On the night country singer Joey Feek died from her long battle with cancer, her husband Rory made a phone call to a family friend, Bradley Walker.
Before Joey passed, she requested that Walker sing at her memorial service. If you who followed the Feeks’ story, you may recall the video of Walker singing “Leave It There” under the tree where Joey is buried. It was a poignant moment that felt like a conclusion to a long story. But it was the beginning of a new one for Bradley Walker.
As with every tragedy, there was a silver lining. Bill and Gloria Gaither, leaders in the country gospel music world, were also in attendance at Joey’s service. After hearing Walker sing, they approached him with an offer.
“They heard me sing that song and a week or two after Joey’s service, Rory and I were approached about making this new record, recording a television special, a DVD,” Walker tells me over the phone. “We jumped at the opportunity, and here we are.”
His new EP, Call Me Old Fashioned, and accompanying DVD and television special — currently airing on the Gaither TV network — are the first releases for Walker in 10 years. His previous album, Highway of Dreams, was an excellent country and bluegrass record that introduced many listeners to one of the richest voices in country music. The new record features five songs that showcase not only Walker’s strength as a vocalist, but also his faith and values. His music is country music for people who love authenticity.
While he has a God-given talent for singing, pursuing a full-time career in music has always been a challenge. Walker has a form muscular dystrophy and is bound to his wheelchair,” a condition he addresses in his new song “I Feel Sorry For Them.” Frequent touring, the primary income stream for musicians, is difficult for Walker. For the past 13 years, he has supported himself instead as a materials analyst at the Browns-Ferry Nuclear Power Plant in Athens, Ala. However, his passion has always been country music.
“When I was growing up, I got to teased a lot, cause I was country when country wasn’t cool,” he jokes. “Always.”
When he was just four years old, Walker began singing at local variety shows.
“As I grew up, people caught on to the fact that I sing. I would sing anywhere and everywhere anybody would listen.”
When the CMAs and ACMs came on tv, it was like a holiday at his house, he says. Walker would sit glued to the screen, watching his favorite singers all night. Those were the days when the award shows were held at the Grand Ole Opry, a stage he’s always considered the top venue.
He made his first appearance in the legendary Opry performer’s circle back in 2002, at the invitation of the Oak Ridge Boys. Since then, he has made nearly a dozen appearances at the Opry, performing with his own band and other artists like Vince Gill and the Feeks.
Walker met the Feeks in 2007 through what he calls “the old-fashioned way”… MySpace.
“I got a friend request one night from a Joey Martin, just this beautiful young lady. I clicked on it of course, and she starts singing “Freebird,” but singing it as a country waltz. I heard that voice and I just had a fit.”
At the time Joey was running Marcy Jo’s, a small restaurant in Columbia, Tenn. The drive was only one hour from Walker’s town, so at their invitation, he attended one of their songwriters nights. They instantly hit it off. After everyone had left, they sat around drinking coffee and talking about life and all the things they loved and believed. “We just connected right away,” says Walker. “It was the start of a friendship that has just been amazing.”
Perhaps that bond stems from a quality they both share; They are authentic in every sense of the word. As we covered the Feeks’ story last year, we were struck by how many people all over the world connected to them despite having never met them.
“It’s cause it’s real,” Walker says passionately. “There’s nothing fake about it. So much of this world today and so much of this society is just… you don’t get that. When people see that, it’s like it jumps out at them, and they know it right away.”
Walker is the same way, in both character and his music. Call Me Old Fashioned is a collection of songs about Walker’s faith, beliefs, struggles and stories. He’s not afraid to tell you he doesn’t recognize country music on the radio anymore or tell you about his faith and what sees as the difference between right and wrong. He is unabashedly country, and his new record showcases every bit of that.
He is surprised by how long it took him to record a new album, but says he’s grateful that he had the opportunity. There’s an added sweetness that it came from one of Joey’s final wishes. Walker describes singing at Joey’s service as part of a circle of giving back to others. “We’re all gonna be in this same position someday,” he says. “We’re all gonna need somebody to sing for us.”