Rarely do artists come along who manage to combine the honesty of traditional country with the upbeat spirit of its contemporary counterpart – but that is precisely what Bradley Walker has managed to accomplish.
The rising country star from Alabama released his new album, “Call Me Old-Fashioned” in 2016, a project that revives the sounds of traditional country music. “It’s what I grew up on, that’s what country music is,” Walker says about why he loves the old-fashioned sound, citing Merle Haggard, George Jones, George Strait and many more as influences. “For me, a lot of it is about the song and what the song says. That’s what country music was built on was great songs. That’s just what I feel like I know and can do.”
And he certainly does so on “Call Me Old-Fashioned,” an album that takes him back to his country roots, bringing the listener along for the ride, with a title that serves as a natural fit for both the album’s sound and each individual song. “I think records kind of on their own, they take a direction, a theme,” Walker explains. “You put all the songs together and sometimes it takes on it’s own theme and [on] this one, the songs talk a lot about values and a way of life that I believe in, things that make me who I am.”
But it never would have been possible had it not been for his close friend Rory Feek, a longtime supporter of Walker’s music who broke the exciting news to him that Gaither Music Group wanted to partner with him on a new project. Together, the two country stars sat down to select the album’s songs, a process where Walker says he follows his gut instinct. “I try to put myself in the shoes of the person that’s going to be listening to the record,” he describes. “I just want to get the best possible songs that we can find and I think we did that with this.”
Just one of these top-notch songs that holds a special place in Walker’s heart is the duet with close friend and Rory’s wife, the late Joey Feek on “In the Time That You Gave Me.” The already poignant song is made that much more genuine with the addition of Feek’s pure voice, allowing the emotional nature of the song to pour through. “I love the duet with Joey. That song has been special to me for a long time,” Walker says. “What the song says, and now the fact that we were able to turn it into a duet and have Joey’s voice and mine together, was very special.”
But the duet is just one of the special memories Walker created with the sweet singer, who tragically passed away from cancer in 2016. Walker met the couple in 2007 and they became fast friends, watching as they went from a burgeoning act to beloved stars. “I was able to sit back and watch their career take shape and take off. It’s always good to see good things happen for good people and just knowing what good people they are,” he raves. “They’ve just become two of my best friends in the world.”
And that friendship has blossomed into an unbreakable bond, as Walker shares a heartfelt story he fondly remembers of Joey one night when he was performing at one of their many barn concerts. “We were back in the little green room of their barn just about to start the show and Joey looks at my mom and I and she grins and she says ‘you haven’t herd our news,’” Walker reminisces. “And just with the biggest grin on her face she goes ‘we’re going to have a baby!’ So my mind goes back to that one particular moment in time.”
After the heartbreaking loss of his dear friend, Walker received a call from Rory, asking him the most honorable of favors: to sing “Leave it There” at his wife’s memorial service. “For him to ask me that was an honor,” Walker says humbly. “I was very emotional when he called and asked that question. I was emotional anyway. I said ‘of course I will, I’m honored to do that.’”
It is in part his friendship with the Feeks that has Walker himself moving up the ranks in country music. He caught the eyes – and ears – of many after Rory shared a blog about his performance at the Grand Ole Opry in 2016, one that warranted multiple standing ovations and a whole legion of new fans. “It’s the greatest stage in the world. To me, it’s the best stage and greatest stage I’ll ever sing on,” Walker says of the Opry, telling the story of his childhood days when he would watch live broadcasts of the show on his grandparents’ TV. “From that early on I’m like ‘that’s where I want to sing.’ So to be able to do that is a dream come true.”
Walker has a rare talent of knowing success when he sees it, not only recognizing it in the Feeks, but also in another major country music act. Long before Chris Stapleton was a household name, Walker was good friends with he and his wife Morgane, calling them both incredible people and singers. He reveals that he has an old recording of the three of them singing George Jones’ version of “Tennessee Whiskey,” a track Stapleton turned into a hit after performing it with Justin Timberlake at the 2015 CMA Awards. He’s even saved an old wedding invitation from the couple, knowing full well at the time what they were destined for.
From the days of impromptu jam sessions to watching Stapleton blow everyone away on stage on national television, Walker knew they were made for super stardom. “It happened one time, but I’ve never forgotten it,” Walker begins the story. “We were sitting around, just with a guitar or two, and I used to beg her [Morgane] to sing. She sang the old Dolly Parton song, ‘Silver and Gold’ and absolutely just blew me away. I knew that one day these people were going to be huge stars.”
And while he has a gift of spotting talent in others, we know full well his talent is just as noteworthy.