Clay Walker didn't talk about it at the time. The country singer says he's never publicly talked about it until now. But Walker, diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis more than 25 years ago, spent six months recently unable to feel his body below his armpits.
"There was a lot of prayer," Walker says. "Whenever you have doctors, and I got the best doctors in the world, tell you that when we reached month number three with no feeling, we were in no man's land. That he couldn't guarantee anything was the most scared I ever got."
On his doctor's recommendation, Walker switched medicine. Since then, he's had no significant flare-ups, which is a blessing given his career and the generous size of his family.
Walker, who has chart-topping hits "What's It To You" and "Live Until I Die," is dad to seven children – two adult daughters and then one daughter and four sons who range in age from 14 years old to nearly 2. He rebounded from his health scare and launched his new album – his 11th - "Texas to Tennessee."
"I've always felt invincible," he said. "Then, getting MS, I was devastated through that diagnosis and even more devastated by the prognosis. But where I am with my life right now is my wife and I both; we work together with it."
MS is a condition that can impact the brain and spinal cord, triggering problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance, and more. The condition manifests differently depending on the person. Walker struggles with numbness in his extremities. If his MS is flaring up, he refrains from carrying his children down the stairs in their home.
"My wife, no way would I have made it without her," Walker said. "She is perfect in every way, and she really is the greatest mom. We don't have a nanny, and it's never easy. The toughest job in the world is a stay-at-home mom."
The couple and their children split time between homes near Nashville and in Texas, which inspired the title of his latest album. Walker had always been Texas based, but when a hurricane heavily damaged their Texas home, the family spent several months in Nashville while Walker was in the recording studio. His wife, Jessica, fell in love with Tennessee's rolling hills, and they bought a home outside Music City.
He wrote or co-wrote every song on "Texas to Tennessee" – time he wouldn't have had if not for COVID-19 forcing a break in his touring schedule.
"When you tour a lot, it's hard on your body, your physical health, mental health, everything," Walker said. "Being able to have that time where you weren't on the road and exhausted was really great if you're a songwriter and an entertainer."
Walker is most excited about his new song "You Look Good" because it's a fan favorite at live shows. He says he doesn't always make single choices based on audience response, but when fans love it, he explained the song is typically "special."
He made the album with Michael Knox, who also produces Jason Aldean. Knox insisted the album reflects where Walker is in his life instead of a mirror of contemporary country radio. The country singer remains delighted with the concept.
"It wasn't just like looking at the craft, it was looking at as a person and how that would transcend to fans," Walker said. "It was just a refreshing experience working with Michael. He lined up great musicians, and the majority of the co-writes I got were all with top writers. There's a big effort between the label and management to create a first-class project. I know that we accomplished it, and it just feels really good."
Fans following Walker throughout his career will find the foundational pieces of his music that have always been present. He said his ever-growing TikTok fans will "get a crash course in who I am."
With his album out and his MS under control, Walker is looking forward to the holiday season with his family. He's making sure to take of himself physically, even though he hates working out. Instead of hitting the gym, the singer exercises by working with his horses, chopping wood, cutting down trees or building fences on his farm.
"Staying active and not being sedentary is really important," he said. "Being sedentary when you have MS. the disease ratchets down your muscles."
He's also already thinking about Christmas dinner. Walker said he always cooks something like a tenderloin and that his wife loves turkey. She also always makes her grandmother's sweet potato casserole recipe. Her mom always makes artichoke casserole, and the singer said, "no one makes a better pie than my mother." But he also loves watching their kids together at Christmas.
"The way the older kids help their younger siblings, like, second parents, and they want to do it," Walker said. "My wife is raising these kids right. I'm the only one she can't train."
Walker said he heard someone say that faith isn't faith until it's all you have left. It's a quote he's experienced, but he noted MS had taught him to have more than faith.
"When you become an adult, all that goes out the window," he said. "It's really, 'What are you going to manifest for your life?' And that moment of hearing the words you have Multiple sclerosis was defining for sure. Hearing I have something there's no cure for, that boost is just unfathomable. Looking at it now, I still don't believe that. I just say, 'Hold my beer. I am going to find the freaking (cure).'"