WARNING : Profanity
I like to think I know a little about the history of country music and it’s talent over the years.
So how is it that I’ve never heard of Wheeler Walker Jr.?
Myself and like-minded others I’ve discussed Wheeler Walker with, folks who are very familiar with fringe of country and roots music, leads many of us to believe that this may be some Andy Kaufman-esque music/comedic performance art that leaves you wondering “is this guy for real?”
His sudden appearance, too perfect name. His unconfirmed career history, and his throwback outlaw look might lead you to think he’s putting us on. But the announcement of his Dave Cobb produced album is to be released early next year through Thirty Tigers means there’s also something real here.
But I ask you, how is ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’ and ‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)’ any more worthy of serious discussion as an authentic cultural artifact than Wheeler Walker Jr’s Billboard premiering single “Fuck You Bitch?”
The short answer is money.
These aforementioned songs, products really, made their performers, writers and publishers money and therefore seeped into the beer-sodden collective conscious of the market. So whether they were a put-on or not was never considered or discussed. They did what they were designed to do, moved units, saturated radio play and made a shit ton of cash.
Wheeler Walker will never make that kind of bank. He will never top the charts or play arenas. He’s like early punk or hip-hop in that he seems a bloated , farcical genre and chooses to blow it up from the inside and doesn’t give an (overt) damn about appeasing the market or demographic powers that be.
But taken on purely musical terms his songs are more country that the past 20 years of country chart topping hits combined. He does this with a fantastic studio band – Leroy Powell on guitar, his younger brother Chris Powell on drums, Brian Allen on bass and Cobb as producer. And after learning about Cobb’s history in fabricating fake bands I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had a hand in another elaborate musical hoax.
But so what? Just listen to the music and don’t let the profane, sometimes ridiculous, lyrics put you off.
Twang don’t lie.
So take Walker Jr, or whoever he is, with a grain of salt chasing a shot of tequila. And don’t ask is Wheeler Walker putting us on, ask yourself is the rest of music row putting us on and were not in on the joke.
Wheeler Walker Jr took some time to talk to me on the phone from Nashville:
Twang Nation: For those not acquainted with you could we get a little background.
Wheeler Walker Jr: Sure, I’m from Kentucky originally. Now I’m in Nashville, though it’s more like Las Vegas now. I got here about 15 years ago. I had a couple of record deals with the majors, Capital Nashville and Arista, that went bad. I butt heads with the labels and after Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley started climbing the charts there was just no room for my kind of country music. I said
fuck this I’m going to make an album, uncensored, do it my way and pay for it myself, which, by the way has left me broke. I’m taking to you on a Nokia flip-phone if that tells you anything. So I said “fuck it no one will listen to it anyway so I just wanted to get it out.” In my opinion it’s the best country album ever made.
TN: What were the labels saying was holding you back?
WWJ: They said it was my attitude. Some of the execs would have these younger wives, I don’t want to name names, but there was this one executive’s younger wife that lert me finger her. That got him pissed and got me in trouble. But I think it was more jealousy than anything but , you know, don’t shit where you eat. But I had to shit and I was hungry.
May be I’m just paranoid, but my heroes Willie and Waylon all these guys, they didn’t play by the rules. I’ll take some of the blame, maybe I took it a little too far by putting out a single called “Fuck You Bitch,” but that’s me.
TN: I enjoyed the single and the album, but you’ve guaranteed zero airplay with these lyrics. Can I assume you don’t care?
WWJ: Here’s the thing man, I tried keeping it clean my first 15 years and I got zero airplay so you can’t het less. I watched the CMAs (Country Music Awards) for the first time in years , if that’s country music then get me out.
TN: So Chris Stapleton or Kacey Musgraves being featured gave you no hope?
WWJ: Evert few years they’ll find someone who can sing and play guitar, they’ll give them an award and then they pat themselves on the back. Congrats! It’s not that big a deal. Stapleton is good but he ain’t going to change country music.
TN: If you find yourself invited to the CMAs do you think you’d change your tune?
WWJ: I tried to go this year and was banned from the red carpet. I made a joke on social media, which I don’t understand but my manager got me on it. I joked that I was going to take a shit on the red carpet. Next thing I know is they banned me from it. They really thought I was going to drop my drawers. But once they banned me I actually thought about doing it!
TN: Nashville used to honor people like Ernest Tubbs and George Jones, what do you think changed?
WWJ: I think it was radio. Most of the interviews I’ve had so many people ask me about country radio nowadays, and I don’t even listen to that shit. So I finally listened to it and, I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s not country music.
I’ve done Mojo (Nixon)’s show on SiriusXM Outlaw Country, and he plays country music. I don’t know what this other shit is! If you played that Paula Abdul video where she’s singing to the cat (Opposites Attract) , if you played that song in the middle of these songs you couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended.
TN: You could say when the Nashville Sound, came around and there was a chase for the popular (pop) market, that country music had to die to be saved.
WWJ: Some of the Nashville Sound stuff, with the string and that, was all right. George Jones used some of that stuff and it’s a little sappy but it’s still good.
I think it’s just that they’re just a bunch of pussies. We used to have Willie, Waylon and Lefty and then we got Garth Brooks.
TN: How did you hook up with Dave Cobb to produce your album?
WWJ: I had heard his name for a while, and I knew Sturgill (Simpson) a little bit, and he introduced me to him. I was like “who in town is going to get me the sound I want and let me do what I want?” He’s got the best players around – I used his band Leroy Powell (guitar,) his brother Chris (drums) and Brian Allen (Bass.) I wanted to make a record and I wanted it to sound good. I just didn’t wnat to censor myself. It’s still traditional country. It’s just instead of “I can’t drink you off my mind” it’s “I can’t fuck you off my mind.”
I had a split second of doubt. We were sitting in the studio and I wondered “Man, maybe we should do a clean version of this somg amd try to get it on the radio.” And then the band look at me and says “This is country music. You can make it clean and they’re still not going to play it.” There’s no (mainstream) radio for this.
I remember when Nirvana came along anad they were called alternative, Then Hootie and the Blowfish came along and they were called rock. Bullshit! Nirvana was rock and Hootie was the alternative. Why do I have to be alternative or Americana? Fuck off. This is country music.
TN: As good as this record is I believe it might be too rough for the genteel sensibilities of Americana.
WWJ: I don’t give a fuck. You’re not going to hear a better country record next year than this one. If you hear a better country record come out next year you call me up and I’ll have a listen.
TN: Truth be told I was put off by some of the titles , like the dirty boogie blues “Eatin Pussy and Kicking Ass.” But the music is heartfelt once you listen.
WWJ: What put you off?
TN: I guess I prefer metaphors in music.
WWJ: I’ve been doing this for 15 years I don’t have time for all that PC bullshit. Once it comes to my head I’m writing it down. This is real. If you have something to say just say it.
TN: After posting “Fuck You Bitch” on social media, I have to say the response was largely positive. From men anyway.
WWJ: I hear positive things from women. We can all relate. I’m waiting for a response song called “Fuck You Dick.” Women can hear this song and relate it to some guy that was an asshole. There are plenty of assholes in both sexes. There are reasons she left me. It was my own fucking fault.
TN: I read you have an aversion to touring, will you hit the road for this new album?
WWJ: David Allen Coe is coming to Nashville December 13 at the Exit/In. I’ll be opening that show. But I’m no spring chicken. I’ll hit the road when there’s an audience. I’m not playing in any more empty clubs. If people buy the album, or files off Steve Jobs’ server, we’ll tour. I’m not going to tour to lose money. It’s up to the people and so far the people have let me down.
TN: Does America still want country music?
WWJ: My album might not be the album they want, but it’s the album they deserve.
The real or contrived controversy even bleeds into the video for the video for “Fuck You Bitch” (below) as Wheeler Walker Jr.’s presser mentions that model Martha Followills, who is featured in the video, her husband Jared Followill (Kings of Leon) who has a cameo, “….remain friends with Wheeler and wish him the best, they have no comment on the video at this time due creative differences over the final cut…”