As one of the most popular Country acts in the ‘90s and early 2000s, Clay Walker made a name for himself with hits like “If I Can Make a Living,” “What’s It to You,” and “Live Until I Die.” Walker’s timeless voice and songs continue to propel his longstanding career as he releases his new album Texas To Tennessee.
The Texas native found a second place to call home when he planted roots in Nashville after Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, TX in 2008, displacing him and his wife. While he had spent time in Music City throughout his music career, the hurricane led to Walker and his wife moving to the hills outside of Nashville. Walker now considers both states home, making for a fitting album title to mark that journey and affinity to both states.
This album was a special one for Walker, who credits his co-writers, producers Michael Knox and Jaron Boyer, and entire team for the unique collaborative and cohesive process he experienced while making the album.
“I’ve never had so much fun cutting a record or got done with it and said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s never going to be any better than that’ and that’s the way I felt when we got finished with this,” he explains during an interview with Sounds Like Nashville. “I didn’t want the process to end, that’s how much I enjoyed it.”
When it came time to record Texas To Tennessee, it was far from the traditional process of recording in a Nashville studio. Walker went a different route by recording the album in Texas. “We made a vocal booth in the house. It was a makeshift [booth],” he says with a laugh. “We had all this foam and blankets and chairs stacked up on top of each other. It literally looked like a garage band trying to record something.”
The album is driven by Walker’s iconic Country sound and smooth voice that made him such a fixture of the genre, but with some elements of the current Country sound woven in. To Walker, keeping his core Country sound that was so prevalent in the ‘90s and 2000s will always be part of him because it is in his voice and who he is. He celebrates how there is so much to be honored in past generations of Country Music, but acknowledges that it is the natural course of music to evolve and change over time.
“Well, I think we kind of skirted the edge of some of the modern stuff with a couple of loops and different things [on this record],” says Walker. “Music has to change. It can’t stay the same. From the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, Country Music sounded much, much different than it did in the ‘90s. The ‘90s was probably the culmination of the greatest of all years because it had so many influences to look back on. You had the Bakersfield sound, the Outlaw sound, you had the real traditional sound of the ’70s and ‘80s too to look at. You had so much to pull from to create the ‘90s. And I hear all these people talking about it and that was it, you know, we had a stacked deck. I think what I’ve been pretty surprised by is the lack of looking at the ‘90s as a platform to springboard off of and just taking it in an entirely different direction altogether.”
He credits Country powerhouse Luke Combs as an artist who very much acknowledges the ‘90s-2000s era of Country Music as an influence for his own music.
“I think what we saw with some of the newer artists like Luke Combs, is that we saw that hey you can’t bypass the foundation, you’ve got to go back and grab a piece of that,” he says. “I think that because I am an artist that was from the ‘90s and 2000s, that I already had that and so that’s what you see in this record. I think that’s going to be recognized by the fans and be appreciated. But at the same time, it’s got enough of the new elements that I think it’ll be viable at radio and everywhere else.”
This feel-good album is the perfect soundtrack for backroad summer driving. Songs like “Cowboy Loves A Woman,” “Countryside,” and “Anything To Do With You” hook listeners in immediately with Walker’s signature sound and have all of the best characteristics of early 2000s Country style.
One song in particular that Walker acknowledges as his favorite on the album is the nostalgic “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory,” whom he credits the legendary Keith Whitley for inspiring the title.
“As soon as the music starts, just the first words, the first line, you’re already there,” he says of the song. “It just takes you right where the song is. There’s some, I use the word magic because it doesn’t happen all the time, but there is some magic in these songs that I’ve just never seen it happen quite like that, this one in particular. I was a big Keith Whitley fan growing up and he had a song called ‘Between an Old Memory and Me’ and I kind of borrowed from that idea to get this title. I hope he doesn’t mind too much. I think he’s probably smiling down on us.”
The album is sprinkled with some classic drinking songs that the genre is known for, but crafted in such a way that they serve as a common denominator and connector of people. The catchy “Need A Bar Sometimes” was the first song written for the album and the only song that was written over Zoom, which consequently indirectly led to the song and title. If the song had been written in person, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t have told the same story.
“[During the Zoom songwriting session] we were all talking and I was having these latency problems with my internet, so my screen would freeze, etc.,” remembers Walker. “I think it was me that just said ‘Hey, I wish we were sitting down at a bar with a couple of cold beers, just talking about life and coming up with a title.’ We all decided, you know, that we all need a bar sometimes…” The song has been a crowd favorite at shows as Walker has been on the road this summer touring the country. “You can’t believe the amount of people singing this song at the concert already,” he shares. “It’s really stunning that it would catch on that early.”
Another stand-out track is the high energy groove “One More” that was influenced by the vibe and feeling Walker gets when listening to iconic songs “Drink In My Hand” by Eric Church and David Lee Murphy’s “Dust On The Bottle.” When explaining his love of these songs and their energy to one of his producers, Knox decided to call on Murphy himself to co-write with Walker and Justin Weaver and “One More” was born.
“…I think that that’s going to be the song that we end our entire night with every night, just ‘cause it’s saying ‘One more, we want to hear one more. We want one more drink, we want one more.’”
What’s Walker’s go-to drink when he’s ordering one more? “You know, I’m a bourbon guy. I like a good bourbon and I typically don’t want just one…” he laughs.
Walker is excited for this to be his first album released under his new label family, Show Dog Nashville, which is owned by none other than Country artist, Toby Keith.
“It’s the most personal experience I’ve ever had. Toby Keith owns the record label… Toby’s a business guy. I mean, I’ve never met an artist that’s a better businessperson than him. So, I’m honored and flattered that they’re giving me a shot and backing it up with the dollars. They believe in the sound and they believe in what’s there and the content of it and you can’t ask more than that out of a record label…”
With the album now out in the world, Walker is looking forward to seeing how it is received by fans. With some of the songs pre-released ahead of the full album, he’s already witnessed fans connecting with the songs at shows. Audiences are more excited than ever to be back experiencing live music and Walker feels like he’s reemerged back at the top of his game, as he moves forward in this next chapter of his career.
“Well, we had a sold-out show in The Woodlands, Texas Friday night and there was an electricity in the audience that I would say I would compare it to probably my peak of entertaining,” exclaims Walker. “I felt it all over again, it was there. The other cool thing was the radio station was there, my manager was there, my agent was there, my family was there, and you know there’s not very many moments in an entertainer’s life where they can say ‘Okay, that’s the best I can ever do in my life. It’s not going to get any better than that right there’ and I got to leave the stage with that feeling. You only do that probably three or four times in your whole life and I’ve had a long career, so it was one of those and the audience stood up on the first song and they never sat down. It just never stopped. You think that they would get tired and maybe sit down on a ballad or something, no one even sat down on a ballad. It was just electric.”
While he found joy in more family time and a different pace of life this past year, Walker is more excited than ever to be doing what he loves most: playing live music for the fans that have been there through the years and connecting with the new ones who are just discovering his catalog.
“I really think that you’ve got to see the silver lining in things and for me as a dad, I got to spend a lot more time with my kids and really got to concentrate on a lot of things that get overlooked or don’t get very much attention when you’re on the road touring,” he says of the past year. “But now that things have opened back up, I realize how much I have missed the fans. I think I speak for most entertainers and that is, you never got in this for the money. There wasn’t any money in the beginning, there never is. You do it because you love it so much. You love singing and bringing joy to people and that’s the goal to me is you bring joy to people’s lives, and it just gets reciprocated right back to you and sometimes you even feel it more than they do.”