Country music is at its best when it’s anchored in tradition, rooted in faith and family values and delivered with heartfelt passion that resonates with authenticity. On his Gaither Music Group debut, Call Me Old-Fashioned, Bradley Walker checks all those boxes and more. An unabashed traditionalist, Walker serves up a collection that would make his heroes proud, yet infuses each song with a youthful enthusiasm that puts a fresh spin on a classic style.
“Merle Haggard was my number one influence,” the Alabama native proudly proclaims. “There was just something about his voice, the way he led his band, just his whole involvement in the music. I’m also a fan of Vern Gosdin, Keith Whitley, George Jones, Gene Watson, Mel Street, early Ronnie Milsap and George Strait. I’m a fan of real country singers and I love real music.”
In listening to his debut, it’s obvious Walker learned from the best, yet he’s distinctly his own artist. “Haggard had that tone and Jones could make five syllables out of one,” Walker says with a smile. “Each singer had something that was just unique about them. I’ve always tried to take the best of all of that and form that into my own sound.”
Produced with his longtime friend Rory Feek, Walker’s album is filled with substantive songs brought to life by his warm, earnest baritone. “Call Me Old-Fashioned” reflects Walker’s love of tradition while “Sinners Only” is an intriguing reminder we are all just sinners saved by grace. Another of the highlights of the album is “In the Time That You Gave Me,” a poignant duet between Walker and Rory’s late wife, Joey, who lost her battle with cancer in March. “I’d known that song for probably a couple years before they ever recorded it. Shawn Camp is a writer on that song and a dear friend of mine,” Walker says. Rory took Joey’s vocal from their recording and combined it with Bradley’s for the duet. “To be able to record that with Joey’s voice, it was very hard to get through that when we tracked it in the studio. It’s tough to listen to, but it’s such an honor for me and not only just to have a song on here with Joey, but to have that song. It’s special.”
Joey was a huge fan of Walker’s and requested that he sing one of her favorite hymns at her funeral. It was an emotional challenge, but Walker rose to the occasion. “It was a heartbreaking day, but a beautiful day,” he says of singing by her graveside as Joey was laid to rest at her Tennessee farm. “It was such an honor for me because Rory could have picked the phone up and called anybody and asked them to sing. They would have been here in a heartbeat. For him to pick the phone up and call me, and for her to want me to sing, there’s no greater honor for a singer than to be able to do that for somebody.”
Joey is not the only one with an appreciation for Walker’s vocal gift. The Oak Ridge Boys have long sung his praises; and legendary artist/songwriter/producer Carl Jackson produced Walker’s debut album, Highway of Dreams, which helped earn Walker the Male Vocalist of the Year Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. “Carl and I have been friends for years, and we were able to get a deal with Rounder Records,” Walker says of Highway of Dreams. “They released that album and we had a blast making it. I sang bluegrass music and was heavy in the bluegrass world for a lot of years.”
Recording an album was a dream come true for the Athens, Alabama native who had grown up singing along with his heroes and dreaming of one day being in the spotlight. He first got that chance when The Oak Ridge Boys invited him to sing on the popular TV show “Nashville Now.” He was only 10 years old at the time, and the performing bug bit him hard. Getting into the music business is a challenge for any young hopeful, but for someone born with muscular dystrophy, who has spent his whole life in a wheelchair, it might seem especially daunting.
However, Walker has never been one to let anything deter him from his goals, and he credits the support of his parents with fueling his drive to succeed. “Somebody has to put that in you,” he says. “I’m thankful that Mama had the strength to put that in me at an early age because I think without that I don’t think I’d be here right now. I try to let nothing hold me back. I know it’s cost her a lot of sleepless nights a lot of times when I would get in my van and drive to Nashville to go to the Station Inn to hear some good music or go to the Opry and hang out. I love it.”
Possessing both a fierce creative spirit and a determined practical streak, Walker got an education and went to work as a materials analyst at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant while plotting how he’d succeed in the music business. He’s worked his day job while driving his custom van to Nashville to meet with songwriters, play gigs and pursue his dream of landing a deal and making it in the music industry. Along the way, he’s made a lot of friends and earned the respect of Nashville’s top music makers who were impressed not only by Walker’s evocative voice, but also his work ethic, playful sense of humor and easygoing charm.
Now that he’s signed to Gaither Music Group with a new album and a concert DVD filmed in Joey and Rory’s barn, the best-kept secret in country music is on the brink of becoming a household name. Walker is excited about sharing his unique brand of faith-infused country music with the world. “I think of this as a gospel record for people who don’t go to church,” he says, adding that he thinks the church crowd will embrace it, but he wants to do more than sing to the choir. “I hope this can be an inspiration not only to people who are saved and who are in church--because I believe that’s where we all need to be, but I want to reach people also who aren’t in church and get them thinking about life. These are songs about real life.”
Call Me Old-Fashioned encompasses a lot of emotional territory from “The Right Hand of Fellowship,” an upbeat celebration of church community, to the biographical “I Feel Sorry For Them” in which Walker sings, “From the day that I was born I’ve learned to live with how things are … I’ll never step up to the microphone or strum my own guitar. For over 30 years now, I’ve been sitting in this chair. When people stop and ask me if I think that life’s been unfair, I say I feel sorry for the hard-working mother raising children on her own. And I feel sorry for the one who has to call a cold underpass his home. And all the lonely people out there who cannot find a friend, I feel sorry for them.”
As the music continues, Walker chronicles his blessings in a song that beautifully illustrates his optimism and buoyant spirit. Self-pity has never been in his vocabulary yet he doesn’t view himself as a role model. “I’ve had people write and tell me that, and it’s so humbling when you hear it, but it’s hard for me to think of myself as a role model,” he confesses. “I just try to do what I do; and in the process if it helps somebody, that’s a good thing.
“I hope these songs are blessings to people,” he continues. “I hope the songs make them think about their life in a way that they hadn’t thought about it before. I want to put out good music. I want to record songs that say something. I just hope people enjoy the songs, and I hope the lyrics maybe tell them a little more about who I am as a person and maybe about who they want to be.”