Clay Walker could easily hang his hat on past accomplishments. From 1993 to 1997, the Giant Records/Warner Bros. Nashville signee toured with George Strait and Alan Jackson and scored six chart toppers on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart ("What's It To You," "Live Until I Die," "Dreaming With My Eyes Open," "If I Could Make a Living," "This Woman and This Man" and "Rumor Has It").
Yet a greatest hits tour lacking fresh material isn't in the cards for Walker any time soon, as his catalog grows today (April 24) with new song "Easy Goin." It's the latest sign that Walker, like fellow Texas-born songwriter Willie Nelson, still loves the thrill of the chase.
"There's a beauty in songwriting," Walker says. "I think it's the greatest process ever. It's painting pictures with words and melody. I never get tired of searching for that magical song. I guess it's like treasure hunters. They go out and might find one treasure in their lives or they might find 10 or they might find more. But it's always that hunt that excites you."
With a stroke of inspiration and a sprinkle of good luck, a new song could recapture the magic heard on platinum albums If I Could Make a Living (1994), Hypnotize the Moon (1995) and Rumor Has It (1997).
"I've definitely had some great songs though my career" Walker explains. "I love them. Every one of them holds a special place in my soul, and if any one of them ever got taken away from me, I'd feel like I lost a kid. But what inspires new music for me is that journey of looking to find that next magical piece."
As a young man, Walker found himself on the ground level of one of country music's most beloved decades.
"It was the most exciting time of my life," Walker says. "Of course, I was in my 20s, and I was soaking it all in like a deer in the headlights. Being in the fabric, I was privy to what was going on behind the scenes, in the scenes and outside the scenes. They were pretty much one in the same. What you were seeing was not smoke and mirrors. It was great, great songs and great entertainers. Entertainment value meant something. An artist like Garth or Shania or even me cared about how damn good a performance we could put on for that dollar someone was spending to see us. Keep the ticket prices low where real fans could come, not just rich people. Have some people that could afford to get in. I think Garth's the one who hammered that message in."
Walker, a top five recording artist as recently as 2009's "She Won't Be Lonely Long," still cherishes the decade during which such veterans as Strait, Reba McEntire and George Jones joined Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Byrd and other fresh faces in advancing country music's mainstream bootprint.
"Just being part of it, I can tell you it was the most romantic period of my life, and I think probably any entertainer that's around today that was back then would tell you the same thing," Walker says. "We got to witness and be part of something that laid this huge foundation. You had the people that came before us and laid the foundation, but the '90's expanded that foundation in every possible direction."
Elements of '90's country still impact the mainstream. Not only through the great songs still being cut by Walker and Sammy Kershaw, but when fresh cuts by Luke Combs, Jon Pardi and Ashley McBryde point listeners back to a very different time for country radio.
"I think they're smart to pay homage to the '90's artists because the only way to achieve more than your predecessors is to stand on their shoulders," Walker says. "The only way to see farther and achieve more is to stand on the shoulders of giants. The idiots that don't see that, and I've seen a few... Most of them fail."
"The '90's are never coming back," he adds. "That sound is never coming back. It doesn't need to. But for them to use elements of that sound, particularly the melodies and not so much the instrumentation, I think it's great and I think it's right."
As for how Walker stood on the shoulders of giants from his first single through the 2019 release of his Long Live the Cowboy album, that clear vantage point began on the road with Strait.
"I learned a lot from George, including how to treat other artists who are on shows with you," Walker says. "George was always very simple, clean and straightforward, and I learned a lot from him because he paid homage to his giants. His giants were Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell and even Johnny Rodriguez. I went back and studied those artists and stood on their shoulders as well, but it was mainly George for me."