Clay Walker's Texas Country
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Country star Clay Walker first topped the Billboard country singles chart in 1993 with “What’s It to You” and followed with his second consecutive No. 1 hit, “Live Until I Die.” Since then he’s placed 31 titles on Billboard’s singles chart including such additional chart toppers as “Dreaming with my Eyes Open,” “If I Could Make Living,” “This Woman and This Man,” and “Rumor Has It.” (The latter two songs each spent two weeks at the summit.) He’s enjoyed his share of success in record sales and has consistently been one of the busiest artists on the road. He’s scored four platinum-selling albums, signifying sales of a million units, and two gold albums, discs that sold over 500,0000 units.
After recording six albums for Giant Records, and one on RCA, Walker recently signed with Curb Records, bringing in acclaimed producer Keith Stegall for his new record. The cream of the Music Row songwriting community contributed their talents to Walker’s project, among them Rivers Rutherford, Doug Johnson, Brett James and Kim Williams. Walker also contributes two cuts himself.
The album also includes Walker’s first duet, a cover of the country classic “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” that he recorded with the late Freddy Fender, the country veteran who had a monster hit with the tune in the 1970s. Unlike some artists who record duets at different times and in different places, then edit their performances together, Walker and Fender got together at a Nashville studio to record “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” “
The session is one of the highlights in a career that began in Beaumont, Texas. Like Mark Chesnutt and Tracy Byrd, Walker made a name for himself on the competitive Texas honky tonk circuit before graduating to success on a national level. His smooth, evocative voice and energetic stage presence quickly established Walker as the latest Texas export to find national acclaim and a lengthy string of hits has followed. However, the Houston resident has never strayed far from his Texas roots or the Lone Star lifestyle. In fact, one of the accomplishments Walker is most proud of is having placed seventh in the cutting horse competition at the Houston Livestock Rodeo, the largest rodeo in the United States. He took the prize with his horse Maddie.
It’s an impressive feat, made even more special because Walker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago.
Swampland.com caught up with the country star for a little conversation about his new record and recording with the late Freddy Fender.
What it was like to work with Freddy Fender?
It was an honor to work with an icon in country music like Freddy because I grew up with listening to him “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” and then I called him and asked him if he would sing with me on our new CD with that song. He said he would have to think about it because that was his signature song. Later he called me and said he was coming to Nashville. It was such an honor to be in the studio with him and to watch him work his magic. He was funny and lighthearted, but you definitely knew he was in charge. "Before The Next Teardrop Falls" was his song and always will be and I was honored to be a part of his legacy.
That is very cool. With this being your first album on Curb Records, what is it like working with those folks?
You know, when an artist is on a record label you hope to have some sort of a professional family atmosphere. I think the Curb folks are really cool. They have their way of doing things and they get it done.
You have a very talented producer on this record. Tell us about Keith Stegall.
Keith is known for making records that are stripped down. That’s the kind of record I wanted to make. I got that and then some. He was a great producer. I like the way my voice sounds on the record, how the musicians sound, and I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite records I have ever made.
You got very involved in the MS cause and I did not know that you were diagnosed with the disease in 1996. How are you doing?
I am doing very well. When I was first diagnosed I was terrified. I am blessed that I did not have devastation in my life either emotionally or physically. It does do that to a lot of people and it sucks. I see these people out there that are hurting from this disease and I just ask myself what can I do to improve it. I would like to help raise awareness and a cure for it.
Don’t you have a website about that if people would like to check it out?
Absolutely, it’s called bandagainstms.org.
What is MS exactly?
It is a disease of the nervous system which can affect people and put them in wheelchairs. It can be devastating, but I have been able to control it through my faith and a drug called Copaxone that I have been taking. It’s been a lifesaver.
We are glad that you are still out there kicking!
You have had 31 songs in the top country charts and 6 number ones and can you tell me how you felt the first time you had your first number one hit?
To be honest I got misty eyed over it and I could not believe it. It is starting to sink in pretty good now. (Laughs)
After hearing your new single, it looks like "Fore She Was a Momma" might be your next number one record.
I hope so.
Tell me about your rodeo involvement...
I have always been a rodeo fan and lived on a ranch. I have always been a cowboy. It’s neat because it fits into my lifestyle with country music. We've got the Houston Rodeo here in Houston and it’s the largest in the United States, and I get to play there ever year. It’s a great experience and phenomenal to come home and do this. I never take it for granted.
Are you from Texas?
Ah, near Port Arthur- where Johnny and Edgar Winter are from, not to mention Janis Joplin, right?
Yes. It's a great area and there are a lot of great musicians.
We spent the turn of the millennium out there. They had an Edgar Winter White Trash reunion and I got to jam with Jerry LaCroix.
Jerry is incredible and I was just getting ready to mention him. You can’t mention any of them without mentioning him.
What a voice he has...
Did you have any major musical influences coming up?
Well, I didn’t have too many of them that were direct. I loved Bob Seger and George Strait, because my Mom and Dad were on opposite ends of the spectrum as to what they listened to. I have always had a bluesy side to me that stands out on any ballad that we do.
I write a lot about Southern Rock here at swampland.com. Did you have any Southern Rock influences?
Oh God yes, Marshall Tucker is a big one - and you can’t live in the South without doing some Skynyrd. I will always have that side that I like to listen to. When I rock it tends to be a little more Southern Rock. That’s my M.O.
What about a couple of real highlights of your career that stick out more than others?
I guess when I got on stage with Haggard in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I got on stage with him and that was a big night for me. Hanging out with him on the bus later for 3-4 hours. The Freddy Fender duet was a big thing. Also something that really touched me a lot was writing the theme song for the Houston Texans. One thing was when I played for the inauguration and President Bush thanked me on national TV. How many people get a thanks from the President, you know?
What’s coming up next?
We're getting this album out on March 13, then backing it up on the road. Making sure that my band is okay to go is a large thing.
We are all looking for this to happen. If you get anywhere near me I will be there.
Our show looks a lot like a Southern Rock show. We do some ZZ Top, and some Skynyrd- it’s just very diverse.
Visit Clay's website