that they eventually sold off to a tax-scam label called Guinness Records who subsequently released it on LP. All those years nobody in the band ever knew that they had an LP release. It was quite funny having Chip stare at the record in disbelief at my house.
JL: Is the Syn-Phonic label something you keep looking to do, or is it getting harder to do these days?
GW: I'm pretty much done with my label. My label really specialized in releasing 70's USA prog but it seems that practically everything has been released these days. I can think of just a few things I would love to release but these are instances where they master tapes seem to be lost forever.
JL: Is there a country that you haven’t send CD’s too? I have to think you’ve received orders from everywhere?
GW: Yes, quite a few. Although I get orders from around the globe there are still many countries I have never sent CD's to (most of the African countries for example).
JL: If it’s not getting to personal…does one actually make money selling prog records?
GW: Yes. I do it for a living but it's tough. I really have to work hard and move a lot of product just to make ends meet. It's also hard when you're a collector at the same time. It's like a drunk running a bar.
JL: So we know why you started…but why do you keep doing it?
GW: For the love and passion for the music!
JL: And finally then…if you were stuck on a desert island with no mail order…and could only have 5 discs with you…which 5 would they be and why those?
GW: This is a very tough question. About 5 years ago I was involved in a Goldmine Magazine article on the top 25 prog albums of all-time. It ended up being a disaster as the editor asked some people to get involved that did not have a deep knowledge of the genre. At the time I already had a running list of what I call "essentials" which numbered over 100 but I had to narrow it down to 25. It took me about 1 hour just to go from 30 to 25. 5 is too hard but here's 20 that you can toss into my casket while I'm being lowered into the ground:
Anglagard – Epilog, Balletto Di Bronzo, Il – YS, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso - Io Sono Nato Libero
Camel – Moonmadness, Eloy – Floating, Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Gentle Giant – Octopus, Grobschnitt - Rockpommel's Land (or Solar Music Live), Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick, King Crimson - In The Wake Of Poseidon, Latte E Miele - Passio Secundum Mattheum, Locanda Delle Fate - Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Pui, Magma - Mekanik Destructiw Kommandoh, Orme, Le - Felona E Sorona, Pink Floyd – Animals, Premiata Forneria Marconi - Per Un Amico, Pulsar – Halloween, Triana - same (a.k.a. El Patio), Van Der Graaf Generator - H To He Who I Am The Only One (or Pawn Hearts), Yes - Close To The Edge
JL: Thanks so much for your time Greg. Much appreciated.