Richard Walton brings his smooth jazz combo to Columbia lakefront
By By Doug Miller
Jul 09, 2014 at 6:05 AM
Among the changes guitarist/bassist Richard Walton has seen over the decades he's been involved in the area music scene, some of the more recent ones have taken wind from his sails.
When WTMD, the Towson University station, changed its format from jazz to alternative, the Richard Walton Group lost its principal source of radio support. Other stations in the region also dropped the band from its playlists.
"There are no smooth jazz stations in Baltimore at all now," Walton says.
That doesn't mean no more radio, though. Fans and friends can set up their own RWG station on Pandora internet radio. You might also catch the group's music in a commercial from time to time.
Meanwhile, the economic downturn of the last six years has taken a bite out of Walton's gigging schedule. "We used to do a lot of corporate stuff," the Ellicott City resident says. "That's all dried up."
Walton and his bandmates can still count on one thing, though — a summertime show at the Columbia lakefront.
This year's marks the 10th anniversary of the Richard Walton Group's first appearance alongside Lake Kittamaqundi. The last three or four, Walton says, have been digitally recorded, and he's fairly certain the band's next album release will include live tracks from the July 17 show.
"People like the energy of this band," he says. "A lot of people tell me they like the live shows better than the CDs."
The group formed in 1991 out of a musical emergency.
A few years before that, Walton had begun peddling his original songs. "In 1988, I had a couple of publishing deals in Nashville that my attorney told me not to sign," he recalls. "And I didn't."
Instead, he went back to Catonsville to produce his own original music in his home studio while continuing to perform. He completed "The Whole Nine Yards" in 1989 and "Out of Bounds" two years later. Among the studio musicians lending a hand on the latter were Crack The Sky co-founder Rick Witkowski.
Walton submitted "Out of Bounds" to a battle-of-the-bands contest. When he found out he'd been selected to compete at Baltimore's 8x10 rock club, he suddenly needed a band.
The group that Walton put together in such a hurry came in as runner-up to Howard County musical fixture Deanna Bogart.
As personnel changed over the years, the Richard Walton Group evolved from a rock outfit to the contemporary jazz ensemble it is now.
Walton attributes much of the jazzier influence to drummer Eric Robertson, who joined the group in 1994. Though Robertson has played rock, "he's more of a jazz drummer," says Walton, whose primary instrument in the band is bass guitar. "I'm more of a rock guy."
He likens the rhythm-section dynamic to that in the original lineup of progressive-rock giants Yes, in which rock bassist Chris Squire teamed up with jazz drummer Bill Bruford.
Richard Walton Group co-founder David Meer handles most of the rhythm guitar chores, while Michael Bronson is the primary lead player. The band also includes keyboardist Mike Gottlieb, percussionist Mitchell Shaivitz and saxophonist Dave Krug.
"They're all phenomenal writers," Walton says. "Everybody in this band is a better musician than I am."
It's unlikely any of them are any busier, though. Walton plays throughout the region in various duos and trios and as a solo act, teaches beginning guitar and produces projects for others in his home studio. Then there's his day job, running the Baltimore plumbing company founded by his great-great-grandfather in 1867.
All that work can keep a guy away from home a lot, which would create friction in many marriages. "My wife's been super supportive. That's so important," Walton says.
A professional musician in her own right, violinist Tecla Walton performs and records with her husband in the originals band Straight On Red.
"She knows all about it, what it's all about," he says.
The Richard Walton Group performs at the Columbia lakefront Thursday, July 17, from 8 to 10 p.m. The group performs another free show on Friday, July25, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the River Hill Village Center. Walton performs a solo show at Alexandra's at Turf Valley, in Ellicott City, on Wednesday, July 23.
The Columbia Association's Lakefront Summer Festival holds lakefront concerts Tuesday-Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 17. Jazz-rock guitarist Carl Filipiak plays Saturday, July 19. The St. John Baptist Church Sacred Arts performs gospel music Sunday, July 20.