Country music artist Clay Walker was more than happy to be at Grand Falls Casino Resort last weekend. The singer, who first hit the country music charts in 1993, performed a live concert in the Grand Falls Event Center Saturday, April 20.
“We love coming to this part of the country,” he said during a meet and greet interview session backstage prior to the show. “These (people in the Midwest) are good people that are honest and hard working and love country music. We only play in places like this, far removed from large cities,” said Walker, as he and four of his band members prepared to play an acoustic version of one of their hits for the fans at the VIP session. “This is great because country music is not just a fad for people in towns like this, it’s a way of life,” he said.
Walker first topped the Billboard country singles chart in 1993 with “What’s It to You” and followed with his second consecutive No. 1 hit, “Live Until I Die.” Since then he’s placed 31 titles on Billboard’s singles chart including such additional chart toppers as “Dreaming with my Eyes Open,” and “If I Could Make Living.”. His next two hits, “This Woman and This Man” and “Rumor Has It,” each spent two weeks at the top. He’s scored four platinum-selling albums, signifying sales of a million units, and two gold albums, discs that sold over 500,0000 units.
Growing up in a musical family led Walker to his country music career. “My entire family played a lot of country music, all of my cousins, aunts and uncles played and sang,” he said. “We would have BBQs on the weekends where everyone got together with their guitars or whatever instrument they played, and sang some of the old traditional stuff and some ‘folky’ stuff; it was a way of life for us,” said Walker.
Walker and his band appear to have a good time together while taking their music seriously. One minute Walker is teasing his piano player about the fedora he is wearing and the next he’s complimenting a bandmate for hitting a difficult chord on the guitar. “The core of the band, five of us, have been together since the very beginning, almost 20 years, even before we had a record deal,” said Walker. “When we finally got signed it was a dream come true,” he said. The other band members nodded in agreement. “Getting to do this is the greatest thrill because I don’t think any musician has ever looked at it like a job, it’s not everyday somebody gets to do what they love every day,” said Walker.
Passion, hard work, and not giving up are what Walker says were the keys to making it big, not just in country music, but also in life. “There is only one way to get it done – to want it. That’s true in country music and in anything in life; if you really want something then you have to not give up when it’s hard,” he said. “If you fail at what your goal is, change your goal; there’s nothing wrong with it,” said Walker. “If it (country music career) was easy, everyone would be doing it,” he said. “We’ve seen people that we know that have had record deals and they get on The Voice, American Idol, The X-Factor, and some of them don’t even make the cut on there. It’s about having the right song at the right time and the right song for you, your voice,” said Walker. “The fans are the ultimate decider if you’re successful or not. I hear people talking all the time about some artist that can’t sing but yet here they are famous, and I think ‘wait a minute, you think they can’t sing but somebody else thinks they can sing,’” said Walker.
Although Walker and his band have a busy tour schedule, he still finds time to live a simple farm life at home with horses, cattle, and some gardening. During the meet and greet session, he told of a recent new endeavor –canning. “I had never canned before but my mom and my grandma always did, so I decided to try it last year. I’ve put up corn and beans before but never canned tomatoes. I started it at like five in the evening thinking it would be this easy thing to do but I had the whole kitchen full of tomatoes. So I called a couple of friends over to have a couple of drinks and do some canning. Pretty soon it was like two in the morning and we had all these jars of tomatoes. It was great and we absolutely ate every last jar,” he said.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles Walker has had to overcome was a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1996. “I have been relapse-free for 15 years and it is a great feeling knowing I could find a way to manage the disease through lifestyle, diet and a daily medicine injection,” he said about how he deals with the disease. “When you find something that works for you, you stick with it religiously,” said Walker. He encourages those with the disease to do just that. “I believe the best advice I can give someone with MS is to sit down with a neurologist, these days they know more than they used to, and find a plan that’ll work and stick with it,” he said. “It is a very scary thing to get diagnosed with anything and MS is a very unpredictable disease, but I can say we are further along than we were 20 years ago or 10 years ago. There are some wonderful medications out there that if a person finds the one that works for them, stick with it. If you don’t find the one in the beginning, try a different one,” he said.
Walker also feels very strongly about helping others living with the same disease he has battled for 17 years. “As someone who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for several years, I decided to DO something about it and one of the first things that crossed my mind was, I want to help people know ‘exactly what is MS?’, he said. However he quickly learned not much was known about the cause of MS and there is currently not a ‘cure.’ “For those out there who struggle day to day and live in the dark about what’s on the horizon, I felt a need to ask the hard questions directly to the leading researchers of Multiple Sclerosis,” said Walker. “Questions like, ‘do we know if there is anything coming down the pipeline that will cure or stop this disease?’” When the answers he received didn’t offer the hope he was looking for, he took his efforts a step further and formed Band Against MS (BAMS), a non-profit charity organization in February 2003. “I created BAMS to launch a diligent battle to not only get answers but to help find solutions for a multitude of struggles that MS patients go through on a regular basis. There is so much to do and so little time to get it done,” said Walker. BAMS has already raised over $2 million through events like celebrity golf tournaments, benefit concerts, bike rides, and walks.
Walker maintains a positive, humble demeanor, even while talking about MS. His upbeat, fun personality and ear-to-ear smile hide what his disease could show.
“I just feel so grateful I can do things like play the guitar, dance, and sign autographs. I think I appreciate every show more than I used to because I know it could all be taken from me. I don’t want to waste even one day,” Walker said before ending the session with photos, autographs, and hugs.