"The things to me that last are things that are real," Clay Walker says. "Realness is what draws people in."
Keeping things real has been a priority for Clay Walker. That may be why on his new album, She Won't Be Lonely Long, his second for Curb Records, Walker sounds as fresh and hungry as he did when he released his first hit, "What's It To You," 17 years ago.
And there have been plenty since. Of his nine previous albums, four are RIAA-certified platinum, two more are certified gold; among nearly three dozen singles, 11 have been No. 1. But Walker sounds like he's just getting started.
Like his 2007 Curb Records debut, Fall, Walker's new album, She Won't Be Lonely Long, was produced by Keith Stegall. The collection of songs is solid and includes a cover of Alabama's immortal "Feels So Right," with Randy Owen, the writer of the song and famed Alabama lead singer, performing it as a duet with Walker.
It has special meaning for the singer, since the first concert he ever saw was an Alabama show in Beaumont, Texas, that Walker's mother took him to see. "I remember them taking the stage, and the emotion that came over my mom. I just fell in love with their performance, as entertainers, they influenced my wanting to become an entertainer; I think that's where the energy of my live show comes from. So the song has a special place in my life, and I'm proud to do it."
The album's first single is "She Won't Be Lonely Long," written by Galen Griffin, Phil O'Donnell and Doug Johnson. But the story, about a woman walking into a club with the decisive purpose of finding at least a temporary replacement for the fool who let her go, is one Walker has seen transpire from many a bandstand.
"I've played in bars my whole life," he says. "As a singer, you have a bird's eye view of everyone in the club. When a good looking woman walks in, you notice it. What makes it so real is that if a guy does a girl wrong, the first thing she wants to do is go out, look great, show him that you're not the best I ever had, I'm the best YOU ever had."
Three of the tunes were written with longtime writing sidekick M. Jason Greene, who like Walker, grew up in the Beaumont area. "Summertime Song" is an easygoing pleasure, a song that began taking shape years ago when Walker was performing a solo gig and Greene bartending at a local Steak and Ale. It's a song that evokes good times, good friends, and the dangers of forgetting what the merciless sun can do to your skin on Galveston Beach.
Two of Walker's new compositions are likely to stir conversation and perhaps controversy: "Double Shot of John Wayne" and "All American." Walker makes it clear that the John Wayne reference in that roaring up-tempo song is not an embrace of machismo or a desire to return to simpler, more violent Western past, when men were men and settled disputes with six-guns at high noon. What inspired it was a nasty accident on a bike during an exercise stretch off the tour bus in Flagstaff, Arizona, a few years ago. "I shattered my helmet, I was bleeding from head to toe," Walker said. "I had to go onstage that night, I never missed show." Putting ointment on his torn skin made Walker ponder "the ruggedness of men," as epitomized by John Wayne. "It's not supposed to be about John Wayne, his tough persona, or being a man's man," he says. "It's about how you live, not how you die; you don't have to die to be a hero; being a hero is how you live every day."
"All American" is an attempt to quiet the dissonance and mutual disrespect that has characterized too much political discussion in recent years. As the song makes clear, "there's blue collar, white collar, but we all bleed red." The song is a rebuke to the racism Walker says he was exposed to growing up. "It's about not being prejudiced or judgmental," Walker says. In the song, Walker sings about having "a best friend with a funny last name/and a weird accent/and now he's an astronaut." Says Walker: "You can succeed in this country with a great work ethic, I really believe that. Everybody deserves a fair chance. Not everybody seizes it, but everybody deserves it."
A number of songs written by some of Music City's finest allow Walker to cut loose as one of the finest voices in country music. "Keep Me From Loving You" is one of the songs that has what Walker describes as "a real country soulfulness." Though he didn't write it, he identified strongly with the story of parents who disapprove of the young man their daughter is dating. "I dated a girl in high school whose mother and father didn't like me," Walker said. "I never understood why they looked down on me. The song is bluesy and soulful; it gives me a chance to stretch out vocally. I've been blessed with the ability to stretch out with a kind of R&B style and still keep my country roots. I cut it a half step [octave] too high so I could express more vulnerability. I wanted to give this everything I had, the monitors were on fire by the time I was finished."
Another track with the same soulful intensity is, "Where Do I Go From You." "Out of all the songs I've recorded since "What's It To You," my first record, this has that youthful energy I had on that first song. Production-wise it's as modern as anything I've ever done. I'm pretty much considered a new traditionalist, but I do have R&B and pop roots mixed in."
"Sometimes I Feel Like Jesse James" kicks it up even a notch higher: It's the most fired up country rock'n'roll Walker has ever recorded. "Sometimes I feel like Jesus, sometimes I feel like Jesse James," the refrain goes. Walker explains: "It's like when Tim McGraw sang, I may be a real bad boy, but baby, I'm a real good man.' I think most men are in that spot. It also reminds me of Tombstone,' with Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell, which is one of my favorite moviesI ad-libbed some lines from it at the end of the song." Walker recalls that the first time he played it for his oldest daughter, MaClay, she said, "Dad, all the hairs on my arms are standing up." Clay also has a daughter Skylor, and a son, William.