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Bart Walker -
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Bart Walker

Bart Walker

Bart Walker

Bart Walker’s new, rocket-fueled album Waiting On Daylight is more than an explosive collection of 11 songs that ride the cutting edge of blues and rock. It’s also a bridge that unites the best in both genres and aims to connect a new audience to the deepest roots of American music. The young six-string slinger — winner of the 2012 International Blues Challenge’s prestigious Best Guitarist award — sees the disc as fulfilling a dream that’s Read more on
Bart Walker’s new, rocket-fueled album Waiting On Daylight is more than an explosive collection of 11 songs that ride the cutting edge of blues and rock. It’s also a bridge that unites the best in both genres and aims to connect a new audience to the deepest roots of American music. The young six-string slinger — winner of the 2012 International Blues Challenge’s prestigious Best Guitarist award — sees the disc as fulfilling a dream that’s helped drive his course as an artist from bluegrass prodigy to MVP sideman to globe-trotting bandleader. “The songs have deep grooves, great hooks and honest stories, and all of that’s wrapped in a sound that goes beyond the blues to a place where more than just blues fans can relate to the music,” he explains. “But the blues is where the heart of all the music I love lies, and I’m hoping Waiting On Daylight can lead people who love rock and songwriting back into the blues. For years it’s been my dream that I can play a role in making the blues popular again.” From the opening buttery slide guitar of “It’s All Good,” it’s obvious that Walker is on the right path.

Using his full-blooded guitar sound and powerhouse voice as constant guide, each song follows its own instantly appealing rhythmic spine. “Black Clouds” grows from a bass groove and a swell of feedback to a bare-knuckled tune about reckoning. And “Girl You Bad” praises his new bride Natasha Jacobs Walker over a deep shuffle with Mississippi roots and stratospheric slide guitar. Likewise “Gotta Be You” — a sequel of sorts to the latter number — is a love note that percolates to a Texas blues beat packed with plenty of rock ‘n’ roll drive and arcing single-note guitar breaks, plus a juggernaut wah-wah soaked solo that recalls both Jimi Hendrix’s and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s jolting use of the effect. Waiting On Daylight’s big, beefy and beautiful guitar sound is part of an aural conspiracy Walker and producer Jim Gaines masterminded in Gaines’ Memphis studio.

To achieve the boldest guitar tones possible, they chained together an array of a half-dozen classic and modern amps — Marshalls, Fenders, Category 5s and others — and Walker played through them all simultaneously. “That allowed me to get the best sonic characteristics of all of the amps and tubes and speakers and cabinet sizes together in the sound of my own guitars,” Walker explains. But Walker’s super-heated playing is always tempered by the album’s pervasive sense of soul, which comes especially to the fore in the title track, co-written by Walker and veteran Nashville-via-Texas songsmith Gary Nicholson. The song “Waiting On Daylight” also addresses a recent, pivotal period in Walker’s personal life. Last year he was able to sidestep the excesses of drug and alcohol abuse, which allowed him to bring a sharper focus to his music, his marriage and his future — which, as the song’s title implies, has been opening up before him. That process of “seeing daylight” began with the release of Walker’s previous critically heralded debut Who I Am and his performances in the 2012 International Blues Competition in Memphis. The competition, sponsored by the Blues Foundation, features blues-based artists from across the globe vying for top honors in the band and solo/duo categories.

Representing Nashville, the Bart Walker Band came in second and Walker himself took the top guitar title and was awarded an ES-335 model from the Gibson Custom Shop and a state-of-the-art Category 5 amplifier — both of which appear on Waiting On Daylight. During the contest hard-core blues fans in attendance from all over the world were exposed to Walker’s musical prowess. One of them, label owner Thomas Ruff, signed Walker to his first record contract and put him in the studio with Gaines, whose resume includes sessions with Huey Lewis, Buddy Guy, George Thorogood, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Miller, John Lee Hooker and many, many more. Walker arrived prepared, with double the songs necessary to make the album and his chops honed by more than 300 concerts in 2012 alone. “Jim and his guys” — bassist Dave Smith, drummer Steve Potts, keyboardist Rick Steff and organist Dave Cohen — “instantly became my team,” Walker says. “They made suggestions about some arrangements, embellished on the songs by playing their parts brilliantly and made me feel like they had my back.” Following the sessions, Walker embarked on an ambitious sold-out “Blues Caravan” tour of Europe with several other Ruff artists. Waiting On Daylight is a perfect second chapter to 2011’s independently released Who I Am, Walker’s first one-man argument for the continued vitality and emotional heat of the blues. The blend of enunciation and fluidity Walker displays in the guitar tracks on both albums are clues to his musical background. At the tender age of four his father introduced him to both the instrument and to bluegrass, a genre where precision and speed are practically requirements. “My dad says he got me started because he wanted to create another back porch picker he could play with,” Walker recounts.

It was quickly obvious that Bart was much more. He figured out how to play every stringed instrument his father brought home: banjo, mandolin, fiddle, bass. When he turned six, Walker started playing in his family’s church and singing tenor harmony. A turning point came at 13 when he got his first electric guitar and performed a complex, Chet Atkins-style solo rendition of “Tennessee Waltz” in the auditorium of his middle school in Springfield, Tennessee. “When 250 people stood up and started applauding after I finished, I thought, ‘This is it for me. I don’t want nothin’ else.’ ” Walker’s first group was a high-school Christian-rock band that played coffeehouses.

At the same time, he won a full scholarship for operatic singing to Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music — which accounts for his flawless intonation and reach as a vocalist. But most important, he heard the songs of Stevie Ray Vaughan on the radio and began his own intensive education in blues, backtracking to the music of Vaughan’s influences Albert King and Buddy Guy and on further to the pioneers of Mississippi Delta blues. Echoes of Duane Allman, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes can also be heard in Walker’s slide guitar exhortations and burly tone on Waiting On Daylight. Eventually he dropped out of Austin Peay State University’s respected school of music in Clarksville, Tennessee, to purse his calling. “I moved to Memphis for three years and experienced what its like to live the blues,” Walkers says, chuckling. “I lived in an apartment complex that had cockroaches crawling the walls because it cost the $200 a month I could afford.

I was living off one peanut butter and jelly sandwich a day and at night sitting in with the best players on Beale Street, like Preston Shannon and Ruby Wilson, who taught me how to support other musicians and when to step out and really make my playing count.” After Walker moved back to Nashville his career rapidly began to gel. He found gigs in the house band at B.B. King’s Blues Club downtown and in a church band in nearby Antioch, Tennessee, and began to hone his songwriting. By 2007 he’d also assembled the Bart Walker Band and started holding down his own regular slot on Sunday nights at B.B. King’s.

A high-profile break came when an acquaintance turned him on to a gig as lead guitarist for country music star Bo Bice, who rose to fame on TV’s American Idol. Another important musical bond was formed when former Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans joined Walker’s band for several years. Walker and Wynans developed the highly original arrangement of the Allman Brothers’ classic “Whipping Post” that closes Waiting On Daylight. The song is reinvented as an insightful, slow jazz-blues excursion. “For me, this approach really brings out the deep emotions in the lyrics,” says Walker. “The chords Reese came up with reveal things in the song that time has made most of us forget.” For blues fans, Waiting On Daylight is the sound of an emerging talent coming superbly into his own.

And for Walker, it’s a vision that “daylight” is truly arriving. “I’ve spent a lot of years squeezed in a van tearing up the highway to get from gig to gig, sleeping in cheap hotel rooms and living on the run, wondering when things would get better,” he says. “Now I feel like I’m coming into my own, starting to taste success and starting to understand what I really have to give – and need to give — to the music that’s given me so much.” Official Website: The Bart Walker Band Read more on User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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