A great pleasure to hear recently from keyboardist Walt Bolen, who filled me in on the backstory behind his organ-led R&B exotica instrumental “Lion Hunt” (Pick-A-Hit 101, which I first wrote about at this ancient post), as well as some of his own biography.
Walt Bolen, born in 1948, was raised in the San Fernando Valley, California. His was a musical family, especially on the side of his mother, Alma Bowser Bolen (who was also related to pioneering bop pianist Bud Powell by marriage).
In addition to a Hammond A-105 organ at home, Bolen would grow up playing organ in the church, as well as participating in the San Fernando school system’s music program. Bolen attended one of the few high schools in the area with a Hammond console, taking classes there under the supervision of Mrs. Thelma Becky, the school’s choir teacher.
“[I was] looking to gain popularity among my school mates and friends. Music was my way of doing that,” Bolen notes. It was 1966, Bolen’s senior year at San Fernando High School, when he first wrote “Lion Hunt,” which was partly inspired by Les Baxter’s exotica standard “Quiet Village.”
In 1966, Bolen and Adolphus Alsbrook – a veteran jazz bassist and arranger introduced to Bolen through his horn player friend Carl Smith – went into Los Angeles’s legendary Gold Star Studios to record. There, joined by a drummer, and with charts written by Alsbruck, they used the Hammond organ to lay down the basic tracks for “Lion Hunt.” Saxophone and guitar parts would be added by session players in turn.
In 1967, Los Angeles record producer and impresario Bobby Sanders released the recording on Pick-A-Hit Records, one of several labels he operated at the time. Somewhat to Bolen’s surprise, the B-side of the single – “Lion Hunt (Part Two),” that is – was the same recording, only with dubbed-in lion sound effects, an idea that was entirely Alsbrook’s.
Walter Bolen, Lion Hunt (Part Two)(Pick-A-Hit 101B)
Bolen remained in the San Fernando area in the ensuing years, teaching music, playing lounge and club gigs, and making some (unreleased) home recordings. In the early ‘70s, Bolen and his friends Willard and Ernestine Stroud formed the Ar-Que recording company, for whom he released a strong 45 – “Breaking Out” b/w “Peace Chant” – in 1972.
Walt Bolen otherwise remained away from commercially released music until more recent years. Bolen, who now resides in Antelope Valley, California, remains active in music to this day, returning to his roots and playing organ for his church. He’s also released a CD of his own inspirational material – The Casting of Pearls – which is available at cdbaby.com or through his facebook page. Please do check out more of Walt Bolen.
Many thanks to Walt Bolen for contacting me, and for the great conversation and great music.