When Bradley Walker fulfilled one of the last requests of his friend Joey Martin Feek, he had no idea that his simple act of love would also lead to his new album, Call Me Old-Fashioned.
Joey and husband/singing partner Rory Feek met Walker nearly a decade ago and became close friends. Before she died of cancer in March, she expressed wishes for Walker to sing at her funeral.
“I could hardly take it,” Walker says of his reaction to the request. Sitting in the barn at Joey and Rory’s farm, it’s obvious that it’s still hard for him to talk about the passing of his friend. “Rory called me that night they were on their way back to Tennessee, and asked me to sing. There’s only one answer: ‘Of course I’ll sing.’ For him to pick the phone up and call me and for her to want me to sing, there’s no greater honor for a singer than to be able to do that for somebody.”
Walker sang the hymn Joey requested, “Leave it There,” at her graveside service at the couple’s Tennessee Farm. Among those present at the service were Southern gospel legend Bill Gaither, his wife Gloria and the team from Gaither Music Group. They were so impressed with Walker’s voice, they signed him to a record deal.
“You never know how God can take a devastating, terrible situation and bring a blessing out of it,” Walker says. “Joey has blessed so many people with her story and the way she lived her life right up until the very end. I feel like she’s upstairs looking down on all of this smiling.”
Rory produced Call Me Old-Fashioned and hosted the companion concert DVD, which was filmed in his barn, which occasionally doubles as a live music venue. It will air as a TV special on several networks including RFD-TV, PBS, Gaither TV, TBN, Family Net, and CTN, and will also be available at retail.
“Bradley is one of my wife’s and my favorite singers and even more than that, one of our favorite people that we’ve ever met,” Feek says of Walker, whose album released September 23rd. “His heart is even bigger than his voice, and that’s saying a lot. I’m proud to be a small part of the world discovering what a talent Bradley Walker is.”
Born with muscular dystrophy, Walker has spent his life in a wheelchair, but has never let his physical challenges dim his passion for music. The Oak Ridge Boys invited him to sing on national television when he was only 10 years old. He recalls meeting the legendary Keith Whitley that night and from then on, he knew he wanted to be a country singer. Yet his practical streak led Walker to get an education and take a job as a materials analyst at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, where he continues to work when he’s not recording and performing.
“I try to let nothing hold me back,” says Walker, who credits his parents with encouraging his dreams. “I know it’s cost Mom a lot of sleepless nights a lot of times when I would get in my vehicle and drive to Nashville to go to the Station Inn to hear some good music or go to the Opry and hang out.”
Legendary songwriter Carl Jackson produced Walker’s debut album, Highway of Dreams, which helped earn Walker the Male Vocalist of the Year Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. That album also led to him meeting the Feeks. “I met Joey and Rory in 2007,” he recalls. “They had heard my album and loved it. I got a friend request from Joey one night on MySpace, and just fell in love with her voice and then met them not long after that and fell in love with her as a person.”
Though Walker’s initial success was in bluegrass, he’s always had an affinity for traditional country music. He cites country greats Merle Haggard, George Jones, Gene Watson and Vern Gosdin as his primary influences, and Call Me Old-Fashioned is filled with faith-based country songs that would make his heroes proud.
The album includes a touching rendition of the Kris Kristofferson classic “Why Me Lord,” the classic hymn “Sweet Beulah Land,” and “I Feel Sorry for Them,” an original song he penned with Feek and Tim Johnson that perfectly captures Walker’s attitude: “From the day that I was born, I’ve learned to live with how things are,” he sings. “I’ll never step up to the microphone or strum my own guitar/For over 30 years now, I’ve been sitting in this chair/When people stop and ask me if I think life’s been unfair, I say…/I feel sorry for the hard-working mother raising children on her own/And I feel sorry for the one who has to call a cold underpass his home/And all the lonely people out there who cannot find a friend/I feel sorry for them.”
Call Me Old-Fashioned also includes a posthumous duet with Joey on “In the Time That You Gave Me.” The late singer had previously recorded the song, so Rory took her vocals and combined them with Walker’s. “To be able to record that with Joey’s voice, it was very hard to get through that when we tracked it in the studio,” he says. “It’s tough to listen to, but it’s such an honor for me and not only just to have a song on here with Joey, but to have that song. It’s special.”
When asked to describe Call Me Old-Fashioned, Walker has unique and fairly unexpected response: “I think of this as a gospel record for people who don’t go to church,” he says. “I hope this can be an inspiration not only to people who are saved and who are in church —because I believe that’s where we all need to be, but I want to reach people also who aren’t in church and get them thinking about life. These are songs about real life.”