Kevin Walker, known as “Geordie,” was a guitarist for the industrial group Killing Joke. His distinctive, layered sound was a major influence on many musicians. He passed away at the age of 64.
The band released a statement on Sunday expressing their deep sorrow over the passing of Killing Joke’s renowned guitarist, Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker. He suffered a stroke and passed away in Prague on November 26, 2023 at 6:30am, with his family by his side. The band is heartbroken and sends their condolences. Rest in peace, brother.
The intricate guitar sound of Walker not only influenced the shoegaze genre, but also incorporated elements of punk’s edginess, pop’s catchy melodies, and heavy metal’s powerful sound. Alongside frontman Jaz Coleman, Walker has been the sole consistent member of Killing Joke since its inception in 1978.
In 1958, a man was born in County Durham and educated in Buckinghamshire. He was given the nickname “Geordie” while in school. He saw an advertisement placed by Coleman in a music publication and responded. Later, Coleman said, “This person kept calling and claiming to be the best guitarist ever, despite never being in a band and only playing in their mother’s bedroom.” Coleman couldn’t shake him off and eventually, they met in person. They ended up talking about fishing for six hours and the man revealed he had nowhere to live. Coleman offered for him to stay with him. Geordie moved in three weeks before Coleman heard him play, and when he finally did, it was like a divine fire.
In 1980, the band released their fierce first album, which made it into the Top 40 in the UK. Coleman and Walker went to Iceland, where they apparently worked as hashish dealers, according to Coleman (“we were doing well – I even got a grand piano out of it”). They later returned to London and changed their sound to be more mainstream, resulting in their biggest success in 1985 with the popular single “Night Time” that reached No 11 and was certified gold. The album also featured the Top 20 hit “Love Like Blood.”
Walker situated his sound around a Gibson ES-295 hollow body electric guitar, saying: “When you find something that you express yourself through the best – something that is completely your sound – why would you use anything else?”
During a short break in the early 1990s, Walker joined forces with other musicians to create the industrial rock supergroup Murder, Inc. In 1992, their first album was recorded by Steve Albini. Walker also tried out for the band Faith No More, but according to their bassist Billy Gould, his strong personality overpowered the group. Although it wasn’t the right fit for Faith No More, Gould expressed that he wished it had worked out.
In the mid-1990s, Killing Joke reunited and resonated with the popular-industrial sound that they had helped create, resulting in their 1994 album Pandemonium reaching the UK Top 20 once again.
After releasing Democracy in 1996, the band took another break. During this time, Walker created a new group called the Damage Manual, which included Jah Wobble. In 2003, Killing Joke regrouped once again, this time with a self-titled album that featured Dave Grohl on drums, who had been a longtime fan. Many have pointed out similarities between the guitar riffs on Killing Joke’s “Eighties” and Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.”
Other admirers included Metallica, who covered The Wait; Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who called Walker’s guitar sound “really, really strong … really intense”; and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, who cited Walker as a key influence in a 2013 Guardian interview, heralding “this effortless playing producing a monstrous sound”.
In 2007, the original members of Killing Joke reunited and continued to play together. Their latest album, titled Pylon, was released in 2015 and reached the Top 20 charts.
Looking back on 2013 and examining what contributed to the band’s success, Walker expressed, “At the beginning of our career, performing live and recording in the studio were very similar processes. We would practice, write songs, set up microphones, and play. But now, if you’re not careful, you may not even see the drummer or the producer of the record. It’s all bits and pieces, cut-and-paste. It may sound impressive at first, but upon further listening, it lacks the human element. Imperfection is what adds magic to it.”
Tim Burgess of the Charlatans was among those paying tribute saying: “His guitar sound defined my youth.” Acclaimed illustrator Daniel Danger said Walker’s guitar sound evoked “the power of all endless worlds across all endless time dancing at once, an earthquake deeper than the combined existence of everything”.