Amazing Possibilities!

The Clay Walker Interview with Matthew Kelly




Matthew Kelly:

Welcome. I'm Matthew Kelly. I'm here with country music legend Clay Walker. Clay, thank you. It's great to be with you. We appreciate you coming to be with us. I got some serious questions to get started. How much coffee do you drink each day?


Clay Walker:

Three or four cups.


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah?


Clay Walker:

Two in the morning. Two in the afternoon.


Matthew Kelly:

Doesn't keep you awake at night?


Clay Walker:

I like coffee.


Matthew Kelly:

All right. Very good. Second serious question. Favorite movie?


Clay Walker:

Oh, that's easy, Tombstone.


Matthew Kelly:

Tombstone?


Clay Walker:

I love those cowboy movies.


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah. What do you love about Tombstone?


Clay Walker:

It's quick and witty, quotable. A lot of my friends know the lines. "I'm your huckleberry, you're no Daisy," just funny lines that always stick and make for good humor.


Matthew Kelly:

Excellent. Favorite city in the world to play a concert?


Clay Walker:

That's tough. I would say Houston at the Woodlands in particular, we just did it. We started our tour off this year. The show there, it was sold out and pandemonium and it's always great to see a lot of bodies in the seats and see them enjoying. There's lots of places I love playing. We were in Kansas City last night and that was a phenomenal show. So there's all over, but Houston, just because it is home.


Matthew Kelly:

Does it matter more who you're with then where you're at? Does the crowd make the concert?


Clay Walker:

There's always a, either to me, what makes a great show is when the energy of the audience matches the energy of the entertainer. And you can go out sometimes and you know that you're having a phenomenal show vocally, singing great, the bands playing great. And then the crowd is just kind of there. But I always look at it like an elephant, you don't just try to move them all at once, you just take your time. And, I can say that there's been very few concerts in my life that didn't end up where I wanted them to by the last song.


Matthew Kelly:

Fantastic. Favorite city in the world to visit for vacation.


Clay Walker:

I like Rome and I've only been there once, but we were there for a couple of weeks and that was an incredible experience. But here in the states, I would say that I really like San Antonio. It's got all the charm to it, the river walk, food, people, language. You can speak Spanish there, which I love Spanish. And I just really like the feel of San Antonio.


Matthew Kelly:

You grew up in Texas, what was life like as a child?


Clay Walker:

Life as a child was, as I look back now the innocence of it was I think we all miss that as adults. I like to say that I might grow, but I'll never grow up. I grew up as a child on a ranch or farm that was passed down in my family for generations and generations. And there's, I take a lot of pride in that. We were poor. We worked for everything that we got. I tease my kids that I grew up hunting because we had to. We killed whatever we ate and that might be a squirrel, it might be a raccoon. My kids look at me like, I mean with tears in their eyes, a raccoon? Really dad? But there's something to be said for feeling hungry, and my kids will most likely never experience that, but I look back and relish how I grew up that we had to learn how to survive and that's good.


Matthew Kelly:

When you were nine years old, you got your first guitar. What do you remember about that?


Clay Walker:

My dad as early as I can remember played guitar and sang, and all of my aunts and uncles, they all played instruments and would sing, I just thought everybody did that. And I wanted my dad to teach me how to play guitar. And so at age nine, he bought me this Catalina guitar. This thing was a piece of junk. And the strings were so far off of the neck that I could barely press them down. Then later on in life, I'd asked my dad why would he give me a guitar like that? He said, "Because I knew that if you really wanted it bad enough, that you would realize that there's pain in it." And he ended up buying me a great guitar later. But it was a moment for me, that getting that first guitar. It was like getting your first horse or first, get your first car. It was exciting, but that was just the beginning, there was a lot of work that went into becoming a musician.


Matthew Kelly:

When did you first think, that's what I want to do with my life?


Clay Walker:

When I was 15 years old. I was in this talent contest at South Park High School in Beaumont, Texas. And I had the choice of either doing this country song by John Conlee called Rose Colored Glasses, or this song by Lionel Richie called All Night Long, which is a huge Lionel Richie song. And my dad was a stone cold country singer. I mean, he believed in two kinds of music, Country and Western, and that's all we listened to in the truck. It's just the way I grew up. But I tried different genres, especially Lionel Richie, I love Lionel Richie. So I sang all night at this, predominantly African-American high school. And I learned something about myself, that I wanted to please the audience in front of me. I wasn't just doing it for me.


Clay Walker:

There was this deep desire to please the people in front of me. And so I did this song and the crowd was going bezerko. I mean, standing up yelling, screaming in the middle of the song. I mean, it was, it literally was like, I could feel, my only time I've ever had stage fright was that night when I first started out I was having stage fright. Never have I had it since. The audience cured me of that. Would replace the stage fright with this voracious appetite to please and become an entertainer. And I knew that night and I was 14 or 15 and that this is what I was going to do this my life.


Matthew Kelly:

So 17, you go to Nashville, but between that night and going to Nashville, what did you do to set that up? Or what are the steps you took toward that dream?


Clay Walker:

I think there's a misperception a lot of times, and rightly so, of the public. Even myself, of what is the protocol for trying to have a career in the music business or an entertainment business? And there's no exact way, but Nashville was and still is the hub of, if you're going to be a big time country singer, you can't bypass Nashville., It's the gatekeeper. And when I went the first time I was 17. I'd been playing all the way up from 15 to 17. I was playing every spot that would let me play for free. For free. I just wanted to go in and sing in front of people. And I started writing songs and I ended up liking writing songs more than I liked singing.


Clay Walker:

And there was just this, I don't know, it's a wonderful comfort, if you will, to know what you were born to do. And you know that you're in that spot, the right spot. And it is a gift, the talent is a gift, but it will not propel you to where you want to get, you have to put in the work, you got to put in the time. And I had done that and I went to Nashville and got rejected by every label in town. Nobody thought I wasn't good enough to make it. And what did that do to me?


Clay Walker:

It's like chasing the girl that tells you no a lot, you just keep chasing and finally, she's going to give you a shot. And I remember reading a quote by Willie Nelson who didn't make it until he was like 40. And he said, "If you keep knocking on the door, eventually someone's going to answer." And so I just kept honing what I was doing, my writing skills, my performance skills. And one day a producer walked into a bar I was playing in and he was producing Clint Black, Charlie Daniels, a group called Little Tech, Kenny Rogers, he had tons of acts and he walked up to me and he said, "I want you to come to Nashville and I want to make a record with you." And two weeks later, I was in Nashville making a record.


Matthew Kelly:

And where was that? Where were you playing that night when he came to see you?


Clay Walker:

I was playing in this club called the Neon Armadillo in Beaumont. And there were two other country music acts, Mark Chestnut and Tracy Byrd who had already gotten record deals. And we were competing against that club, country music is really alive and well in Beaumont, Texas in the late '80s and '90s. And my bass player at the time said, he said, this is before the producer walked in, my bass player at the time said, "You know, they say lightning never strikes twice in the same place," he goes, "But I think it's about the strike three times."


Clay Walker:

And it wasn't very long after that. When James Stroud that producer, the biggest producer in Nashville at that time walked in and said, what he said, "He listened to me play some songs." And literally two weeks later I was in Nashville and we were recording my very first album.


Matthew Kelly:

How long between the first visit to Nashville at 17 and this second trip to Nashville to record?


Clay Walker:

It was five years.


Matthew Kelly:

Okay.


Clay Walker:

It was five years later that I'd been rejected by all the folks in Nashville that this happened. And my mom and dad begged me to go to college. I graduated high school at 17, and I told my mom and dad that if they would just ease up and give me four years, let me have four years trying to make it in the music business. If I don't, I will, I promise you I'll go to college. Because no one in my family much less, I mean, not just my immediate family, but no one carrying the Walker name had ever been to college. And they wanted to see that happen. And it didn't happen. But in that fourth year, we started to see the traction, getting attention. And then in year five that was, look I went one year over, what can I say?


Matthew Kelly:

So first trip to Nashville, you're 17. You got no money. You're sleeping in your car. It doesn't work out. You're driving back to Texas. What's that drive like, what are you thinking?


Clay Walker:

Defeat. Totally. I was destroyed. I mean, I won't lie to you. I was, it was, the journey was, to Nashville. I was driving, I left Beaumont in the middle of the night, I ended up in Nacogdoches Texas, about two o'clock in the morning. And I got pulled over for an expired inspection sticker on my car. And the police officer pulled me over and he saw my guitar in the back of my seat there. And he said, "Where are you going?" I said, "I'm going to Nashville. He said, "You've been drinking." I said, "No, sir." And he said, "I play fiddle." I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah." He said, "I'll tell you what," he said, "I won't write you up. If you'll come back to the police station and pick with me a little bit." And I said, "Okay." I didn't have any money to pay a ticket anyway.


Clay Walker:

So we go back to the police station. And he gets his fiddle out. I get my guitar out. We played for about 30 minutes. And he said, "Well, good luck." I went to Nashville. I was there two days sleeping in my car. And went around to all the labels, took my little tape into all of them. And only one of them actually said, "I think there's something here, but it's nowhere close, you're going to have to work a lot harder." And I left and I drove back through Nacogdoches and stopped off at the police station and I asked that cop to be in my band and he joined my band.


Matthew Kelly:

Really?


Clay Walker:

That's the way music works. It really is. It really unites people. And now we've got a lot of stories that music has contributed, it's been a great journey.


Matthew Kelly:

So your family was a huge influence in your music, who we were other influences, who were the people you looked up to, musical heroes?


Clay Walker:

I have a lot of the musical influences and icons, that really helped me be who I am as an artist. And none more than probably George Strait. I don't know him that well, I did tour with him a couple of years, but he just, it wasn't just his voice, which his voice is phenomenal. It was his ability to be a complete artist. He knows who he is. He knew that from the very onset of his career, and he knew how to pick songs. He knew his audience and he knew what was authentic to himself. And I'm still trying to be that good. He's always been that good at doing that. And I learned just by observation, but I would say that most, the most influential person would be George Strait, but I've loved people like Bob Seger, Lionel Richie, Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard to me is the greatest singer of all time. I mean, I wouldn't want to emulate his rough lifestyle, but definitely the greatest singer that ever lived.


Matthew Kelly:

I've heard artists like Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw describe your voice as one of the purest in the industry. When did you realize that you had that sort of gift?


Clay Walker:

I was just having this conversation with my daughter this morning and, I wasn't really what I would say a great singer until the last few years. I say that with confidence that I wanted to learn how to get better. And at our church, there was a Christmas concert being put on about seven years ago. And I was asked by the pastor to sing in it. So I said, "Yes, of course." And I went to the choir room and there was 25 people in there who sing in the choir. All of them sing better than I do, and I'm not being humble. I was flabbergasted at the control that they had, and the power, and just the ease that they sang with. And when it came on, turned to sing, I actually felt nervous.


Clay Walker:

And after this exercise of being in there, seeing what songs we were going to sing, I singled out a lady that seemed to be helping others with some certain warmups and things. And I asked her, her name was Margaret Rose. I said, "Miss Margaret," I said, "I need to ask you something." I said, "Is there any way you could teach me to do what they have?" She goes, "Yeah." So we worked together for, we've been working together for four or five years. And now I can go out and do 10 shows in a row and never get tired and have this control and stuff.


Clay Walker:

I'm always flattered by someone who thinks that I sing good. And especially somebody like the guys you named Garth Brooks or Tim, and it's, those are two of my favorite individuals, by the way. They're very humble, we're not best friends by any means, but they know who I am, I know who they are. And they're really great people.


Matthew Kelly:

So when you've got a gift like that, what sort of responsibility do you feel around protecting the gift, exercising the gift, sharing the gift?


Clay Walker:

I pass on information. I would say if I'm good at something in particular, it would be having information that can bless people's lives, and try to deliver it in the shortest amount of time that you can, because people don't want to hear a lecture. I'm always available I would say to anyone, that's seeking some information that I have and taking care of my voice that, it's taken me my whole career to learn how to do it right. And I only want to get better at it.


Clay Walker:

And I feel the same way about, a few different things that I'm very passionate about. Don't like wasting time. I hate the fact that we're all going to die, not trying to be morbid, but I just wish there was enough even more and more time to learn, to be better at the things that I love. And I'm constantly, constantly seeking to do that.


Matthew Kelly:

So you release your first album. It's mega, it's huge, triple platinum, three number one hits. What was that like?


Clay Walker:

I still feel so excited when one of my songs comes on the radio. It's not ego. It's the greatest joy that happens because I know that I'm listening to it. Somebody else is hearing it too. It's on the radio, whatever area that I'm in, they're hearing it too. And they're having memories with that song, they grew up with it or they're just learning it, but I still cannot believe how fast the time has gone. I still can't believe that I've had that kind of success if you want to call it. That just sounds like such an ugly word, success. I can't believe that all that's happened because I still feel like a kid that's still trying to make it I really do. And I never have even remotely thought of myself in the same breath as some of the other singers out there, some of the ones you've named, I still don't think of myself like that. And I hope I never do.


Matthew Kelly:

But you have this huge year, you released your first album, it's enormous, three number one hits, you get named Best New Male Artist. What was that like?


Clay Walker:

Trying to find out why you do something, is I think a big part of, the why is important. Whenever my first, the first song I had written that went, number one was the song called Live Until I Die. And I wrote that song for my grandmother, that's the way I grew up. Muddy roads, muddy feet. I didn't live on the blacktop street, every line of that is my autobiography.


Clay Walker:

And when I got my first check for writing that song, it was an enormous amount of money. I thought that a mistake had been made because I was still poor. I still didn't have any money because I was just trying to make it. And that song had gone number one. And the first time that I got, went to the mailbox and that check was in there, I opened it up and I just was like, I literally thought someone made a very gross error.


Clay Walker:

And I called my agent. I said, "Hey," I said, "I got this check." And I said, "I'm really nervous about it." I was even looking over my shoulder. And he said, "How much is it?" And now I told him how much it was. He goes, "Oh yeah." He goes, "There's a lot more coming then that." I was just, I couldn't believe it. But first thing it did was I bought my grandmother a house. I built my grandmother a home because, we very humble beginnings. We lived in a house that she and my grandfather paid $20 for right out of the depression. So it was a moment.


Matthew Kelly:

You mentioned your grandmother, she played an enormous role in your life. What is one of your fondest memories of her?


Clay Walker:

I have so many memories with my grandmother. She, her name was Mary Elizabeth, I named by my daughter after her, Mary Elizabeth, but she was the greatest human being that I've ever known. And she was a saint. She raised kids, my dad was one of them who put her through hell, literally. She lost her husband when she was 40. She never dated, never remarried. And she loved me. I mean, I knew that I was her favorite, but I think all of her grandkids thought that they were her favorite, but I knew I was.


Clay Walker:

Some of my greatest memories with her and there's too many to count, but would be feeding chickens. She loved her chickens and she'd throw the scratch out, and I was just, I was three or four, and she loved me so much and she loved roses. And she had these roses that were called seven sisters. And she taught me how to trim them back.


Clay Walker:

Her Blackberry cobbler, I would go pick blackberries and bring them back to the house. And she would make Blackberry cobbler. And the smell of it to this day is seriously, probably the greatest smell to me on earth because it gets all those memories come flooding back of being at her table or sitting by her rocking chair. I'd sit on the floor and I'd sing and she would cry when I would sing. I would sing this song called Sunshine on my Shoulders. And she would just say, "Please, don't sing that I'm crying now." And I would just sing it that much more. I was only four or five, but now that I look at it, it just, yeah, it brings back a flood of memories. She was a great lady.


Matthew Kelly:

She gave you the name Clay.


Clay Walker:

She did. There was a movie called Spencer's Mountain. One of the main actors on it name was Clay Boy. And so to my whole family, to this day, they call me Clay Boy. And it used to embarrass me to no end in school, because all my cousins would call me Clay Boy. And I hated it. I just, I would just cringe, but now I kind of like it.


Matthew Kelly:

Talked a lot about memories. You spoke about how people come to concerts and songs stir memories in them. Some songs take us into the past. Some songs take us into the future. Some songs pull off both. I think Live Until I Die is one of those songs. You spoke about it, being biographical, telling your story, but it is also very much forward facing. When you record a song like that do you know that you've got a hit?


Clay Walker:

I didn't know how special that song was going to be at the time. I think the most flattering thing that ever happened with that song was in school, I hated school, hated math, but I loved creative writing and I flourished in that. And after I wrote the song Live Until I Die, there was a high school in Beaumont, Texas that used that song as a model for creative writing, they had it up on the board.


Clay Walker:

And when I found that out, it was the most flattering thing that I think I, to this day, I don't think anything will ever come close to the way that made me feel, was that a teacher who taught creative writing used that as the model. And, I learned in school, writing essays, a thesis, that the thesis was, it was real important that every line in the paragraphs pointed to that thesis, and that's the same, that is what songwriting is.


Clay Walker:

You find the hook of the song and every line should point right at it. And no matter how cool it sounds, if it doesn't point at it, it has to go. And through a lot of trial and error, I was able to formulate, get to that point of being able to write it. When I wrote that song, the foundation's already in there, but I didn't write that song going, "Oh, I need to make this line, do this or that." It just came out of me in the form that it needed to be in. And I look back on it and go, I was only 17 when I wrote that song and I go, "How the hell did I do that?"


Clay Walker:

It just it's crazy, but very blessed to have a good teacher, first of all in school that taught me how to, the form creative writing, but then very blessed from above to have those words come out on that paper.


Matthew Kelly:

So when you're first touring with your first album, the crowds getting bigger and bigger and bigger, what does that feel like?


Clay Walker:

Well, I remember, I guess this is kind of an egotistical moment, but why not just be honest. I was doing a show with the big superstar and not George Strait, but I was doing this show and it was the only show I ever did with this guy. And he had one of the biggest songs of all time at this moment. And I had just had What's it to You, and Live Until I Die. And I came out on stage and I opened for the guy.


Clay Walker:

And I came out on stage and I opened for the guy and there was probably 15,000 people there and I left the stage and while he was on stage singing his gigantic, ginormous, smash monster of a hit, people were chanting, "We want Clay!" and I was embarrassed, I was on the bus and I thought that's what I was hearing, but it was that moment of, "Hey, I've arrived", and it was kind of… sometimes when I hear, or when we're in the Bible, and you hear Jesus and he's going on the donkey or the colt and it's Palm Sunday, and people are chanting and somebody said something to him and he goes, "I'll tell you what if they weren't chanting, these rocks would cry out."


Clay Walker:

And it was kind of like that moment only unlike Jesus, I think I had an egotistical moment. Very unflattering.. But I think also it's important to tell the truth, and I wouldn't even call this an interview, just call this a moment between two friends, you and I talking, and that's more refreshing to me then, I'd rather hear an artist just tell the truth rather than trying to be as everybody and make it sound all polished.


Matthew Kelly:

What is the mood on the bus before a show and what is the mood on the bus after the show?


Clay Walker:

I think you could ask any of the guys individually and separately, and they would all say this I've been to the Kentucky Derby a couple of times, and I've actually gotten to go down on the track and walk the horse up to the gate. I didn't hold the horse, but I was there when they were walking the horse into the shoot to get ready for the Kentucky Derby. And I'm watching one horse walk in gate close, and another horse walk in, and I mean, I'm starting to get chill bumps just talking about it right now. There is an energy, and you can see these horses, their whole demeanor changes when they get in that gate, it's like this, they are alive. I mean, you can see the blood pumping through their veins and you can see these jockeys just getting in because they know that it is going to be an explosion that come out of that gate.


Clay Walker:

That's exactly what it feels like before we step on stage. We have a routine just before we walk on, we all pray The Our Father, we get in a circle and I say to the guys, okay, let's be mindful of our sins. That's forgiveness, and I'll make some comment like, and I know there are many because I live with you and we will say The Our Father, and we'll put our hands in the center after the prayer and whatever city we're in, we come up with some name, right? Some slogan right there, like if we're in a city, just say Beaumont, we might say go big and Beaumont time, we always have a little say in it that we all break like a football team or something.


Clay Walker:

And when we start walking to that stage, I'm telling you, you can see the posture, everything changes. And when we come off stage, it's like a runner's high, there are all these endorphins that are kicked in and so much joy is had there, and there's an order to it. We practice hard soundchecks, we have a bandleader, we have all of the elements that you have to have for greatness, and we expect it, every night, every guy's looking at the other guy going do your damn part. I want mine to sound good, do your part, and there's this expectation, but we come off stage, we have this runners high, and it takes us several hours for that to kind of simmer down where you can sleep, people.


Clay Walker:

They think that musicians party all night that's why they stay up. That's not why they stay up. Musicians stay up because that high won't stop, it's just there and you got to let it settle down before your own melatonin can kick in and put you to sleep.


Matthew Kelly:

All these years on the road, on the bus, do you have a favorite memory? Funny moment? I know there's lots of funny moments every day, but do you have one that just comes to mind?


Clay Walker:

Ah, bus stories? You know what? I don't think so. I don't think there's anything in, particularly lets say what happens on the bus stays on the bus. We got to observe the code.


Matthew Kelly:

So if someone says to you, hey, what's it like on the bus? How would you describe it?


Clay Walker:

Bus life? And this is my wife, Jessica and her friends cannot believe what I'm about to say. On the bus there could be 12 guys on there, and not one word said for three or four hours. Now you couldn't put 12 chicks on the bus and no conversation.


Clay Walker:

My wife always says, "you are joking?" I go, no. Guys are just.. they have their own thoughts and I mean, of course there's conversation sometimes, but I'm saying you could literally go for hours and no one even saying anything, and it's not because it's depressing, it's actually relaxing. But I prefer to be on the bus asleep, at night and wake up in whatever town you're going to be in. But there's some truth to road warrior. You know the name road warriors, and it's not for everyone.


Clay Walker:

Now, there's a lot of great musicians out there who would never go on the road and it takes a special demeanor to be out there, and for us, if you're going to be out there with people, they got to be cool. They got to be good people. We don't have any a-holes on the road with this. You don't last in our group and we've got most of the guys who have been here 25 years, and there's a lot to be said for that because these guys are phenomenal musicians that could go play anywhere.


Clay Walker:

I think it's one of the reasons why we're still together this long as we all do have some common interests. One of those which is important is being the best musician and always trying to get better, knowing that there's an expectation. You want to be somewhere where someone understands how good you are. Our wives are not musicians. They may think the world of us, but they don't recognize those little nuances that makes you great, and I would say that overall, that is the main reason why we've been together. This whole.


Matthew Kelly:

You talk about the nuances. Roger Federer is better some days than other days, you take the best at anything and they're better some days and other days, sometimes they are the only ones that know, and they're able to say, "it's a little off my game today". What is it that tells you that?


Clay Walker:

There are times when I'll be warming up getting ready to go on stage, and I can feel that it might not be a hundred percent. It's rare, but I pray through it. I just tell God, look, I know that you gave me this voice and however you want it to sound the night that's how its going to sound and I really don't stress over it, and most nights it gets better, but you as an individual, and the guys around, to where we've been, we've been together long enough that we all can recognize that. But we pull together as a group stronger when we feel that, and we pull towards that individual, that is not having their best night, but very few people are going to notice that out in the audience.


Clay Walker:

But that's a rule that I set early on, and as a leader in, and I'll be honest, I don't have to lead these guys. They have a band leader in, but they're all accountable.


Clay Walker:

But one of the things I say, if there's ever a mistake made, there's only one unforgivable sin. That's if you clam up and go in a hole, I say you're telling everybody else in this band that I'm better than y'all and that shouldn't have made that mistake. I said, you make a mistake I want to see you smile, cause that should be funny because it's basically an anomaly, and so we have constantly bred goodness.


Clay Walker:

I heard a producer say this one time, he goes, "I really like a band that will give to the center", and I thought, is that just some hippie saying or something? No, I finally get it. Giving to the center means we're all going to give to what keeps us together, and that is the center, that's wishing- not just wishing, but for the good of the other, what's the word I'm looking for? It's not wishing, but hoping for the good of the other.


Matthew Kelly:

I've seen you sick as a dog, cold, and flu symptoms, and I'm thinking, there's no way this guy's going to perform tonight. You get out there on the stage. It's like a transformation that you're just like a different person. You do the show you're back on the bus, you're sick as a dog again. How does that happen?


Clay Walker:

Matthew I'll tell something crazy. I've never missed a show in 27 years. Actually, since I was 15, since I've been a known artist, I've never missed a show.


Matthew Kelly:

What drives that? There must've been times where you didn't want to do it, where you was sick, where you wanted to cancel for whatever reasons, what goes through your mind that prevents you from doing that?


Clay Walker:

The love of it, and I can honestly say that I love what I do more than anything else.


Matthew Kelly:

You talked about Live Until I Die, but you've had tons of hits, tons of albums. Is there one song that is more special to you than other songs?


Clay Walker:

Live Until I Die is more special to me because it is my autobiography. I mean I've written a lot of songs and all of them means something special, or they wouldn't have gotten written or they wouldn't have gotten recorded, but that was my humble beginning, and, every night that I do that on stage, I can still smell the Blight Break album.


Matthew Kelly:

What are some of the other songs that you just love performing?


Clay Walker:

I love singing the songs that have the big ranges, like This Woman, This Man, Our Fall, or even What's It To You. Those songs, they're not easy, and it's a challenge. There are a lot of songs that are kind of easy to sing but they're still great at that, I mean, how difficult they are or not to sing does not make a song, great. It's what's the message? And who loves it? How does it affect someone?


Clay Walker:

But for me, I love that challenge, and you got to rise to the occasion every night and there are speaking of nuances, I mean, I stretch my range out from the lowest note I can hit to the highest note I can hit, and it's kind of like stepping off on a hundred foot cliff and go, I know I'm going to jump off and there's water down there, but how am I going to land exactly? Am I going to do a belly flop and am I going to break the water just right? And that's what it is for me, and so those kinds of songs really get my juices flowing.


Matthew Kelly:

So writing music and performing music live touring, are two different universes. When it's time to write a new album, what is the process you go through?


Clay Walker:

There are some pieces of the process that are going to be the same for everyone, and then there're those flavors that you add to it, you'd call that authenticity. For me, everything starts with the song. It doesn't matter how good you're saying it doesn't matter if you sing like Celine Dion or you sing like Elvis or whoever you sing like.


Clay Walker:

You can take a great song, great and an average singer, and you can have a superstar. You can take a great singer and an average song and you have nothing, so the song is the most important piece. It's the message. It's the people that listen to music most of the time. They want to find themselves in that song, so I feel like by being a common person like I am, and the way I grew up, the way I still live, that I'm relatable, that, that I'm not writing from an ivory tower, now I'm writing with my boots down on the ground, so the writing piece of it is the most important part, and if you can't write them, then you need to find songs that do what I'm talking about, that speak to a person's heart.


Clay Walker:

And it's not about being clever. That doesn't get it, people feel and internalize things. Then the other important piece, and I think that this is just something that, and I'm going to use a big word here, ineffable, there are no words for this that really accurately describe it, but there is something in a singer's voice and what's going to make them famous. People listen, they hear this thing I'm talking about, and it hits their tuning fork just right. And that's when you have the magic and you can't fake that, you can't produce that into a song, it's either in that singer's voice… it's the only thing that will perpetuate an artist's career. You cannot have a long career without that piece, I'm talking about, you can have a big hit but you're going to disappear if you don't have that thing, longevity starts and ends with that unspeakable thing that hits that tuning fork in the individuals.


Matthew Kelly:

Okay. But you could have that and not have longevity, you're in an industry of one hit wonder.


Clay Walker:

Now the truth comes out!


Matthew Kelly:

And, but you've been at it for 30 years, three decades.


Clay Walker:

Yep.


Matthew Kelly:

In an industry of one hit wonders, every year we see people have one hit and we never hear from them ever again. Yes I believe there is a gift, but there to be other ingredients that go into an enduring career like that, what are those other ingredients?


Clay Walker:

Are we sure we want to see the wizard? It's the business part of it is, it's the unknown to the public. There are what we call king makers in every business, in politics and for music, it's much like politics. It is politics. There's a handful of gatekeepers or kingmakers in Nashville, and you're either in that circle or you're a one hit wonder.


Matthew Kelly:

What about the work ethic? What is the work ethic required to endure for three decades in an industry like this?


Clay Walker:

The work ethic, is you're either a workaholic in this business or you are gone. I mean you better have the appetite to work your A-double-S off because there's another guy or girl right behind you willing to do it and so you become a slave to the business, but we're all slaves to something, we all are.


Matthew Kelly:

Obsession is good.


Clay Walker:

Yeah! But you have to have a team. This is a team sport. This is not an individual sport, this isn't golf. This isn't tennis. This is a team sport and you better have every position filled, and it better be 18. When you see an artist who's risen to the top, you can bet that they have the best team in place, so that the artists can go do what they love doing.


Clay Walker:

You can't fake it to the audience. If I had to do all the stuff that my team does, there's no way I could deliver on stage, couldn't do it. There'd be too much stuff, too much fill in the coconut, and the team's got to know, I can't put that on the artist. But there's definitely minutiae everywhere and you have to have that the whole team, I mean I look at it like football, like American football. You got to have the quarterback, that's what I consider myself, the quarterback, Tom Brady. You got to have the quarterback, you got to have the coaching staff, you got to have the defensive line, the offensive line, you got to have all of it, and then you got to have the game plan, and then when that game plan is not working, you have to have plan B, and C, and B, you got to have all the plans and you got to execute them as well.


Matthew Kelly:

So you look back, there are some moments that change our lives forever and maybe we don't realize it at the time, but we look back and we realize that, and obviously, getting your first record contract, having your first number one, hit your first album, being enormous, being named best new male artist of the year, these are life changing moments. Are there other life changing moments you can look back and say, hmm, that moment, my life changed right there?


Clay Walker:

From a career standpoint, yes. When the producer walked in that night, James Stroud, when he walked in and heard me sing and he liked the original songs, Live Until I Die was one of those songs and getting that nod after being rejected by every label in Nashville, and then the biggest producer of the last decade comes in and says, "you're the guy!", my career launched like a rocket taking off. I mean you couldn't have stopped it with a freight train, no way, and he was the reason for that.


Clay Walker:

He knew what he was going to do with me in the studio. He knew he liked the songs I'd written. He found me, What's It To You which was a gigantic monster hit plenty out of the deal. But those, the first time I heard What's It To You on the radio, I was in Beaumont, I was driving in my truck and it came on the radio, I just pulled over and pulled over to the side of the road and had a moment, and I couldn't believe it, there I am, on the radio. It was like alive, you know?


Clay Walker:

And you can play a song on a CD or you stream it off of Spotify or Pandora, wherever you stream it, play in your car, it does not have the same sound as when it's coming through the radio. The radio has that. Some, some stuff they do, and it just sounds like there's a life to it, it's alive, and I still, to this day, I'd rather hear myself the radio than on one of those streaming services.


Matthew Kelly:

Every career has ups and downs. What advice would you have for someone who's at the peak of their career right now, in anything?


Clay Walker:

"What goes up must come down". There's no way you stay on top forever, you do have peaks and valleys or you have a peak and then just a valley. I've been through those peaks and valleys in my career and the valleys are tough. They really are, and sometimes you don't know if you're going to come back out of them. I've had a low in my career at radio where we haven't played on radio for almost a decade… at many new songs. And we have a new album out right now, and that album is called Texas To Tennessee, and it debuted number one on iTunes. That shocked me, that an artist that hasn't had a new hit in nearly a decade has an album that comes out and the new audiences buying it.


Clay Walker:

So my advice is don't give up if you do hit one of those valleys. You have the gift, find it, and don't listen to any naysayers, do what you do to the best of your ability that's why you're you made it in the first place.


Clay Walker:

And I believe that we are going to have more hits. For myself, I think we are going to have more hits and radio is liking this new album and they're telling us that they are, and they're starting to play the songs on it.


Clay Walker:

The other advice I would say is if you have a family, a wife, husband or kids, you can never give them too much of yourself. I've learned through all these years, and COVID helped me realize this more than anything… being home for a year and a half helped strengthen those bonds and those ties and those moments where there's nothing like proximity, being close.


Clay Walker:

And your career will flourish because of those bonds and your family will want it for you, and you'll just have more strengths.


Matthew Kelly:

If you could go back and do it all again, what would you do different?


Clay Walker:

Not one damn thing. I wouldn't change anything.


Matthew Kelly:

There aren't some moments where you wish, "I wish I would have been more present, I wish I would have enjoyed that more"?


Clay Walker:

Yeah, there's that. But I would say where my life is today that there are no accidents that I made a lot of mistakes and I don't believe in perfect. I don't believe there's one perfect man that walked this earth and I'm not him, and I don't know anybody else, that's perfect.


Clay Walker:

And so where I am today, I feel like my, my wife knows that I love her beyond anything, and I feel like all seven of my children know that without a doubt ,that I am there at any moment that they need me.


Matthew Kelly:

So you have a wonderful wife, you have beautiful children, what's your favorite thing about being a father?


Clay Walker:

My favorite thing about being a dad is how much my kids feel my protection. I feel important that, that there's no other man on earth that could give them that, and I do it. I really feel like that's why men were put here, I call it the three P's, Procreate, Provide and Protect, and I've done those things. My dad on his death bed told me something, he told me a lot of things on his deathbed, it's something that really resonated with me, I asked my dad and said, do you believe in God? And he said, yeah, I do. And I said, no, and he paused for about 60 seconds, and he came back he says... you know what he said? "I believe in the devil too son". He said, you can't out run that son of a bitch.


Clay Walker:

And I want my kids to know that. That they're, they are going to have trials their whole life, and the best thing you can do is be prepared to stand right in the middle of the road and meet them head on cause it's coming. I try not to sugar coat things with my kids as much as I want to-I know I do, but the mistakes that I've made, you asked… If I could go back and change them, I know that I'm going to make more in the future, so it's really-


Clay Walker:

... I know that I'm going to make more in the future. So it's really, life is a series of mistakes and every now and then you get a couple of things right. And in those moments, you can feel whole and unbroken and happy and joyful, but there's way more times that I feel like I've messed up.


Matthew Kelly:

You've been enormously successful. And as an extension of that, your children are growing up very differently to how you grew up. And in many ways are living a life of extraordinary privilege, how does that affect the way you father them?


Clay Walker:

I don't think my kids know that they're privileged just yet. We all protect our kids from the things we can protect them from. That's natural. But I would say that where money is concerned and material things my wife has done an incredible job. We both grew up humble, very modest. I grew up poor, she grew up modest. And neither one of us are excessive with... My wife has two pieces of jewelry that I've given her since we met. She has no jewelry, didn't even want it.


Clay Walker:

Our kids are really blessed to call her mom. And do I worry that they're not exposed to some of the rougher things? Yeah, because that's not reality. But as we start to cross that threshold and letting them know that... We don't let them watch the news. We don't want our kids watching any news because of the way that things have become much more graphic and much more politicized, either way. We want them to have their innocence, but we both are not living under any kind of ruse that our kids are going to escape the hardships of life. But I guess in helping them be prepared we do make them work for money. We don't have a nanny.


Clay Walker:

My daughter and son, the older two, clean the kitchen every night. I cook. The kids help chop up stuff to cook. It's inclusive. We take care of our animals on our ranch. We pick up trash. We do things that we think will instill a good work ethic in them. We are religious in our home. We pray. We have a chapel. All of our kids have been taught to pray. And we try to just arm them the best way we can with the things that we think they'll need. But yeah, mine and my wife's life were very much different than the way our children are growing up but I think that we have managed to instill the values that will keep them grounded.