When Wheeler Walker, Jr. goes to see family in Kentucky for Christmas, he doesn’t plan on performing music from his latest album WW III. It’s not family-friendly or holiday-approved.
“I’ve done a lot of work to keep [my music] out of kids’ hands,” he tells CMT.com. “Everything has parental warning stickers on it. This music is for adults.
“I don’t advertise in places where kids can see it. I was actually home for Thanksgiving, and I had my guitar with me, and my nieces and nephews asked, ‘Uncle Wheeler, can you play us a song?’ And my niece goes, ‘Never mind. He can’t because all his songs are dirty.’ She’s six, and they know. They know they can’t listen to it. It’s not for them. They know not to Google it, which is scary that kids have access to computers. I would have never left my room growing up if you had given me a laptop.”
WW III does reflect his current place in life. He’s a father now, giving his brand of hardcore country a new tenderness that wasn’t there on previous releases. The collection offers hilarious songs about bromance, making love, fatherhood and commitment.
“My whole thing was just singing about the truth,” he says. “I started thinking my fans love what I do. So, I started thinking about my real life, and having a significant other and a son is not something my fans would be like, ‘What a sellout,’ because they all either have that, or they want it. It’s something in their lives. The more I think about my real life, the more they’re going to be into it.”
Although Walker understands his music might be scrutinized in today's post #MeToo world, he doesn’t appreciate it when people think his material is anti-women. He says he is a feminist, and he believes one can be a feminist and still enjoy his music. He also claims that bro-country songs on today’s country radio can be more misogynistic than any of his originals.
“If anyone is getting any anti-women sentiments from my songs then they’re listening to different ones I’m listening to because I don’t hear, ‘Get your [woman] and go back in the kitchen.’ I hear misogyny in a lot of country music, but I don’t hear it in my music. I hear a guy talking real.
“The definition of feminism is treating everyone equally,” he adds. “I personally am a feminist, and it gets me upset when people don’t hear the love and respect for women in my songs. I don’t know if there is anyone out there in country music who works with more women than I do. Again, that doesn’t make you a feminist. But I’m always open to who’s the best guitar player? Who’s the best bass player? My last bass player was a woman, and she was one of the best I’ve seen. She went on to work with a bigger artist.”
When Walker brought his tour to Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom, there was an equal representation of women to men in the audience. Onstage, Jaime Wyatt opened and Nashville guitarist, Ellen Angelico, backed him. Additionally, Angelico is one of the staunchest advocates for women in the Nashville music community having helped organize the annual She’s a Rebel benefit for the Southern Girls Rock ‘n’ Roll camp, a music education program for girls and gender non-conforming youth ages 10-17.
“I’ve seen more women at the shows,” Walker says. “Within the last year, I’ve seen it really go up as people understand more of what I’m doing. Some of the early songs were a little too crazy, but I don’t know. I think as I’ve gotten older and more mature it becomes more of something they’re kind of into.”
What keeps Walker in it is to keep making real country that’s timeless. His third album to be produced by Dave Cobb, WW III embodies the musical integrity of the classics like Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes and the attitude of Elvis Presley.
“I think where me and country music really but heads is adapting to the times. The country music from the ‘70s still sounds perfect to me. Things should change lyrically not musically because you can listen to a Waylon album from the ‘70s, which we just did the other day, Honky Tonk Heroes could have been recorded yesterday. It’s timeless.”