In the middle of 2015, rumors flew around Nashville about a new country artist, Wheeler Walker, Jr., who was releasing an album produced by beloved Americana producer Dave Cobb. Walker claims to have worked within the industry for years, trying and failing to making a name for himself in Nashville. At the end of his rope, Walker chose to pour all of his savings into a record made completely on his own terms. With the help of Cobb and some of the best session players in town, Walker created one of the most controversial country albums ever.
If you were to assume that Walker Jr.’s sound is reminiscent of other Cobb-produced artists, like Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell or Chris Stapleton, you wouldn’t be that far off. Musically, Wheeler Walker Jr.’s debut album, Redneck Shit, is polished and perfected in the way that all other Cobb albums are. The big difference lies in the lyrics, which are laden with curse words and politically incorrect statements that are guaranteed to make any country industry exec cringe in his leather armchair.
When Wheeler’s first single, “Fuck You Bitch”, was released last year, many scoffed at the lyrics, which in an exclusive interview with Wide Open Country, Walker explained that the song is not meant to be a derogatory statement against women, but an anthem for the broken-hearted.
“I know people don’t believe me, but it really is sincere when I say I never meant to offend anyone. When she dumped me, that was the thought that came to my mind,” Walker explained. “I don’t refer to women as bitches, it’s not how I talk, but I figured if I just write it how I felt it at that moment, people would relate.”
Walker says he simply wanted the song to honestly convey the feelings he had after being dumped by his girlfriend. “Even if you say something and regret it later, why not put that emotion in a song?”
In fact, Wheeler says that he’s surprised at the amount of women who have shown their support for the song. The feeling of pure anger and disgust that is vocalized in “Fuck You Bitch” is one that most of us — no matter what sex — have felt after a bitter breakup.
The remainder of the songs on Redneck Shit also have an off-the-charts shock factor. The album’s second single, “Drop Em’ Out”, is simply a comically crude plea to see a woman’s breasts. Although jarring, Walker’s purposeful decision to be as blunt as possible puts a much-needed spotlight on the double-entendres that have plagued country radio in recent years. If you’re a female comparing Florida Georgia Line’s offer to stick their “pink umbrella in your drink” and Brad Paisley’s request to “check you for ticks” with Walker’s offerings, it’s hard to tell which is more offensive.
So is Wheeler Walker Jr. just a character trying to make people laugh, or is he using his music to show just how far mainstream country music has to go in order to regain its credibility? Walker seems to be leaving that up to the listener, instead simply stating that his true mission is to create authentic country music without apologies.
“There’s so little authenticity in music these days, especially country music,” Walker says, later crediting traditional country artists for creating music with meaning, and predicting that Sam Hunt’s “disposable” brand of music will soon be found in the bargain bin.
Although it’s likely that mainstream country music will continue to turn a blind eye towards Walker’s controversial music, he hopes that some listeners will connect with his unapologetic style of storytelling.
“I know people don’t believe me, but it really is sincere when I say I never meant to offend anyone.” Walker says. “I’m telling a story here, from beginning to end. It really is just a very personal record.”
Although it’s not for the faint of heart, Walker’s debut record is guaranteed to make you laugh, think and maybe make you a little uncomfortable – but that might just be exactly what country music needs right now.