It took a little time for Joshua Ray Walker to warm up to country music: It wasn't until he was a teenager that the genre won him over -- a late start for an artist who now delivers a classic country sound as well as anybody out there. It was Walker's longtime friend (now his drummer) who first drafted the singer-songwriter into the genre.

"He had recently gotten into country music, and was trying to convince me that there was some good country being made," Walker shares with The Boot, admitting that he was skeptical. The artist assumed that country music was either his parents' style of old-fashioned outlaw tunes or the sappy heartbreak sounds of '90s country, neither of which was for him.

"I’ve grown to love those sections of the country genre very much," Walker adds, "but [Hayes Carll's] "She Left Me for Jesus" was the song that made me realize how important satire, and self-awareness, is to good country music."

Country music became Walker's trade as he dug deeper into the genre to find out what it was all about. He explored old gospel and bluegrass, as well as contemporary artists who were pushing the boundaries of the country aesthetic. For Walker, intricate lyrics set apart good music apart from great music.

"Guy Clark paints giant vibrant scenes with very simple words," Walker says of "Stuff That Works," one of the earliest country tunes that caught his interest. "That’s what I strive for in my writing: I want the listener to feel every detail of what I’m writing about while using as few words as possible. It becomes a game. I edit more and more out, trying to refine a song until every word in every line matters."

Walker says that Ryan Bingham's "The Weary Kind," from the Crazy Heart soundtrack, came at a pivotal moment in his life. It was right after his grandfather died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve of 2009. "I went home from the hospital and wrote my first song, "Fondly," for him," Walker shares. "He was very influential in my upbringing, and love for music."

Following his grandfather's passing, Walker's friends took him to see the Jeff Bridges-starring movie -- and for whatever reason, it hit him hard. "It might have been the uncertainty following high school graduation, or my heightened emotional state after my grandfather passing," Walker muses, "but I left the theater with a clear vision of what I wanted."

Walker has gone on to become a rising star in country music, as well as one of The Boot's Artists to Watch for 2019. From Keith Whitley to Roy Orbison, from ZZ Top to Vandoliers, this up-and-comer has drawn inspiration and influence from some of the greatest names in the industry, and a few outsiders. Press play below to join Walker on a journey through the sweeping eras and styles of country music (plus a little more!) that have shaped him as an artist.

Listen to Joshua Ray Walker's Spotify Playlist

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