News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2006

Bradley Walker of Capshaw sings to himself in his car. At age 27, Walker, who is confined to a wheelchair, will soon see the release of his debut bluegrass/traditional country album, 'Highway of Dreams,' from Rounder Records.
DAILY Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Bradley Walker of Capshaw sings to himself in his car. At age 27, Walker, who is confined to a wheelchair, will soon see the release of his debut bluegrass/traditional country album, "Highway of Dreams," from Rounder Records.

Riding on a 'Highway of Dreams'
Area man defies odds to
mount musical career

By Holly Hollman
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2445

CAPSHAW — Bradley Walker's highway of dreams isn't without its potholes.

Never knowing life outside of a wheelchair.

Singing bluegrass and traditional country, which doesn't have the commercial appeal of other genres.

Struggling with songwriting and not playing a bluegrass instrument.

But the 27-year-old Walker, who was born with muscular dystrophy, propels himself over the potholes to attain his dreams.

The latest is signing a contract with Rounder Records and producing his debut album, aptly titled "Highway of Dreams," with Grammy award-winning producer Carl Jackson.

Rounder Records is an independent label but has signed popular artists such as Alison Krauss.

Singing with Walker on the album are recording artists Vince Gill, Rhonda Vincent, Alecia Nugent and others.

Walker knew he wanted to be a star when he first performed on local television at age 3.

"I've been singing as long as I've been talking," he said.

East Limestone High School Principal Dennis Black said Walker has felt comfortable in front of a crowd since he was a youngster.

Black taught physical education when Walker was a first-grader at East Limestone.

"He never met a microphone he didn't like," Black said. "When we did PE exercises to music, he would be our disc jockey."

Black said he constantly warned Walker not to roll too close to the stage front.

"But he would get excited and scoot closer to the edge," Black said. "Then one day, we heard a thud. He had fallen off. It scared me to death."

Black said Walker looked at him and said, "Now I know why you wanted me to stay away from the front."

Walker got back on the stage, and has continued struggling to stay there.

He never despaired of signing with a recording label, he said, but had decided a year ago that "if it happens, it happens; if it doesn't, it doesn't."

In October, the timing was finally right. The co-founder of Rounder Records was interested.

"I can't wait to go to a music store and see my album on the shelf, grab it and go buy it," Walker said.

Release date

The album's release date is Sept. 12, and on Sept. 24, Walker and fellow artists will perform at the Ryman Auditorium to celebrate his achievement.

Among the crowd pleasers he's trying to get is Alan Jackson.

"I'll probably get a little nervous at that performance, but usually, I just feel at home on stage," Walker said.

Walker sees the potholes he's encountered to reach this point in his singing career as blessings.

"I've never known a life outside of a wheelchair," he said. "I think it would be harder on me if I had known what it's like without one and then had to live in one."

Walker said his parents raised him to be independent and not use his situation as an excuse.

"I haven't, and no one has tried to slow me down because of it," Walker said.

Overcoming physical limitations aren't the only struggle.

The baritone singer is drawn to bluegrass and traditional country, which doesn't get the radio play that helps launch a career. Walker said what it did do was help him network.

Approachable artists

"Bluegrass is like a community," he said. "The artists are approachable and want to help."

Walker found out how approachable they are when he saw the man known as the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, at the Grand Ole Opry.

"I thought that it would probably be my only chance to meet him, so I went over to him and introduced myself," Walker said.

Monroe handed Walker $5.

"I don't know why he did that, but I went back and showed my mother, and she told me to get him to autograph it," Walker said.

In Walker's home office, a framed $5 bill with Monroe's signature hangs on a wall with autographed pictures of stars including Reba McIntyre and George Strait.

Going to gatherings such as the annual International Bluegrass Music Association convention is how Walker met stars such as the bluegrass band
IIIrd Tyme Out, who invited him to be a guest performer on the Grand Ole Opry.

His first time on the Opry, Walker motored his wheelchair to center stage, took his foot off the pedal and rubbed the legendary circle of wood from the Ryman.

"Now I'd like to be invited to perform not as someone's guest, but as an artist in my own right," Walker said.

But one thing bluegrass encourages is that singers also be instrumental musicians.

While a student, Walker played percussion instruments in East Limestone's band, but he doesn't play a bluegrass instrument.

"But to me, the voice is also an instrument, and that's where I put all my emphasis," he said.

It's just another bump in the road Walker is leaving behind on his highway of dreams.

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