Interview: In Music, Bradley Walker Finds Himself Surrounded By Friends and Fans
Although he's been around the bluegrass music scene for a decade, Bradley Walker's name recently became more familiar to country music fans as a whole after he landed a new record deal with Gaither Music Group following his performance at Joey Feek's funeral in March. Feek and her husband Rory were (are, in Rory Feek's case) dear friends of Walker's, and are just a couple of the well-known artists whom Walker counts as fans: There's the Oak Ridge Boys, Joe Nichols -- and someone whom, the singer admits, it's hard to believe knows Walker's name.
In March -- just a couple of weeks after Joey Feek's funeral -- Walker played a show with some songwriter friends. Afterwards, he met someone who had come from Nashville with his wife to see the performance. "My boss is a really big fan of yours," the man told Walker, who simply assumed that the man worked in the corporate world and had a manager who was a fan.
"Well, I say my boss ...," the man continued. "You see, he had a stroke a while back, and he's not been able to really work ..."
You can see where this is going (though Walker still didn't): The man was Lance Dary, Randy Travis' guitar player.
"I just had this dumbfounded look on my face," Walker recalls to The Boot. Walker remembers asking Dary, "Randy Travis knows who I am?" to which Dary replied, "Oh, yeah, he's a big fan of yours."
"That still just really baffles me and blows my mind that Randy Travis [enjoys my music]," Walker admits. "Because if there's one singer that I get compared to more than anyone else, by fans ... it's Randy Travis -- man, I hear that all the time -- and I'm a huge, huge randy Travis fan, but that was and is very surreal to me, to think that Randy Travis has heard my music and likes my music. I mean, that -- how much better can it get?"
In 2006, Walker released his debut album, the Carl Jackson-produced Highway of Dreams, on Rounder Records. The project helped earn him Male Vocalist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards in 2007 -- Rory Feek was at that show, though it would be a few more weeks before they'd meet in person -- and although Walker was touring the bluegrass circuit as much as he could, and would later work often with Joey + Rory, it wasn't until Sept. 23 of this year (a decade later), that he released his sophomore album, Call Me Old Fashioned, as part of his new Gaither deal.
"I've never been able to make the plunge into music full time," Walker says. "It's still not something I've really been able to do," though he recently performed at the Grand Ole Opry and is looking forward to doing some touring in 2017.
The latest piece of Walker's music-career story is so very intertwined with Joey + Rory's, but his relationship with the husband-and-wife duo goes back so much further than that funeral performance. In the fall of 2007 -- right around the time of that IBMA Awards ceremony, and before Joey and Rory Feek were Joey + Rory -- Walker received a friend request on MySpace from someone named Joey Martin.
"We laugh and say we met the old-fashioned way," Walker quips, reminiscing about, at first, seeing "this picture of this gorgeous young lady," then realizing that she lived only about an hour away from him ... "and then, as the page is loading, you start hearing just this incredible voice." Walker was "just blown away, immediately."
So, Walker listened to some of Feek's music, and sent her a note saying that he'd like to know more about her as an artist. She, in turn, replied -- the Feeks had heard Walker's first album and loved it -- and gave Walker her phone number.
"I remember, the very first time we talked on the phone, it was like we'd known each other forever," Walker shares.
Joey Feek invited Walker to come to a songwriters' night she and Rory Feek were hosting at Marcy Jo's Mealhouse, the restaurant she owned with her sister-in-law. In addition to cementing their friendship, Walker says he was "blown away" watching the Feeks perform that night.
"I remember going to the door, and Joey was coming down the staircase at Marcy Jo's, and when she saw me, she just ran to me and hugged my neck like we'd known each other forever, you know?" Walker remembers. After the event, the three sat and talked for hours -- "talkin' about life, talkin' about things we loved, the kind of music we loved -- just anything and everything."
"Sometimes when you meet people, you know instantly that you're going to remain really close friends, and I knew that with Joey and Rory from the very beginning," Walker says. "I got to have a front-row seat to ... watch their career take off, and we got to do a lot of things together ... They always included me in the things they were doing, any chance they could ... and we just remained friends, always."
Rory Feek produced Call Me Old Fashioned with Walker, and the project features, thanks to a little production magic, a duet with Joey Feek, on the song "In the Time That You Gave Me." Before her death, Feek had recorded a version of the tune, though it was never released; Walker, a big fan of the song, asked Rory Feek what he thought about including his own version of the track on his album, and Feek suggested turning it into a duet.
"[Doing that duet was] such an honor for me ...," Walker says. "This whole album is a gift from God and from Joey, I believe, and being able to have this duet with her is a gift from Rory, I believe, because he could have just as easily said, 'No, let's not go there,' or, 'Let's not; I don't want to do that right now,' but he allowed me to have this, and it's something that I'll be able to have for the rest of my life.
"And it's something I feel she'd be pretty tickled over and be pretty proud of, too," Walker adds.
As one might expect, recording "In the Time That You Gave Me" was an emotional moment. Walker, Rory Feek and company had to listen to Joey Feek's version of the song in order to match the recordings up and create the duet -- and it left them all in tears.
"Rory's sittin' there with us, and we're all just having to absolutely just choke back tears. It was so emotional," Walker says. "[I feel] so blessed that we got to do that and put that together, but, man, when we were in the studio that day, tracking the song ... we just kind of had to pull ourselves together after listening to her sing that song."
Thanks to his friendship with the Feeks, Walker has gotten to watch their daughter, 2-year-old Indiana, grow up since she was born in February of 2014. On Dec. 15, he will perform at a benefit concert for her school, High Hopes -- a show that Walker is honored to play.
"[The school] is something that I know that Rory and Joey are so passionate -- Joey, if she were still with us, would be so passionate -- about, and I know how much it's helping Indy as she's growing," Walker explains. "I've been blessed to have, all through my childhood life and even now, whether it's individuals or anybody in my life that's just helped to enhance my life, enrich my life, in whatever way, and things like this and places like this, I think, are instrumental ..."
Indeed, Walker has a personal knowledge of the importance of a school like High Hopes, which offers programs for children with special needs, such as Indy, who has Down syndrome. Walker himself has muscular dystrophy, and although he attended "mainstream school" from Kindergarten through high school, he spent several years prior to that attending a center that helped with physical, occupational and speech therapy.
"Anything like this that I can get behind and help in any kind of a way, I'm honored to do it," Walker continues, "because I know how beneficial a place like High Hopes is and how beneficial it can be for somebody like Indy."
Following the holidays, Walker says he'll continue promoting his newest album through concerts and TV specials, though plans are still forming.
"We have really and truly just tried to put all this in God's hands," he says, "... and [see] what doors open up from here."
Fans can visit BradleyWalker.com to learn more about Walker, get information on upcoming tour dates and purchase both of his albums.