Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m
Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, 916 Charleston St., www.callaghansirishsociaclub.com
Tickets: $10 at the door
For artists of all disciplines, creativity can sometimes go from a raging flood to a slow trickle of inspiration, occasionally ceasing altogether. Before his latest album “Gotta Get Back,” Austin’s Seth Walker had released eight studio albums full of soulful blues before he experienced what he describes as “a rut.”
After he contemplated how to rekindle his inspiration, Walker made the decision to reflect on what sparked his musical career, taking a mental trip back to his college days. During that time, he discovered muses such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, spending hours in his dorm room perfecting his guitar skills and brainstorming songs. This reflection resulted in the title track for “Gotta Get Back.”
As he went through the retrospection exercise, Walker found himself delving deeper into the various facets of his musical foundation. Eventually this journey brought him back to his family and a reunion that serves as a centerpiece of his appropriately titled new album.
On several levels, Walker’s childhood contrasts in many ways from his adulthood. He was born to classic string musicians Scott Walker and Carole Shoaf. When he was three, Walker, his parents and sister joined another couple and their three children in constructing a log house in the mountains of North Carolina, where they practiced a communal lifestyle. For him, the small commune in which he lived was a normal experience that he remembers as being quite wonderful.
“There were nine of us. I was so young that it wasn’t any different for me,” Walker explained. “It was just the way it was. Looking back on it now, it was pretty amazing that they would agree to do that. They were sharing household money, and all buy groceries together. We would cook together, and we had a garden. It was a beautiful thing. It was an extended loving family.”
At age 5, Walker’s parents began his string instruction on the cello through the Suzuki method. Walker spent the next 11 years being inundated by the cello. In addition to himself, Walker’s mother, father and sisters were also enthusiastic cellists. Even though his life was centered on the cello, Walker admits that his parents were never “iron-fisted” or insistent on his playing the instrument.
For them, performing on strings together was more of a family activity than anything else. However, oversaturation of anything can sometimes lead to stagnation. When he was 16, Walker says, he became “burned out” on the cello. He took a break from music that lasted until he left home for college.
“When I was about 16, I started playing sports and was into tennis and soccer,” Walker said. “I just gave it up. When I went out to college and I saw those guys playing guitar; it was something that I discovered and something that I found, and my parents didn’t show me. The reason that it’s stuck with me so long is that it was like a fire.”
Walker’s focus on blues and soul left little opportunity to perform with his family, which he greatly desired. While compiling the songs for “Gotta Get Back,” Walker sent his father the songs “Sound of Your Voice,” “Call My Name” and “Blow Wind Blow,” plus a series of reference tracks that included arrangements from Nelson Riddle, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.
He says his father developed a connection with these reference tracks, which resulted in string arrangements that Walker found to be beautiful. With the arrangements finished, the Walker family reunited in the studio for the first time in many years. Walker says that the whole experience strengthened their bond as musicians and as a family.
“It was intense,” Walker said. “When we first did ‘Blow Wind Blow,’ it was just the four of us. I remember thinking, ‘Wow.’ We hadn’t played together in over two decades. Now, we’re sitting around in a circle with microphones pointing at us. It made my hair stand up.”
Walker not only included his biological family on this album, he also made it a goal to include the musical family he established over his career. After spending a lot of time on the road together, Walker brought in the Wood Brothers to lend their talents to “Gotta Get Back.”
Chris Wood provided his bass and Oliver Wood his skills in vocals and songwriting. Wood Brothers drummer Jano Rix not only added instruments ranging from keys to drums, but also helped produce “Gotta Get Back.” Walker says the time he has spent with Rix allowed them to bond musically. According to Walker, he and Rix speak the same “musical language.”
“He hears [music] the same way that I do,” Walker said. “He had a unique vision for this record. The producer chair is kinda tricky. You have to let music unfold in there. You can’t be too strict with it. At the same time, you have to corral it, especially when you’ve got five or six creative-minded artists in the studio. It’s a slippery slope. He really does a great job with that.”
Ultimately, “Gotta Get Back” succeeded in strengthening both Walker’s creativity and his passion for his music. His reflective journey allowed him to experience both his life and music in a new perspective while still delivering his trademark mix of blues and classic soul. The creation of “Gotta Get Back” also allowed him to revisit a previous chapter in his life and realize his musical and personal relationship with his family is still strong.
This album has also been one of his most successful to date. Upon release, “Gotta Get Back” quickly broke the top 10 of Billboard’s Blues Chart. When he returns to the Azalea City, Walker promises his local audience will not be disappointed with the live performances of his latest tracks.
“We’re gonna have a good time. Callaghan’s is one of my favorite places,” Walker said. “I was telling my bass player about it. I told him, ‘Get ready for Callaghan’s.’ There’s something in those walls.”