Not since Blake Shelton called traditional country fans Old Farts and Jackasses has a sitting country music star painted such a grim and disparaging picture for traditional country music as Clay Walker did in a recent interview with Taste of Country. The 44-year-old Curb-Asylum artist says that “Traditional country music died,” and that George Strait’s win for Entertainer of the Year was a “closing of the door” for traditional music in the country format.
Traditional country music died. I think that George Strait winning Entertainer of the Year at the CMAs was, to me, a symbolic and a real closing of the door. It was, to me, as if the industry was saying, “Thank you George for everything that you’ve meant to traditional country music.” I’m not saying George Strait won’t be played, but I’m saying I don’t think any new acts, including myself I’m not new, but ”¦ I think people are fooling themselves if they think for a second that the recording industry is going to accept any more traditional country music on the radio. I think that is the end of a world, the end of an era.
It’s kind of like Rome. Rome has fallen [laughs]. There’s a new world and a new era. I feel like I totally accepted that. Now I’m not saying that fans are not going to continue loving traditional country music and playing it and listening to it and maybe even downloading some of it. But I don’t think you’ll see this town record what we call ‘traditional’ country music ever again. I believe that era is completely over.
But is Clay Walker happy about this fall of Rome, or is he remorseful about it?
No. No remorse whatsoever. I think it’s the perfect evolution and it’s the way it should be. It’s time. It’s time for that change. And, albeit rough at the moment, it’s a beautiful rough. I don’t think that we’ll be heavy metal, as some of the bands are doing and calling it country. I don’t think that we’ll be rap. I just think that we’re trying to find where the absolute limitations are and then work within those limitations. I believe that right now we’re stretching the limitations out as far as they’ll go and the fans will bring them back in.
Clay also seems to feel like with this perception that traditional country music is dead, he can use this to his advantage in plotting his career path.
I feel like recognizing where music is, and it’s really cool to have this particular view that I have right now. I would call it more like a catbird seat because I can see what’s happening and I accept it.
Clay Walker made his country music debut in 1993 and considers himself in the class right after country’s big explosion of popularity that saw the rise of artists like Garth Brooks, George Strait, and others. However a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1996, and the strange career track Curb Records has taken with many of its artists including Clay have kept his name out of the headlines as much as in them. Clay has only released two albums in the last decade, which is par-for-the-course with Curb, including his last one She Won’t Be Lonely Long in 2010 that Curb first issued as an EP with 3 singles from his previous album Fall before eventually releasing it as a full record.
Interestingly, Walker also hinted in the interview that Curb Records is no longer receiving star treatment from Nashville songwriters, and instead has to get what falls to them as far as potential songs, further speaking to the diminished power of Mike Curb in the wake of multiple controversies in how his label handles artists. “Record labels are smart business people and they know it’s all about the songs,” says Walker. “So they pretty much join up with the powerhouse publishing companies who have the powerhouse songwriters and those songs stay in those labels. At least, they have first shot at them. Every now and then, drippings for the poor will come off the table, but not very often.”
The declaration of death for traditional country and Clay’s excitement for ushering in a new era tells us what we can very likely expect coming up from him in the way of new music. Whether traditional country is completely dead on radio or the mainstream in general, it sounds like Clay Walker is willing to take a “If you can’t beat them, join them” attitude about it.