The man is from Lexington. His music is unmistakably country. The melodies and musicianship are top-notch, featuring some of the best players and production Nashville has to offer.
And the lyrics are … nothing we can print.
But that is the modus operandi of Wheeler Walker Jr., who has gained both a grass-roots comedy and a country music following by blending an appreciation of traditional country music with verses, choruses, song titles and subject matter that almost assuredly will make you laugh, wince or sometimes both.
“I tried to do it a different way,” said Walker, who is a persona crafted by stand-up comedian and Lexington native Ben Hoffman (and, thank goodness, a persona that was taken down from a “10” to a “3” for this publication’s interview purposes). “It’s almost like a speech impediment when if I don’t cuss, I stutter or something. It ain’t right.”
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Walker’s birth came when a ridiculous idea collided with the right people to pull it off. Ben Hoffman gained recognition thanks to his 2013 Comedy Central program “The Ben Show.” The Lexington native became friends with another performer who broke out of Central Kentucky, country music singer/songwriter Sturgill Simpson. Walker was only in Hoffman’s head, but Simpson introduced him to his producer, Dave Cobb, one of Nashville’s most sought-after producers for his work with Grammy Award winners Jason Isbell and Kentucky’s own Chris Stapleton. Walker went into the studio with his own money, Cobb at the boards and some top-notch session players to record his 2016 debut album “Redneck S---.” (We told you we couldn’t print much.)
“I’ve hired the best of the best players on this, and they take these songs to the next level,” Walker said.
The music itself is quite good and harks back to a bygone era of country and some of the artists whom fans know on a first name basis: Waylon, Willie, Hank, Merle. There’s even a little bit of blues, Southern rock and a touch of Elvis Presley thrown in.
You’ve got to have someone like me who doesn’t care what other people think to go for it.
Wheeler Walker Jr.
Then there are the lyrics, which are chock-full of ridiculous references to weed, booze, flatulence, human anatomy, and lots and lots of sexual humor. A search for song titles on Walker’s album for ones that aren’t completely offensive turns up two. “Drop ’Em Out” is a celebration of a particular part of the female figure, and “Family Tree” chronicles Walker’s attempt to woo a would-be lover to get intimate with her entire family.
Walker will be the first to tell you he’s not on board with a lot of music today that qualifies as country music, including Sam Hunt or Florida Georgia Line. But once you get past the combination of jokes and country licks reminiscent of old David Allan Coe, you’ll find a performer intent on bringing back a type of country that Walker considers a “dying art form” while presenting a few of country’s common lyrical topics of relationships and heartache in an unfiltered way.
“You’ve got to have someone like me who doesn’t care what other people think to go for it,” he said. “That’s why I’ve got the biggest brass ones in all of Nashville.”
Despite not having major-label support, Walker has garnered the respect of fellow comedians, along with critics and and fellow country artists. He has appeared on popular comedy podcasts “The Joe Rogan Experience” and (as Hoffman) on Marc Maron’s “WTF,” and his album simultaneously debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s comedy album chart and No. 9 on its country album chart.
Right now, Walker is on the road, playing larger clubs across the Southeast. He has managed to perform at several sold-out shows across the country, but he had yet to play a show in Lexington until this week, when he comes home to perform Thursday at The Burl. Opening will be the duo Birdcloud, which will have you good and offended before Walker ever takes the stage.
Walker promises to deliver a strong performance to a Kentucky crowd, mixing his signature songs with the type of crowd banter that has no business being printed in your local paper. He seems as if he is genuinely looking forward to performing in front of all of his supporters and others from his hometown. ... Most of them.
“If you miss this show, you’re a moron. You’re an idiot,” Walker said. “And to all the girls that wouldn’t talk to me in high school: Screw you.”