What a special night in Nashville, Tennessee when friends and Music Row family gathered to celebrate 30 Years of hits by country music star Clay Walker.
It was especially exciting to be there not only as a music fan, but as someone who grew up watching Clay’s rise to fame in the 90s through the eyes of my hit songwriting Daddy, Kim Williams.
And what big eyes they were!
When Clay first came around to write with my dad, it was home to supper one late writing evening. I was 10 years old.
He had been invited over before, but politely refused when he saw Dad spin his swivel chair around to hide his fingers counting the pork chops he would have to share if Clay had taken him up on the offer.
This was among the stories Clay Walker told at The Late Great, a speak-easy type living-room venue in Nashville’s Virgin Hotel.
The night was full of funny, candid moments and stories between the songs.
Some of the tales are not mine to tell, but I’ll share a few good ones that apply as good advice to developing songwriters and artists.
TRUST YOUR TEAM
When asked for a lesson he wished he had learned earlier in his career, Clay answered that he wish he had trusted his team more and expressed regret at opportunities missed or wasted.
As an industry kid and someone who has experience on both sides of this coin, I have to say, Clay is right.
Most artists have a hard time confining their creative uniqueness and genius to any set of rules, especially those that are seemingly, arbitrarily set by others.
As a business team, it’s the ultimate height of frustration to have a perfect plan set up for an artist, and have them derail the whole thing by over confidence, arrogance, lack of preparation, failure to heed wise direction, flat out obstinance, or all of the above.
So there’s that. What comes around goes around I guess, and opportunities wasted take a long time to come back around.
But they sometimes do come back around.
And that’s the light at the end of the tunnel of the long, long road in the music business.
PICK THE BEST SONGS
Another big point Clay emphasized for new, up and coming artists, is the importance of picking great songs.
He gave his team a lot of credit for finding his hits, including producer James Stroud, and expressed his undying admiration for Dean Dillon as the first celebrity he ever met in the music business.
But at the end of the day, I’m proud to say (and he may not admit it now) but Clay told the crowd that night that my dad, Kim Williams, was his favorite cowriter and songwriter ever.
‘How could he not be?’ asks the biased daughter.
And yet, the track record of success in my dad’s catalog speaks for itself.
With songs on over 100 million albums sold in his catalog (and we’re talking physical units here), and the resurgence of 90s country on the big time rise, it’s hard to say how far Dad’s country music songwriting legacy will stretch before it’s all said and done.
Clay’s hits that bear the Kim Williams name are: “Who Needs You Baby,” and album cuts including: “How To Make a Man Lonesome,” “Down By the Riverside,” “Money Ain’t Everything,” “Heartache Highway," "I Won't Have the Heart," "Let Me Take the Heartache (Off Your Hands)," "A Cowboy's Toughest Ride" – and these are all just from the first three records.
He recounted the story about recording a song Alan Jackson wrote for him, and his gratitude at being given the chance to have the hit on “If I Could Make a Living.”
Clay made a good point that a person can be a great singer, but you will never be a star without great songs.
Amen to that.
There were some very kind and sincere appreciations shared by those in attendance.
Alicia Warwick of the Recording Academy said that all her friends back home in Oklahoma were excited about her being able to see Clay Walker in such an intimate venue, and how they all love his distinctive, recognizable voice.
Clay’s manager TK Kimbrell summed it up perfectly, “Clay sure can sing!”
Clay talked about paying your dues and having to learn things even after he had made it.
He gave a nod to our mutual vocal teacher Renee Grant Williams (without mentioning her name).
His training taught him how important learning some new techniques could be to career longevity.
Just a couple lessons helped him extend his longevity and endurance to sing those long shows and still be able to talk afterward.
Anyone who has ever experienced vocal fatigue or losing their voice knows the pain and fear associated with not being able to sing – or even talk in some cases.
Knowing how to push the sound vibrations out through the right channels can save the voice and your whole body a lot of unnecessary wear and tear.
Get better and everything gets better.
Keep learning – sound advice.
TAKE YOUR SHOTS
This is actually a quote of my dad’s, but it reminds me of what Clay was talking about.
When Dad said to “take your shots” he meant that a person should always follow up and accept an opportunity given.
You should put your best foot forward, present your best work, do your best to give it everything you’ve got, and not just sit back and hope for the best without doing something to make it happen.
Perhaps this was his perspective from having faced down death in the form of a fire (and other forms people don’t know about).
Or maybe he was just born Williams that way with that kind of go-get-em attitude. Probably it was a little bit of both.
Either way, his advice is good advice from the master craftsman, and the individual that succeeded at being a 16-times Billboard #1 songwriter (so far) and counting.
Taking your shots does not mean saying yes to everything, though. Sometimes it’s important to say no when what is being offered doesn’t meet your goals and focus at the time.
When preparation and current focused momentum meet opportunity, that’s when you get this thing called “luck.”
In the music business, you have to learn to make your own luck by being prepared, having a strong focus and creating momentum for yourself. That’s when other people notice what you’re doing and offer opportunity.
In the process, you have created opportunity for other people. It’s cool that way and is the reason why the best of the music industry is truly like a family.
We love each other, we hate each other, and we are stuck with each other.
Might as well make some money, boys.
Crass? Maybe. But the truth is, art flows like milk and honey when it is properly supported and nurtured.
Art coming from a sacred place of beauty and resilience is a thing to cherish, and helps not only the one who creates it, but everyone who encounters it in this dark, scary and troubled world.
What is better?
Maybe the fact that combining the desire to create beautiful art and support its creators with money and other necessary resources is one of the most rewarding things a person can do.
Along the way you meet yourself in the context of lots of colorful characters and help to tell their stories.
In this way, the music business becomes a fabric, tightly woven, more than just a patchwork quilt of different pieces stitched together.
And speaking of taking your shots – Clay, I’ll take you up on that invitation to write. Saved two hooks from your talk that will get us started.
Keep up with Clay Walker on his official website https://www.claywalker.com/
Listen to Clay Walker music here on Amazon Music: